Thursday, June 17, 2010

Studying Problems

Sleep deprived, sipping a Velvet Hammer in PDX, getting ready for another wonderful experience...

Minnesota. We'll be teaching the new communications program. We've each done some test-runs separately and one together, but those were rehearsals. This is opening night.

Everyone has default ways to solve problems. If you only have a hammer, as the saying goes, you try to solve all problems by pounding. The scientific method is one of the most efficient:

Ask the question.
Study the situation until you get a feel for some possible answers. (This stage is intuitive.)
Design an experiment to disprove your guess
Repeat as necessary

Martial arts, self-defense, de-escalation... a lot of the high-risk practical stuff work from a different paradigm: What worked before? If it didn't get you killed, don't change anything unless you have no choice. That's a decent paradigm when the stakes are high. It also works well with the way our natural instincts run-- what our bodies tend to do when scared hasn't changed much since the days of cave bears.

It tends to corrupt quickly if not tested, however. People remember what their great-granddaddy did, but maybe don't remember why. Or even if that was a one-time freak occurrence and he had a better way that worked often enough he never told stories about it.

So even in modern police stuff-- patrol, DTs and communications, the current high-speed programs are collections of stuff that worked. Experiences. And there is no way to know how many times those same tactics failed, because there may be no one to tell that story. Or the weight of tradition may be so great that disagreements are treated as heresies instead of potentially life-saving innovations.

I realized that the way I've been teaching lately, as well as designing training, is to spend a lot of time on that second step of the scientific method. Studying the problem. And it has had huge payoffs. Just recognizing the difference between social and asocial violence makes articulating force decisions easier, and also prevents costly mistakes in self-defense.

My primary teaching has shifted from telling students what to do to having them look at the situation they need to fix. An efficient answer is almost always inherent in the question/problem, if you understand the question. If you don't the best solution or technique has a random chance of working entirely dependent on you stumbling across the right problem.

It turns out that this was the big break-through in Conflict Communications. It's not a list of techniques that we have used to talk people down. There's an element of that and we won't toss out practical experience... but the whole system is based far more on analyzing what went wrong. Realizing that failed de-escalations followed very similar, very predictable patterns. Then taking a look at what and who those patterns served.

In that was the key. Not just to calming people down but to recognizing that there are different dynamics to the calming, that they have a pattern and are predictable. If you understand that, you don't need to memorize techniques because you have principles. With principles, you can improvise. With enough practice to ingrain the principles, you can improvise on the fly.

Good stuff.

4 comments:

shugyosha said...

Helped someone with an after-action review a couple of days ago. Some group management gone sour. Not physical, but could have ended with professional consequences. Didn't, but the brainstorming was interesting. Obviously easier after the fact, of course, but I think we got something for the next time it happens --and the kind of situation it was _is_ going to happen again--.

Take care. Ferran.

jks9199 said...

My primary teaching has shifted from telling students what to do to having them look at the situation they need to fix. An efficient answer is almost always inherent in the question/problem, if you understand the question. If you don't the best solution or technique has a random chance of working entirely dependent on you stumbling across the right problem.

This is really important, and you've given words to something that I just recently realized.

A few months ago, we had an incident where someone got disorderly around way too many bored cops. In the melee that ensued, we actually had trouble taking the guy down and controlling him (and one of the good guys ended up getting hurt!) because there were just too many of us, all trying to get our hands on the guy.

I wasn't happy with the way things went down, and spent some time thinking it over. Finally had a chance to run it by one of the best DT instructors I know... and it took him about a second to realize the problem: TOO MANY COPS! The solution was inherent... step back, and keep the numbers manageable so that you can manage the bad guy. Not necessarily easy to see in the heat of the moment -- but the answer was there.

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