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Saturday, June 17, 2017

The Fog of War, Why We Make Mistakes


"When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me." 1 Corinthians 13:11

How do we arrive at "doing the right thing the right way?" Education and experience change behavior. When we go off the track, what goes wrong? We challenge players to learn from their mistakes; can we do the same? What does our individual and collective history teach us?



I digress to excerpts from Wikipedia regarding former Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara and a biographical movie, The Fog of War. McNamara learned the hard way about being wrong. What we don't know can kill us. Here are some observations from the movie: 



Lesson #1: Empathize with your enemy. (Understand their position and goals.)
Lesson #2: Rationality alone will not save us. (Irrational forces can dominate the narrative.)
Lesson #4: Maximize efficiency. (Find ways to become efficient)
Lesson #6: Get the Data (Do the work.)
Lesson #8: Be prepared to reexamine your reasoning. (If your opinion has no consensus, you might be wrong.)
Lesson #11: You can’t change human nature. (We act irrationally because of our humanity.)

Nobody wants to be wrong about strategy, tactics, personnel, or motivation. But we will be. 

Intent. Is our intent to find the best way or promote our way? Is it better to succeed doing the right thing or fail because of stubborness? 

Bias. We choose to save a timeout instead of stopping a run or taking a timeout to rest players or make a needed substitution. Often a selfish choice (better players get more shots) defeats unselfish play (everyone gets their turn). Some decisions occur because of framing. We choose to play a weaker schedule for a better record instead of a harder one to provide better competition for our teams. 

Competence. We may have holes in our game. Our assistants and mentors can provide valuable input if we listen. Ask players what they 'see'. Sometimes in the heat of the game they lose sight of the obvious. 



Before our playoff game this season, I counseled players to watch for backdoor actions, the staple of our opponent. The first two possessions, our wing defender got beat back door for scores, leading to a time out. Even in a "low leverage" situation (8th grade), players lose focus. 

Conditioning/Fatigue. Although listed under conditioning, we need to recognize player health. We have a few players with exercise-induced asthma that limits them in transition. Sometimes after time off or illness, players are not in peak condition and we need to substitute differently. 

Knowledge. Players differ in knowledge and experience. We may sense a spread pick-and-roll, UCLA cut, isolation, or 'blind pig' from a formation or because of our ability to "chunk" information. Young players usually don't have those instincts. 

Reading summaries of information outperforms reading complete texts. 

Communication. Communication breaks down in key situations. Aviation, pharmacy, and other disciplines have "readback" because errors occur in about one in eight situations. Learning disabilities like ADD, dyslexia, and others are also prevalent. Sometimes I tell a player to force a player to the curtain or the stands because of left-right confusion. In the military, troops understand "commander's intent" because the situation demands knowledge of intermediate and desired end states. 

Entire books discuss error. Joseph Hallinan wrote, Why We Make Mistakes. The reasons range from inexperience, distraction (cell phones and driving), many types of bias, overconfidence, information overload, et cetera. Here's a good summary (highly recommended). Nobel Laureate Danny Kahneman wrote, "I mean, the thing that is absolutely the most striking is how seldom people change their minds," he said. "First, we're not aware of changing our minds even when we do change our minds. And most people, after they change their minds, reconstruct their past opinion - they believe they always thought that."




To prevent failure, we have to think differently, to train our eyes (and our players) to see differently. Ask "what could go wrong" and develop processes to reduce error. That always means more and better communication. Mistakes are inherent to our human condition, because we are 'wired' to survive, to make the fast choice over the best choice. This works in many instances (jumping out of the way of a speeding car) but hurts with more deliberate processes. 

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