Thinking about options and failure

We spend a lot of time in sport seeking optimal performance. We tend to be very optimistic about the processes that contribute to this optimisation outcome and are delighted when it occurs.

One of the aptitudes we require is the ability to differentiate the choices of interventions and treatments we share with our support team colleagues, coaches and performers.

Clare Thorp has written about one aspect of this differentiation, overcoming the fear of better options. She notes:

We have more choice than ever in our daily lives — but while choice is supposed to feel liberating, it can often feel exhausting instead.

Clare discusses, among other issues, decision-making styles used by ‘satisficers’ and ‘maximizers’ (Parker, de Bruin and Fischhoff, 2007). Satisficers choose options that are good enough, maximizers choose an option with the highest expected utility.

In a 2017 paper, Daniel Brannon and Brandon Solwisch focused “on how and why maximizers evaluate an individual product based on a salient characteristic—the number of features that it has”.

The proliferation of feature-rich resources for and in high performance sport raises some important issues for the decisions we make and the advice we give. Daniel and Brandon note:

  • Maximizers evaluate products more favorably than satisficers when they have many features (“feature-rich”), but not when they have few features (“feature-poor”).
  • Maximizers are more likely than satisficers to perceive feature-rich (compared to feature-poor) products as a means of signaling status to others.
  • When maximizers no longer perceive feature-rich products as status signals, they do not evaluate them more favourably than satisficers.

They conclude with a discussion of status-signalling:

while past studies have found that maximizers experience post-decision regret because they look back at what could have been, it is also possible that they are disappointed when their purchase does not end up providing them with the positive social comparisons that they had originally hoped for …

It is sometimes very hard not to be part of an innovation momentum. Clare’s post and the literature are helpful stimuli to encourage us to think about how we personally come to make recommendations about innovation and adoption.

I think it is helpful to think about failure in this context too. Enter Sarah Milstein.

Earlier this year, Sarah wrote about How to Fail When You’re Used to Winning. She introduced her post with:

Innovation is a buzzword for our era. It evokes the promise of profiting tomorrow from today’s changes in technology. The word innovation implies a clean, crisp path. That’s a lie. In fact, innovation requires enormous amounts of failure — which then presents leadership challenges.

Sarah points out that “any team that must experiment constantly will fail a lot, and repeated failure almost always depresses people” (original emphases).

She adds:

when your team equates project failure with defeat, many will intuitively address the problem by narrowing the scope of new projects, in order to make them more likely to succeed.

She questions whether this approach is appropriate for entrepreneurial environments. I have always seen high performance sport as an entrepreneurial space and I found Sarah’s ideas resonating with the decision-making literature discussed earlier.

Sarah suggests the following framework for a team to reflect on direction:

  • Develop a written vision and mission statement and refer to them often.
  • Make failure an opportunity for learning rather than for blame.
  • Ask colleagues to share the lessons they have learned from failure.
  • Set a regular time when teams can raise a challenge they’re facing, and individuals can step up to offer relevant expertise or knowledge.
  • Use a spreadsheet, database or repository to track notes, code, and other assets from failed projects that can be reused in future projects.
  • Publicly celebrate incremental progress.
  • Model the behaviours you want.

Sarah concludes:

Your path to succeeding at failure and maintaining morale will not be linear. You’ll stumble along the way and find yourself wanting to pretend you didn’t just trip. But stick with it. Teams that can maintain good spirits during hard times tend to win, and nothing feeds morale like success.

Edwin Thoen has something to share about dealing with failed projects too, particularly involving data:

The probability that you have worked on a data science project that failed, approaches one very quickly as the number of projects done grows.

He suggests:

  • Make failing an option from the start.
  • Plan realistically and include slack for messiness.
  • Keep stakeholders in the loop.
  • Write a final report.

As Dewi Koning indicates finding positives in failure amplifies shared learning.

For much of my professional life I have been drawn to ‘good enough’ approaches. The more I have been involved in high performance sport, the more I have wanted to discuss fallibility in our pursuit of a dynamic performance optimisation. And to own failure as well as success.

I do believe that transparency about innovation decisions and their outcomes is immensely helpful as we all negotiate that very fine line between leading and bleeding edges.

Photo Credit

Milky Way Galaxy seen from mountain range (Stephen Coetsee on Unsplash)

Portals and portkeys

I sat in on a presentation yesterday.

My colleague Scott Nichols , Director of Student Connect at the University of Canberra, shared progress on a new student portal that aims to provide a single point of entry that supports choice of course, enrollment, studying, graduation and on-going alumna/alumnus connection.

