Tagged: chaos

Creating Deep Mastery from Repetition: Problem Solving

Repetition Opens Up Elegant Solutions

This is the fourth and final article about using repetition toward deep mastery. So far, we have explored discipline and expertise and expression. Repetition can take us to an even deeper level when we integrate it with problem solving.

LEVEL 4 – REPETITION CREATES ELEGANT SOLUTIONS

It’s easy to be expressive when things are going right. Things are flowing. We’re in a rhythm using our skills, connecting it to how what we want to express.

Then shit happens.

Have you logged enough repetitions that you can adapt? Level 4 is about getting past challenges.

At first, simply continuing when problems arise is hard. We don’t even know what to do when things go wrong. We get confused. We panic. Most of us need to experience an emergency to know how to get out of one. Pilots use flight simulators for this. They use traditional classroom and book instruction to learn the solutions in different scenarios. Flight simulators make the scenarios real. Their repetition is about learning to stay calm under pressure. They fail and learn from it. In some ways, it’s a repeat of Level 2 – learning the skill of fixing things.

Becoming adept enough to find solutions is good, but the beauty of problem solving is when it goes beyond fixing to elegance and creativity.

Being calm under pressure is valuable. Being creatively calm is invaluable. It’s what lets you land a plane in the Hudson River.

Raw, undirected talent dismisses mistakes. At Level 4 we notice their potential. Creativity is the goal of repetition here. Turning accident to advantage.

This is where Picasso decides it’s a problem to draw a bull the same way over and over again and reduces it to 9 brushstrokes.

This is where Bode Miller skis himself off the downhill race course and uses the netting on the side of the course to ricochet back into contention.

Without comparing myself to Picasso or Miller, I’ve been fortunate to experience this area of Level 4 often. In fact, the entire idea of freestyle at its highest level is to create the biggest problem for ourselves to see if we can elegantly get out of it. Sometimes there is an elegant solution, other times a clumsy mess. The more I give myself big problems to solve, the more elegant solutions show up.

When my team prepares for the world championships, I’m on the lookout for fortunate mistakes. Some of the most memorable planned moments start as mistakes. “Wait, that wasn’t supposed to happen, but it would be cool if we did it on purpose.” We shift course and use repetition to create something fresh out of the mistake.

Many people are uncomfortable in chaos. Most businesses have low tolerance for chaos. They want clarity, a focus on the known, predictability. And they are rarely the businesses known for innovation. Innovative businesses leave space for chaos. Allowing staff to fumble around with new concepts and search for better answers includes a risk of failure and also opens up space for big breakthroughs – seeing new markets, inventing new approaches to treating disease, finding better ways to talk to one’s customers.

The deepest mastery is courageous in its curiosity and experimentation. It doesn’t settle or shy away from the unconventional. It’s about uncharted territory. It is both discerning and playful. While engaging in this level of repetition can feel terrifying, it’s just as likely to be exhilarating and fulfilling.

If discipline is where we become skillful. Expertise is where we become solidly competent. Expression is where we become memorable. This territory of problem solving transcends all of them. This is the level where we have a chance to be legendary.

Creating Deep Mastery from Repetition: Expression

Repetition Creating Expression

In this series, we are exploring different ways repetition can lead us to mastery. So far we have looked at discipline and expertise. This time we go one step deeper, to expression.

LEVEL 3 – REPETITION CREATES EXPRESSION

Level 2 of DEEP mastery – expertise – is about fixing flaws. It’s about pursuing perfection. Learning new facts. Acing the test. Putting our skills to work in different circumstances.

Level 3 is where we set aside perfection.

By the time we get here, we know we can be nearly perfect. We also know perfection is not where the real growth is.

In the hands of masterful talent, flaws can be magical. Listen to the best violinists. Their precision is so amazing that they can create intentional imperfection in the performance. Waiting a fraction of a second longer for one note. Rushing another. Stretching the tones. Their imperfection has another name: interpretation.

Our Level 2 repetitions let us perform perfectly. And we don’t want that. Perfect is boring. Perfect is sterile. Introducing variations or flaws makes our creation more compelling.

The aesthetic of wabi-sabi is about appreciating the beauty of the imperfect.

