The Wright Way

The Wright Way

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Robot Mind, Human Mind

In my book "Gateways to The Zone" is a chapter called Robot Mind, Human Mind.
For many of us, any and indeed most aspects of our performance - and that's all performance - is predicated on the notion of perfection, of repetitive smoothness, something beyond critical judgement. We are enticed, from quite an early age, into believing that "only the best is good enough"and we carry and place that frame of being a paragon - without really understanding what makes us human.

Robot Mind, Human Mind

What sets us apart?

Well we know what sets us apart from the animals in terms of brain structure, and that is the pre-frontal cortex.

To quote Wikipaedia:
This brain region has been implicated in planning complex cognitive behaviour, personality expression, decision making, and moderating social behaviour. The basic activity of this brain region is considered to be orchestration of thoughts and actions in accordance with internal goals.
We still have primitive areas of the brain, wired to function in the way we were, countless millennia in our past.
We call this the animal brain or lizard brain.
These and many other areas of the brain are, in effect, how we are wired. We are, all the time with neuroscience, gaining a better understanding about the wiring, and about how the brain functions.

And then...there’s the Mind!
Now, one of the by-products of the industrial age, and then the electronic age, has been Man’s pursuit of creating a series of devices in his own image; devices that can perform - to a level of repetitive and consistent perfection - a whole variety of tasks previously undertaken either by humans alone, or by humans using animals in that performing partnership. It started with simple machines and eventually evolved into robotics and cybernetics.

Now, in terms of The Zone, and the Gateways into it, the overriding consideration is about the Mind – because everything about The Zone is played out within the infinite confines of the Mind.
We might now all agree that our view of the nature of consistency is about the quality of repetitiveness. And in our modern understanding, the extensive and predictable instance of high quality replication is by drawing a parallel with robots, or the “robotic” approach.

So, I’d invite you to explore here some of the similarities and differences between Robot Mind and Human Mind.

Robot Mind is linear, is digital, it is creatively simple yet functionally complex and repetitive. It is not programmed to think, but to gather and analyse data, act upon it and present conclusions. Robots are, therefore, process oriented and not goal oriented. Process orientation yields outcomes – while goal orientation brings rewards. In Robot Mind there is no comprehension of rewards. An advanced robot will have Frames of Robot Mind (or modes of action or function). Robots do not have States of Mind, because they do not have emotion or the power of thought.
Robot Mind is activated by an on/off switch.

Human Mind is vast, infinite you might say. It is analogue, diverse and multi-functional. Though it too can gather and analyse data and present conclusions, it is creatively complex. Part of that creative complexity is to recognise patterns and perceive connections well beyond the capabilities of Robot Mind. Human Mind comprehends both process outcomes that yield conclusions AND goal driven outcomes which yield rewards. Human Mind has Frames of Mind. And it has States of Mind as well. It has States of Mind because humans have emotions and the power of Thought. States of Mind are not straight-lined, they fluctuate between levels; and these fluctuations are taking place all the time.
Human Mind is activated by consciousness.

There is often some confusion in Human Mind between conclusions and rewards. In Robot Mind there are only conclusions. What possible rewards might there be for Robot Mind? Certainly not “Well done Robbie! Here’s a shot of extra special lubricating oil! Or maybe a zap of some supercharged electrical impulse!” Or maybe, “You’ve just earned yourself a promotion! That will mean new components and therefore a new Identity!”
In a contest between two Robot Minds there is no emotion and there is no reward. In the outcome of one Robot Mind overcoming the other, the only reason is superiority of attributes and faculties. There is no “I am” in Robot Mind

Intangible human qualities

At a BBC Promenade Concert in 1988 there was a performance of the Grieg Piano Concerto. The soloist was a piano roll made by Percy Grainger in 1921.
Now interesting as it was to ‘hear’ Grainger playing ‘live’ well after his death, and remarkable as was the conducting of Sir Andrew Davis in stitching together the fabric of the real orchestra in the Albert Hall to the fingerless keyboard activity – what was MISSING that evening, for the audience?
Of course, it was the HUMAN element of a live soloist. We experienced the amazing robotics of the machinery that linked the piano roll to the grand piano. We enjoyed the mechanical performance committed some time in 1921, when Grainger was in his ‘prime’ you might say – but the performance was, to put it bluntly, just mechanical. Percy Grainger wasn’t there. It wasn’t even a sound or video recording of Percy Grainger playing the piece live. In 1921, Grainger was in a studio, with an orchestra no doubt, and the key strokes were ‘captured’ within the Duo-Art piano roll recording system, and then – probably – edited into the final, saleable product.