The portal will respond dynamically to each student log in and provides an exciting approach to supporting personal learning journeys. I hope this access can be available for the lifetime of the learner.

Scott’s presentation was shared in confidence so I am unable to provide the detail of a platform that will be launched in 2019.

I was fascinated by Scott’s talk and I focused on the personal potential of the platform. It will provide a data rich environment, that with students’ informed consent, could lead to a profoundly ethical resource to support personal learning journeys and personal learning environments.

I believe that the impact of such a portal could be amplified if we are able to appreciate the success of the national Vocational Education Training’s Unique Student Identifier (USI) registration scheme.

At present, six million students who are taking or have taken nationally recognised training opportunities have a USI. This is a reference number that:

  • creates a secure online record of recognised training and qualifications gained in Australia, from all training providers
  • gives access to training records and transcripts
  • is accessed online, anytime and anywhere
  • is free and easy to create
  • stays with you for life

These ten numbers become a portkey in my vision for innovations at the University of Canberra. The USI transcript service that became available in May 2017 underscores this portkey potential.

With the appropriate checks and balances in place, the USI connects school, tertiary and lifelong learning in a wonderfully transparent way.

The announcement of the USI transcript service included these observations:

  • Training participants and graduates can view, download or print their USI Transcript and share it electronically with future training providers if they wish.
  • It will help training participants and graduates when enrolling in further training or applying for jobs as well as support Australian businesses to get a better understanding of their employees’ level of training.
  • The service will enable the Federal Government and policy makers to get a clearer picture of the skills pathways that Australians pursue, and importantly, the ones that work.

In this context, the University of Canberra portal becomes part of a nationwide and global learning network. It has portkey potential (“an enchanted object that when touched will transport the one or ones who touch it to anywhere on the globe decided on by the enchanter).

Grazing on the periphery

It has been a great week for grazing … much of it enabled by Mara Averick’s open sharing.

It started with news of Alison Hill’s speakerdeck presentation.

Alison discusses courage, enchantment, permission, persistence and trust as elements of creative learning. She concludes with this slide:

What fascinated me about Alison’s presentation was her synthesis of profound ideas about sharing and learning with each other in an aesthetic that grabbed and held my attention for 94 slides.

She is part of a remarkable R community that shares openly.

Three other members of this community enabled even more grazing this week. Each offered me possibilities to extend my knowledge of visualisation using R.

Matt Dancho has shared the Anomalize package that enables a “tidy” workflow for detecting anomalies in time series data. There is a vignette for the package to share the process of identifying these events. I think this will be very helpful in my performance research as I investigate seasonal and trend behaviours.

Ulrike Groemping shared the prepplot package in which “a figure region is prepared, creating a plot region with suitable background color, grid lines or shadings, and providing axes and labeling if not suppressed. Subsequently, information carrying graphics elements can be added”.  There is a detailed vignette to support the package.

Guangchuang Yu shared the ggplotify package that converts “plot function call (using expression or formula) to ‘grob’ or ‘ggplot’ object that compatible to the ‘grid’ and ‘ggplot2’ ecosystem”.  Guangchang shares a detailed vignette that illustrates the potential of the package.

Mara, Alison, Matt, Ulrike and Guangchuand epitomise for me the delights in open sharing. A post in The Scholarly Kitchen, written by Alice Meadows, added to my grazing on the margins of openly sharing.

In the post Alice shares a wide range of resources. She makes a particular mention of the Metadata 2020 project that is “a collaboration that advocates richer, connected, and reusable, open metadata for all research outputs, which will advance scholarly pursuits for the benefit of society.”

The opportunities for such collaboration are increasing as we find new ways to share synchronously and asynchronously. These become easier as we make a bold decision to think out loud and share our thoughts with others.

Alison’s presentation includes this slide as a stimulus for that sharing:

This sharing permits grazing for me in the sense of the word used in Leonard Cohen’s Preface to the Chinese translation of his collection of Beautiful Losers poems includes this passage:

When I was young, my friends and I read and admired the old Chinese poets. Our ideas of love and friendship, of wine and distance, of poetry itself, were much affected by those ancient songs. … So you can understand, Dear Reader, how privileged I feel to be able to graze, even for a moment, and with such meager credentials, on the outskirts of your tradition.

Photo Credits

Slide grabs from Alison Hill’s speakerdeck.

Pictures from Twitter and Beuth Hochschule.

Collaboration image from Alice Meadow’s post.