The beauty in imperfection

A basketball player might notice he has enough airtime to dunk the ball with style instead of make a utilitarian score.

Athletic Expression

A project manager might be so versed in timelines and process that (s)he can find quality, cost savings or efficiency by refocusing on the individual strengths of the team.

Casting Perfection Aside

At first, it’s about doing it right. Am I showing up? Am I doing my reps? Am I performing this skill well? Perfection matters. And then it doesn’t.

In Level 3, we put our personal touch on the skill by letting it stray from perfect – and in doing so we might just redefine perfect. Here, creativity is paired with repetition. We add personal expression, and our distinctive style emerges. We become memorable.

The biggest learning comes from failure. We can refine and refine through repetition, but it only gets us so far. We might become perfect, but we lack distinction. We might be consistent but perform far below our potential. We may even be seen as the best in the world but be sacrificing an opportunity to expand what’s possible.

I struggle with that borderline between expertise and expression. While my team has won the last two world championships in the Pairs division, I would love for there to have been even more risk and expression in our performances. We nailed the consistency we needed to win, and in doing so sacrificed expressing ourselves through a wider variety of catches. I am proud of both performances, and the level 3 part of me yearns for more expression in each performance.

When repetition is in service of expression, we pursue perfection so we can embrace chaos.

The errors, the goofs, the rough sketches, the failures. Those are where bigger breakthroughs lurk. In fact, the farther we take our skills, the more we scoff at perfection because it holds us back. Being exceptional happens by finding the spaces that invite expression and in seeking out chaos.

Creating Deep Mastery from Repetition: Discipline

Repetition Creates Discipline

There’s a leap from having raw talent to doing something about it. That’s where repetition (aka practice) comes in. Raw talent will lead to incredible peak moments, but the practiced expert is going to win out in the long run. Natural brilliance is no match for strong skills developed deep and wide. It’s why the wily veterans are able to overcome the cocky upstarts so often.

When we look at practice in terms of training vs working out, we look at our experience of the activity in the moment and how it connects to what matters to us. Another way of thinking about it is repetition. Through a lens of repetition, we can see all the strikingly different ways we can be in the moment.

Repetition is a core component of practice. If we are doing something about our raw talent by practicing, we might assume there’s a simple relationship. Put in the reps. Get better. Turns out there’s more than one way reps help you get better. Some give you moderate payoffs. Others transform you and expand what was thought to be possible.

I see a four level model of the payoffs from repetition. I call it DEEP Mastery. In this series, we will explore how each level transforms repetition into different flavors of mastery. Level 1 is Discipline.

LEVEL 1 – REPETITION CREATES DISCIPLINE

Level 1 is counterintuitive, a bit of a paradox. We need discipline to do our repetitions. We can’t even start shaping our raw talent without it. It makes us show up and be focused toward completing the mission.

That’s not the discipline of Level 1. We need to flip it around to see discipline really driving us toward mastery.

Mastery emerges when we use repetition to build discipline.

When we repeat, we get bored. In that moment of boredom, one of our choices is to bail. I do that often with running. Only a few minutes into a run, I can’t wait for it to be over. That’s why I am not moving toward being a masterful runner.

Another choice is to keep practicing. If we make this choice, we expand our commitment to the goal. We build our capacity for discipline. We skew our reaction to boredom from quitting toward continuing, we can apply that discipline throughout our life.

There are no traffic jams along the extra mile. – Roger Staubach (or Paula Abdul, depending on who you believe)

Your breaking point is where you set yourself apart. At the moment you’re bored or exhausted or out of ideas, being willing to go one more step gives you the edge.

I was confident at this year’s world championships. One important reason was that my team had put in reps. We had often chose to go more rounds of practice than we wanted, sometimes in laughably poor conditions. We knew what our performances felt like when we were physically and mentally exhausted. Great training for a mentally demanding world championship held in the thin, mountain air of Medellin, Colombia! It paid off. My team won, and I was rewarded with my 16th world championship title.

You know what repetitions look like when you’re fresh. Looking at it from the point of exhaustion is a different level of discipline.

Next time you have a choice to continue or bail, make a conscious choice. Another repetition may just create the discipline that takes you to your next victory.