The Wright Way

The Wright Way

Friday, April 21, 2017

Piling it all on The Learning Curve

Everyone talks about the learning curve …

“So where are you at on the learning curve with this subject matter?”
“This is going to be a steep learning curve for me!”
“I’m not making any more progress with this – my learning curve has flattened out.”
And so on.

Now I’ve written before about the learning cycle – illustrated thus:



This is a cycle, however, and there is no plotting of our progress from Unconscious Incompetence to Unconscious Competence, against either Time or Numbers of Attempts at mastering any particular thing.
Then someone, at some point plotted a graph of proficiency against time and called it a Learning Curve.

They perceived that graphically it was not a straight line, but rather more a line with a shallow gradient at the beginning, a steeper middle section and a final levelling off into a plateau.

Then, like all constructs, a number of things began to happen. Derivative graphs emerged, plotting points against different axes. 

However, for me, the most important emergence was the idea that this entire graphic representation of the progression of human expertise became an accepted NORM. It took on a life of its own and became the benchmark of TRUTH for everyone.


As we know, there are many ways we might get better at something – and for some of us, the number of attempts, or the length of time we have been doing something has nothing whatsoever to do with our progress. Once again, part of that accepted NORM that society, educators and other people judge us by, is underpinned by the spoken myth of Practice Makes Perfect.

Here’s the thing about Practice Makes Perfect – NO it doesn’t! Some of us attempt to do things for many years and still seem to portray the same level of incompetence we started out with. WHY?

The judges would have us believe that we just aren’t cut out for this; or that we are poor learners; or that we are inadequate in some way; right down to that “street-est” of judgements – we’re just plain thick. The “World” writes us off.

Yet, what if we knew that only “Perfect Practice Makes Perfect?”
That’s a bit of a gamechanger isn’t it? This doesn’t write us off – this falls in line with the idea that we are all capable of everything doesn’t it. All we now need to do is to find ways of bringing Perfection to our approaches to Practising. With this approach to practice we can now bring a higher level of Quality to our gaining of proficiency.

Yet – when all is said and done – we still find ourselves just tinkering with the Learning Curve; perhaps changing some of the gradients; perhaps arriving at Unconscious Competence sooner than we might have previously done.

However, the whole idea of bundling all our perceptions of getting better at something takes on a new lease of life when we adjust our perspectives, our ideas, around the gaining of experience, of learning, of practice and of Performance.

I’ve found, in the ways I work with clients of all ages, that we’ll only ever be working at any time on ONE of three areas –

Learning, Conditioning and Performance.

Now here’s the thing - when we deal with one of these in isolation it is a whole lot different from dealing with them even in tandem – let alone ALL THREE AT ONCE. I have found that this is a far better way of coaching – because of how we ATTEND; how we manage our ATTENTION.

It is probably down to the whole Multi-Attentional thing which we, as humans, seem to believe we can do and yet we fail at dismally. 
“Oh, but I CAN multi-task, Pete. Watch me!”
And I watch, and yes, he can multi-task!
However, he – like the rest of us - CANNOT do multi-attention.

Multi-Tasking and Multi-Attention

Grandma, knitting whilst listening to music on the radio and talking to her grandchildren is a very competent multi-tasker. Her hands, while knitting, are on auto-pilot; she is looking at the children whilst her ears are listening to the music. She is visually attending to the children and the rest of her focus is diffuse. When she comes to a bit of complex knitting technique she attends to that and not the children. She perhaps listens more to them in that moment than she does to the music. She is MANAGING her multi-tasking.

In any ONE moment in time, we can only attend to ONE thing. If our attention is elsewhere, then we are dividing our attention.

Perhaps the worst example of dividing our attention is when we are on our mobile phones when driving. And if you believe anything to the contrary, then I would suggest that when you ARE dividing your attention between the road and reading or sending a text message, your Unconscious Competence as a GOOD driver is now delusional and, in all truth, you have reverted to being Unconsciously Incompetent! Or, in other words, you have no idea how bad you are driving!

The Conditioning Curve

One of the things about any Learning Curve is that it should ONLY be about our learning. However - we have this propensity to map onto our Learning Curves the co-ordinates of another entirely separate curve -

The "Conditioning Curve". 

