Learning how to do what you already know how to do

Once upon a time I was the fastest kid in my school. I even had the trophy to prove it. Speed starts with being gifted the right kinds of fast-twitch muscles. Taking advantage of the gift requires work, of course, but it also depends on acquiring specialized knowledge. Knowledge that you are unlikely to discover through trial and error. What you need is someone with that knowledge and with skill at passing that knowledge along. Particularly to smart ass adolescents who already know everything. We call these people coaches and teachers.

When you run naturally, your heel strikes the ground first and then you push off the ball of your foot into the next stride. When you sprint, it all happens on the ball of your foot. Your weight is forward. It takes time to learn how to do this and to become comfortable. For a while, you have to think about how to do something that you thought you already understood.

Today, world class performance in a lot of fields starts with taking apart what you think you already know. Dick Fosbury revolutionized the high jump by wondering what would happen if you went head and shoulders over the bar first instead of feet first.

Innovation starts with inquiry.

It starts with asking what if? This is trickier than it looks. While there may not be any stupid questions, there’s a lot of evidence that there are stupid answers. Lately, I’ve become a bit more suspicious of questions as well. Questions have to be asked in good faith and you must be willing to accept the answers produced.

Here I try to keep Richard Feynman’s admonition in mind:

The first principle is that you must not fool yourself, and you are the easiest person to fool.