Make It So

I started having trouble with my eyes a few years ago, nothing drastic or debilitating, just getting old. I started to recognize that my vision, at certain distances, wasn’t as crisp or clear anymore. It was time for a slight correction.

Then I started to recognize the same things professionally in my DoD life: trouble with crispness and clarity, at a certain distance. And I began to recognize what that, too, was. In the Queen’s English it was short sightedness, or as we say nearsightedness, and so I set about implementing a process to fix it.

Physical nearsightedness is sometimes an easy fix, but what I found was existing on an industry wide, or at least my industry – training – wide problem. And the problem, at its base, is myopia. Myopia is defined, simply, as “lack of imagination, foresight, or intellectual insight.” And it is tearing the training world, and sometimes the bigger world, apart. Let’s break it down for what it is, and in understanding the steps, learn to avoid it.

First: lack of imagination. Wow! Can you even picture that? A lack of imagination. What a horrible thing to say to someone, let alone about their program. Each of us, in our everyday lives, is flooded with interactive and integrated concepts and applications that all stem from ours, or someone else’s, basic imagination. Who hasn’t stood in their kitchen making something and thought I bet adding this would be great! Or found themselves, hours later, emerging from a book that you just. couldn’t. let. go. Or outdoors, when a quick trip outside for some fresh air and surroundings turned into a longer walk and adventure. Yet sometimes our personal imaginations don’t translate into our work ethic. I have stood in many a training environment – whether a range, a track, a shoot house, or a mat room – that had little to no imagination woven into the material. Same drill, same movements, same stuff. Two famous scientists talk about imagination differently, yet both take us to places we need to see. The great Albert Einstein says, “The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift.” Your imagination is your gift! Embrace your gift; let it feed your program. If you let your imagination feed your training program you can, and will, accomplish anything. As Carl Sagan said, “Imagination will often carry us to worlds that never were. But without it we go nowhere.”

Second: lack of foresight. Lack of foresight is the literal lack of knowing where it is you are going, what your program is doing, where your students are performance wise vs. where they need to be, both individually and as a group, to mark success. The synonyms for foresight are pretty startling as well. Imagine if I was saying these things to you, about you, and about your program: You lack planning; you lack caring; you lack preparation. For teachers who take their craft seriously these are fighting words. I have worked in police departments with ten officers and a training budget of a couple hundred dollars and I have worked in federal agencies who measure their training dollars in tens of millions and the lack of foresight, the lack of planning, the lack of caring, and the lack of preparation will kill those respective programs, and their students, equally. You must know where you are to determine where you need to go.

Third: lack of intellectual insight. It is hardest when we don’t know what we don’t know. But hard things are not impossible things. Learn. Become a student of your craft again. Grow in what you know about what you do. Another way to say a lack of intellectual insight is to say you are one question deep. Are you one question deep? Is your program one question deep? Don’t be afraid if you are, just fix it. There have been plenty of times when I have been one question deep with a new task or skill, but I never let it stop there. One of the best descriptor lines that I love about teacher’s teaching a program is “without background or aid of reference”. That line used to scare me to death as a teacher. I was frozen, at times, with anticipation and fear prior to getting in front of students with the knowledge that, while teaching, I had to perform “without background or aid of reference.” It was standards like that, placed upon me by programs and myself, that led me to learn my subject matter so deeply; led me to constantly be the student of my own craft. Don’t ever fall victim to your own ignorance.

So this is what myopia can do to you, your programs, and your students. So what can we do – you and me – to turn the tides? Simply, look through a different lens.

First: use your imagination. Your classroom, and your students, are a blank canvas. They are waiting for you to take them on your journey. They are willing participants in your adventure. Take them with you. I have always said that what makes Graham Combat classes successful is that I build classes that I want to go to, and then I share them with you. Don’t look at the walls of your classroom as limits or boundaries to your creativity, treat them the same as the edges of your paper. There’s a lot of room out there to put your imagination to work. Work to the edges.

Second: use your foresight. I use my process of Defined End State, which I will further define and outline for you in a later blog, but it is simply defining your end state by asking yourself what does right look like? and then working your way backwards from there. Have you ever packed for a camping trip or a hike and then, once finished, recognized that you didn’t use half – or more – of the things you were carting around? Through Defined End State modeling we can – prior to putting in the bulk of the effort or starting the race – define what right looks like then decide, through a backwards-planning process where we need to be now, at the beginning. Defining your success is easier to achieve than attempting to meet an arbitrary or unknown standard. Use your foresight to define what right looks like. You have watched athletes do this for years: basketball players using dry practice at the free throw line or Olympic diver’s, eyes closed, mentally rehearsing their moves before taking the platform. You know what right looks like. Now build towards it.

Third: know your material. It’s easier to know what right looks like when you know your material. And I don’t mean know it on the surface: you need to know your materially deeply. There should never be a question about the material that you are teaching that you cannot answer. Remember: you stood up to be the teacher, it is incumbent upon you to have the answer. Sure, sometimes questions are the anomaly, and we can’t possibly know everything about everything all the time yet, like a good trial attorney, there is never a question or circumstance that can arise that you shouldn’t know the answer to. The simplest way that I have found to become more learned in my craft is to continually ask myself that basic question of the improv artist: yes, and? If you study improvisation or watch improv you will see that the underlying tenet is those two simple words: yes, and? To know your material fully is to sit with it and ask yourself, on every layer of what you teach: yes, and?

I spent almost twelve years at the Department of Defense creating, developing, operating, and teaching programs. Some were small, some were big. All of them were successful, and the keys to success I used were imagination, foresight, and knowledge. So go. Build your programs. If you already have a program, tear it down and build it again, for we can always improve. The world is in constant flux. I will leave you with the same challenge that I would leave my students and co-workers with: make it so.