Gut instinct, know how, strategy and giving up

sent by Nick Grantham | 5th January 2021

"We need to respect the fact that it is possible to know without knowing why we known and accept that - sometimes - we're better off that way."

Malcolm Gladwell

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In chapter two of Malcolm Gladwell's excellent book, Blink he introduces the reader to Vic Braden, a tennis coach in his late 70's with an uncanny knack of being able to call a double-fault mid serve before the racket even makes contact with the ball.? He discusses gamblers who instinctively know which deck of cards to avoid and art historians who sense that an artefact is a fake as soon as they clap eyes on it. The exciting thing is that none of them can explain why they know what they know! They know! In an instant, they can make snap judgements. We often dismiss this sort of insight because we have come through an education system that has encouraged us at every step of the way to back up and elaborate on our hunches with pages of facts and figures and complex spreadsheets supporting our claims. We trust scientists because they can back up their claims. I'm not suggesting we ignore the science, just that we tune into our hunches and gut feelings and embrace our ability to make a quick decision without always needing to produce a research paper to support it. 

Source: Blink by Malcolm Gladwell

"Know-how and sophistication have increased remarkably across almost all our realms of endeavour, and as a result, so has our struggle to deliver on them."

Atul Gawande

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It's not enough to be the smartest person in the room. You need to be the person in the room that can deliver. As Atul Gawande says, "...know-how is often unmanageable. Avoidable failures are common and persistent, not to mention demoralising and frustrating across many fields...". We don't mind if something doesn't work or goes a bit pear-shaped due to someone's lack of knowledge, but it's pretty annoying when someone clearly can execute a task but still makes a pig's ear of it. In high-performance sport, we have specialists in pretty much every conceivable discipline. Training and education are probably at their highest level ever, so a lack of education and ?experience can't be blamed when things don't go to plan. The problem is often that the know-how isn't being managed by simple systems and procedures (you know, the boring stuff). High performing teams don't just wing it; they don't just rely on having clever people working for them. They are successful because they ensure the boring stuff is in place to support and manage the knowledge. The secret to success may be something as dull as a checklist or standard operating procedure. Dull, I know, but possibly the difference between success and failure.

Source: The Checklist Manifesto by Atul Gawande

"So the strategy has to look at something broader than technical capability. It has to look at the political and economic resources available to each side and ensure they are deployed effectively."

Ross Brawn and Adam Parr

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When I worked at the English Institute of Sport, I was part of the UK Sport Fast Track Practitioner Programme. The programme was designed to take graduates in sport science and related fields and up-skill them over 12 months to become highly skilled practitioners. I mentored several aspiring sport scientists and strength and conditioning coaches, and whilst the focus of the training was on the technical competencies needed to deliver support to the countries elite athletes, I knew only too well that negotiating your way through a career in high-performance sport required a whole host of other skills that you just don't get taught at university. As Ross Brawn and Adam Parr point out, one of the critical things to learn is how to deal with the politics (interactions involving power and authority) of organisations. I've seen some outstanding coaches come unstuck because they didn't know how to manage relationships or appreciate the power plays that are taking place within an organisation. So I made sure that my interns were technically clued up and understood how to survive and thrive within a large organisation. I gave each of my interns a copy of How To Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie. It's a book that has stood the test of time and provided myself and many interns with insights into influencing others and improving dealings with athletes and coaches. Being knowledgeable is a given; can you improve your political skills?

Source: Total Competition by Ross Brawn and Adam Parr

"Sometimes you have to give up. Sometimes knowing when to give up, when to try something else, is genius. Giving up doesn't mean stopping. Don't ever stop."

Phil Knight

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If at first, you don't succeed, try, try again. We've all heard this one before, and we've all probably found ourselves saying it to others who are thinking about giving up on something. Whilst it's a pretty good approach, what if there are times when trying again isn't the best thing to do. What if it's a good idea to give up? Shoe Dog is a fascinating book written by the creator of Nike, Phil Knight, and provides a real insight into the roller coaster ride he undertook to create the game-changing company, Nike (I'm a little biased as I used to be a consultant for Nike!). Creating a global brand isn't a walk in the park, and Phil Knight suffered many setbacks. Toward the end of his book, Knight suggests that there are times when you should give up and try something else. ?For a man that didn't appear to give up, despite all of his setbacks, it seemed a little odd that he would suggest you should throw the towel in. But whilst he says there are times when we should give up, he says, that doesn't mean we should stop. And that's a critical point. If something isn't working, we need to recognise a point where it may be better to pivot, give up, shift. Not stop. Just try a different approach.

Source: Shoe Dog by Phil Knight

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