Cross-thatch to build skills
Posted by Dean Holden at August 25th, 2014
by Dan Buckstaff, 12 July 2014
Diverse Experiences Broaden and Deepen Skill
You can wait for different experiences to come to you, or you can seek them out. This is the essence of Cross-Thatching — the deliberate acquisition of experiences that broaden and deepen skills. With Cross-Thatching, you accelerate the acquisition of experience, which allows a skill to be performed at a high level under differing circumstances.
What is Experience?
We all have seen the seasoned athlete, manager, performer, or presenter perform well in a unexpected scenario. They deliver a masterful performance ‘despite’ an unexpected twist, or solve a problem under pressure, or perform gracefully in a way that masks issues in a live performance.
Usually, we chalk it up to experience. But what exactly is ‘experience’ and how does it help someone perform better, or overcome unexpected obstacles with a creative response? One definition of experience we use is a person or team executing a skill or set of skills repeatedly, over time, in different circumstances in a way that broadens and deepens those skills. This repeated, diversified ‘practice’ builds skill and provides experience.
Here are some examples of building experience:
Presenting: The best presenters can get their points across no matter how many lighting, sound, computer, or other problems they encounter. Why is this? The best presenters don’t need notes or teleprompters. They know the content they’re presenting so well that they can incorporate live ‘twists’ and even use them to amplify their message. These presenters have tested their ideas in so many different scenarios that it gives them resilience in the face of unexpected circumstances.
Throwing a Football: There are fundamental techniques for throwing. And they are usually taught in sunny, warm conditions. But what happens when you add wind and rain, and what happens when it’s snowing? Each of these conditions requires adjustments. Perhaps a different grip for a slick ball, or knowing how the receivers will maneuver differently.
The more you practice in these kinds of conditions, the more breadth and depth you build in those skills. During games with unusual conditions you’ll see some quarterbacks suffer and have bad games; and yet others seem to thrive. I see quarterbacks who seize every opportunity to practice in the rain or wind, and others who are more ‘fair-weather’.
Racing Sailboats: I recently watched a multi-day national championship event (The College National Championships). The event was staged over a week and each day the competitors experienced different conditions related to wind direction, strength and shiftiness. (In sailing, wind conditions are essential because wind supplies the energy that sailors use to power their boats). There were several teams who performed steadily throughout the various conditions (consisently well, or poorly).
However, interestingly, there were several teams whose fortunes rose or fell with switches in conditions. In assessing these team’s backgrounds and typical conditions where they practice, it’s clear they were optimized for the conditions in which they excelled. These teams could benefit from a more diverse practice experience.
Using Cross-Thatching Techniques to Accelerate Development of Experience
Basic Skill Building — Simple Repetition
To begin, we need to look at how a skill is developed. Often we start by repeating an action. Throwing a football, delivering a spoken line, coding a simple task. It seems like the more we do it, the better we get. And this is true, at least to a certain point. However, if we keep practicing the same task in the same way, our acquisition of skill levels off.
There are other problems related to simple repetition. One key issue is changing conditions. Single purpose practice develops a brittle execution of a skill. These skills deteriorate when performed in different conditions. When circumstances change, or competitors shift their approach, or market conditions change, brittle skills can fail. We often see this kind of failure:
A presenter stumbling when conditions aren’t what they practiced.
A customer service representative getting unexpected questions and providing poor answers.
An Olympic skier struggling on snow conditions different than their practice snow.
A football team surprised by unusual alignments of their opponent.
A golfer trying to hit out of steeper sand-trap than they are accustomed to and taking several attempts — costing strokes.
To Build Robust Skills, Seek Out Different Conditions — Stress Your Capabilities
Here’s a sample plan that I’ve used effectively to start Cross-Thatching:
- Identify a critical skill (Get as granular as possible).
- Develop a practice plan that stresses your capabilities.
- Execute the plan.
- Debrief to identify and deepen learning.
- Refine your practice plans and repeat.
An In-Depth example: Getting better at Presenting and the Following Questions and Answer Session.
- Critical Skill: Presenting and answering questions with confidence and building breadth so that you can answer unanticipated questions.
- Develop your practice plan: Build your presentation and start giving it to anybody who will listen. Schedule time to present to those who may know about the material you’re presenting, ask them to ask questions. Present without notes or slides. Video your presentation and watch it. Try to simulate the environments in which you’ll be presenting — indoor, outdoor, small/large room. Present to a room with empty chairs and sketchy sound systems. Create a situation where you only get access to the presentation space minutes before you’re set to present. Can you set-up in front of your audience and still have a calm enough mind to present? Get people to ask you all kinds of questions, in all kinds of manners (rude, heavily accented, quiet, unrelated, provoking).
- Execute: Practice the scenarios you have developed. Be obsessive about seeking out different conditions.
- Debrief: As you debrief, note what worked and what did not. Think through the process, identify weak spots and develop methods to practice them.
- Refine: What can be done to ensure easier set-up? What subject areas cause stress? Can you research and build expertise in areas where you were weak? What does the video show you?
Repeat this cycle and work on getting better every day. The deeper you get into the process the more opportunities for improvement you will see and the process will accelerate.
Do you want to start building skills using Cross-Thatching and other tools? Check out www.gritgoo.com