In every human performance there needs to be the “human element”; that intangible element that elevates everything aesthetically meaningful in the performance in human terms; lifting it away from the mechanical, and away from the robotic.

Within the Robotic Mind there is no such place as The Zone. It is an essentially Human experience played out in the infinite confines of the Human Mind.

The interesting reflection on the piano roll performance is that if there was to be a repeat performance today, then the piano roll would sound the same – exactly the same as back in 1988 or 1921 – and yet the orchestra would be and sound different.

Because of Human Mind, no two human performances are ever the same – as exemplified by the famous quote by Heraclitus of Ephesus ~

“No man ever steps into the same river twice. For it is never the same man and it is never the same river.”

("Gateways to the Zone is available in paperback from Amazon, Lulu Marketplace, or indeed your local bookstore. It is also available in eKindle format from Amazon.) 

Friday, November 21, 2014

When The Flaw Comes Up To Meet Us

The Obsession with Perfection

There is a classic quote by Homer Simpson that is the very antithesis of that pillar of NLP “There is no failure only feedback”.

Now, Homer’s philosophy is built upon his worldview that mankind’s innate desire is to “do nothing” – or as little as possible - except self-indulgence. However, in another of his legendary quotes he states:
“If at first you don’t succeed – Give Up!”

This one rather pre-supposes that there is at least going to be an attempt – and of course we know the inevitable outcome to this attempt, this try - is failure!

“It’ll never work.” – “We’re all doomed.” – “I can’t do this.”

Now let’s imagine that Thomas Edison, Isambard Kingdom Brunel, Steve Jobs or the Wright Brothers, had a more Simpsonian view of their work than the uniquely individual ones they did have. Their lives, and indeed our lives, would have been utterly different. Yet their very maverick nature also acknowledges the fact that there is no such thing as Perfection.

Everyone is flawed in some way or other – and everything created, invented and fashioned by us is also flawed in some way, shape or form. Everything progresses along a pathway of mastery and refinement which we know to be true. The ultimate machines and the ‘new improved formulas’ of just ten years ago have been superceded by the next generation of “betters” – and the ideas and functional devices from even earlier are chuckled at as being primitive by comparison.

And therein lies the kernel of our individual and collective obsession with perfection.


For when we indulge in comparison – like that – then we make the profound assumption that we are standing right now at the very zenith of perfection.

“Now is best.”
“This way is best.”
“I know what best is.”

And when we compare those certainties with that thing, person, idea that is being judged, then anything short of BEST is not good enough, inadequate.

There is something very pointless about inadequate in the world of the perfect, and the perfectionist.

“A waste of time.”
“A waste of space.”
"A waste of effort."
“A waste of money or resources.”

These are all possessions of the judge – his time, his space, his effort, his money or resources – and only his things count, or have any worth. And we need to remember that in his particular view of the world, the thing with THE most value is his opinion!

How Did You get to be So Good?

A tourist in New York asked a bystander: “Say, Buddy – can you tell me the way to get to Carnegie Hall?”
Practice,” was the rather droll, yet profound reply.

Of course the background to this is that only performers at a certain level of excellence get to play at Carnegie Hall anyway, and there’s an irrefutable correlation between practice and excellence.

As a coach I’ve encountered oodles of self-judges and perfectionists over the years and there’s always one question I ask that stops them all in their tracks, no matter what age they are.

“How did you get to be as good as you are right now?
A year or two ago you weren’t as good, so how did you give yourself the chance to get better?”

Out of the silent sound of pennies falling in their mind, comes a realisation – both for them and indeed for me, their coach.

Models and Structures

There is structure to obsession which we grow and get better at. This is obvious, for I’ve yet to see the evidence showing that we are born with obsessions.
Yet obsessive behaviour and thought patterns are just one of the many models and structures we build into our lives.

