Difficult Concepts #1: Doing, Knowing, Saying, Hearing, Learning

Part [part not set] of 3 in the series Difficult Concepts

Difficult Concept #1:

With most high-skill activities, the doing, the knowing, the saying, the hearing, and the learning are all dramatically different things.

That’s pretty pithy, so I better unpack it a little. Let’s take one of my high-skill activities and break it out as suggested by the headline. I routinely, multiple times a day, walk to the nearest outside place, my upstairs deck when i’m working at home, light up a cigarette, smoke it, drink from a bottle of soda, and pace around intently, and I do it with little or no awareness.

Now, that’s not a terribly valuable skill, of course, but it’s not a simple one, either. It involves the coordination of hundreds of muscles, at least a dozen objects, fire, my friends, fire.

I do this many times a day, in many different settings, without mishap. I daresay i’m actually quite good at it.

I bet if you look at your own daily habits with the right distance, you, too, will have high-skilled activities that mirror this one in terms of complexity, sophistication, and blithe unawareness. (i hope they don’t mirror it in terms of mental or physical health impact.) do "i" "know" how to do this activity? Welllllllll. The activity is done, that’s for sure. But usually when we say "i" we mean the "i" that is speaking, and usually when we say "know" we mean have conscious fact-collections about how it is done.

Walking is something many of us do. We clearly do it. But most of us don’t "know" how to walk, we just walk.

If you don’t believe me, try walking by taking conscious command of your muscles. (for the exercise, you can skip the smoking and soda-drinking.) it is surely convenient to say that I know how to walk/drink/smoke, but it’s really just convenient shorthand.

And this line of argument continues, in ways i’m guessing you can already predict.

Even when we move to skills I am far more conscious of, thoughtful about, we find that what I know and what I can say about it are, again, different things.

And so on and so forth. Saying a skill of mine, describing it, fitting it into language, explaining it, this is not obviously the same as knowing that at all. Me hearing it is different again, and me learning from the hearing is itself still different.

Put the five things in a direct and directed sequence, as we often do when we’re figuring out a course of action: doing, knowing, saying, hearing, learning.

We, i, often commit myself to courses of action that assume — contrary to all evidence — that anyone who does any of them can do all of them. Even though i’ve little reason to believe that, especially when we talk about very high-level and very low-level skills.

A great many of us ride bicycles. I did, once, tho I rarely do now.

Imagine the difficulty of knowing what I do when I ride. Of telling what I do when I ride. Of hearing what I do when I ride. Of learning what I do when I ride.
What is or has been the value of this to me?
Oy vey. I will list a couple of examples where the idea has changed something I do, but . . .

. . . but, i’ve said that this idea is difficult, by which I mean I find it irreducible, unready-at-will, unclosed-in-impact. That means my illustrations will necessarily be haphazard, baggy, loose, and the result of opportunity more than systematics.

Application: when I argue for mentoring, I am arguing for olbs "being with" noobs, working with, playing with, wrangling with, side by side in direct interaction.

Why? Because what olbs do and what olbs know and what olbs say, and what noobs hear and what noobs learn, all of those are not in isolation enough to bring noobs to the skill level of those olbs.

Application: when I teach I aim to create juice-for-change and experience-for-fodder. The information, facts, data, that I spend time transmitting through the saying/hearing/learning path is of secondary importance to the actual gaining of direct experience for my victims.

Why? Because following the sequence I mentioned above is often far less effective than actually walking, however clumsily and faltering, in enabling folks to learn.

Application: I eschew systems for "agility", as most of you know, preferring instead to try and share attitude and style over method and process.

Why? Because actual working agility is not primarily a matter of knowable-in-advance, sayable, hearable stepwise procedure.

Not that there’s no method to our madness, but that that method is based heavily in things we do but don’t know, know but can’t say, say but can’t be heard, are heard but can’t be learned that way.

Since this is the first difficult idea on my list, I want to come back one more time to the difficulty, then i’ll let you go.

Irreducible: I can’t seem to turn this idea in to a system of smaller, simpler, elements. I can’t define terms rigorously. I can’t use it as axiom or derive it as conclusion.

Unready-to-me: this idea is not one I can instantly reach for when I need an idea, it’s not a tool in the toolkit. Instead, it comes to me, often when i’m feeling blocked and frustrated. I don’t know, when it does, what it’s gonna change for me.

Uncloseable-by-me: I can’t put this idea away, the way one eventually integrates the value of some ideas moves on. Tho sometimes when it occurs to me anew it gives me the same advice as before, other times it’s radically different advice.

There’s the first "difficult concept". I hope it perturbs you in a way you find pleasing. If so, I hope you’ll let me know.

As always, feel free to add questions, comments, critiques, here or in private. Have a strange night!

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