In the "doing" sense, our learning is merely about discovering and doing something we have never done. Conditioning, on the other hand, is about getting BETTER at it through repetition.

Think about going to the gym and/or getting fit. We engage with a set of routine exercises that we work at to condition our bodies to becoming more able to deliver a level of consistent athleticism. Are we really learning anything?
We may occasionally start a new routine – and we will become familiar with it. This isn’t learning though, it is merely altering the parameters of our Conditioning. In terms of our fitness, we will also be able to plot our proficiency against time or number of attempts (visits to the gym.) 
This is our Conditioning Curve.

When we judge our progress along our Conditioning Curve, we have an entirely different perspective as to what is happening in terms of our competence. Shortcomings are down to fluctuations and changes in our health, our lifestyle, our ability to regularly attend – in fact a whole range of reasons that have no bearing upon our skills, competences and abilities to LEARN.

Do you GET what I am MEANING here?

The Conditioning Curve is much more about Practice Making Perfect than the Learning Curve – yet here, too, Perfect Practice is also a very key element. Plus, and we need to remember this, the Conditioning Curve falls away when we don’t attend over time – if we stop going to the gym and exercising, then our fitness falls away.

The Performance Curve

Oh, yes, and in case you wondered – there IS also a Performance Curve.

We can learn how to do something; we can condition ourselves to be able to consistently and repeatedly do something; and when we are then asked to go out and perform that something, we are then subjecting our ability and consistency to that thing called … Performance.
We may have reached Unconscious Competence on the Learning Curve, we may have reached a good level of fitness or consistency on the Conditioning Curve – and now we are on a Curve of a very different kind!

When I work with clients on their Performance, in an ideal world we would pay no attention to Learning or Conditioning. We look, instead, at the Relationship with our Thinking, and how that affects our Equilibrium and our Temperament. This in turn affects our ability to manage our Concentration (our Attention and Focus), and our Decision Making. All these, conclusively, become synthesized into something we might label as Experience.

Experience is a construct that becomes more tangible the better we use it. In that regard, it is very much like Confidence – which also becomes more tangible the better we use it. Neither of these two constructs can be bought over the counter, or put in a wheelbarrow.

When looking at our Performance Curve for any particular thing we will notice that it fluctuates.
Performances fluctuate. 

The curve does have a bottom line – and the over-riding factor that plays into that base or ground-level of performance is our level of applied Experience. This is the tangibility I talked about just now, when we use our Experience well. Some people might even describe this by saying – “We are Learning from Experience.”
We know, equally well, that if we do not learn from our Experiences, then our Performances will never get better – or we will never raise our level of consistency in performance.

How do we Learn from Experience?

Good question!
However, we need to be aware that now we have left the Performance Curve behind, and are back on a Learning Curve!

We know that Experience is a construct made from a synthesis of our Thought Relationship, Equilibrium, Temperament, Concentration and Decision Making.
And we will have a Curve that depicts how we are Learning from Experience.

We will LEARN from our every Experience from every Performance, by examining just and only those aforementioned 5 things! 
Our Thought Relationship, Equilibrium, Temperament, Concentration and Decision Making.

In fact, the more Grounded and Objective we are, the more we understand that the primary element (our Relationship with our Thinking) will provide all the answers for increasing our Learning From Experience.

So how does the baby learning to walk learn from experience – for he or she learns very well – AND – very fast!
Well, in terms of synthesizing Experience, baby is not weighed down with a relationship with his or her thinking, and temperament also plays little part in proceedings. Baby is in a state of Equilibrium of Performance, is concentrating and is acting intuitively; baby is awakening to something it intuitively knows how to do though has not yet got an awareness of. Baby is gaining that awareness through Experience – which is PURE Learning.

We learn from experience by gaining an awareness that leads us to understanding.


So, the next time you hear yourself – or someone else – use The Learning Curve as a label, check WHICH curve is actually being talked about!

For in my coaching experience, once we differentiate between Learning, Conditioning and Performance, then we can really start to get very much better at ALL THREE – by making sure that we are not trying to Multi-Attend all three at once.

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