Another very common pattern is described as the “Tote Model” – where TOTE is the acronym for Test-Operate-Test-Exit. It is a structural pattern for modifying and improving a particular action. The action takes place (Test) and – out of evaluation or perhaps curiosity – an adaptation takes place (Operate). The action (Test) is run again and re-evaluated and adapted until a satisfactory outcome ensues. This is the point of Exit from the structure. In actual fact the structure takes more of a form of TOTOTOTE, let’s say – but when shortened to TOTE we can all understand how the structure is defined.

Now, as a structure for action learning, TOTE is very functional and it is quite objective. So, if we are unemotional and objective learners, then this pattern will always work a treat.

However, we are humans – and humans are subjective and emotional creatures, albeit on a wide spectrum of intensity.

There’s another pattern that starts with a piece of action (Test) – that then invites the subjective and emotional Mind into the evaluate part of the structure. This time, instead of an objective question such as: “How is this piece of action functioning?” there is something rather different that probably sounds like this:

“How am I doing?”

Oh dear, the EGO has crept into the process! And when the question is asked in that way then the answer is framed from the same perspective, with language the EGO will recognise more readily. So instead of just a behavioural Action-Evaluate-Adapt-reAction-Evaluate-Adapt-reAction-Conclude structural pattern there is this one lying on top:


The pattern lying on top is a thought pattern, given more sense and meaning by using particular language. Like all thought patterns it doesn’t stop when the behaviour stops at Conclude. It runs on – boosting or undermining the EGO as it goes. All the way through the Behavioural process (the Action), the EGO is paying less attention to that process and more attention to the Thought process.

Consider that well known performer “The Confidence Player”. He’s got thought processes going on before the game. “I HOPE I have a good game today – not like last time.”

Then the contest begins and Action is taking place. All the way through the Action our confidence player is running the Act-Monitor-Judge-ReAct-Monitor-Judge-ReAct loop on top of playing the behavioural process of taking game-related Action. That loop is in the foreground of his attention, and gets in the way of where his attention and collective state of mind should really be.

Our Confidence Player can only play this way. He can’t help himself. He believes this is the way he is meant to play. He was born to play this way. This is part of the way he is. And that cannot be changed. On “good” days his is a most fabulous world of experience. On “bad” days it sucks, he sucks, everything sucks. If he doesn’t like it then that’s tough; he is stuck with it – or so he believes.

These are mountainous peaks and troughs for someone supposedly playing at something he loves doing!

Plus, in terms of developing and graduating, it is a short step from being a Confidence Player to being an Obsessive Perfectionist.

Dashing Away With a Smoothing Iron

The remedy for both the Student (Confidence Player) and the Master (Obsessive Perfectionist) starts with the simplest of Understandings – that humans are imperfect; that we are all flawed in some way. 
Our flaws are like creases in a garment, and we can work on ironing out some of those flaws.

The ironing starts with recognising the relationship between Thought and Action – between our Thinking and our Behaviour. Then we need to get ourselves a really good ironing board and cover, plus a hot iron with a good plate and a steam facility.

We need to notice when the Monitor-Judge-Monitor-Judge loop is running, whether in practice or in action. We need to recognise when the pre-match hopes and fears are running, and how they are running. We FEEL excitement and anticipation, we THINK hopes and fears – and we need to Understand the difference.

Often, when ironing, we’ll deal with one crease only to create another. We need to deploy the board and the iron in such a way that we fully engage with each crease just one at a time.

How can I turn these Monitor-Judge thought processes to my advantage? Can I manage my absorbed attention in a better way? How much do all of these thoughts MATTER to me?

The thing about our flaws is this – the more we notice them, the worse they seem to get. “Yes, but I don’t want people to see them,” I was told once. “Don’t worry,” I replied. “Everyone else is so busy trying to hide their flaws, they’ll never notice yours!” I got a smile as a response, which made me get a sense that all those flaws that seemed to matter had suddenly fallen away.

When we’re so busy watching where we are putting our feet in life, then we miss loads of all the stuff going on around us that makes life so much more interesting. And - quite often - the floor we’re studying so closely comes up to meet us.