Two Tim Merry references in a row. Yesterday Tim posted a video blog on planning vs. preparation. It is a useful and crude distinction about how to get ready for action in the complicated vs. complex domains of the Cynefin framework. I left a comment there about a sports metaphor that occurred to me when Tony Quinlan was teaching us about the differences between predictive anticipation (used in the complicated domain) and anticipatory awareness (used in the complex domain).
In fact this has been the theme of several conversations today. Complicated problems require Tim’s planning idea: technical skills and expertise, recipes and procedures and models of forecasting and backcasting using reliable data and information. Complex problems require what Dave Snowden has named an artisian approach which is characterized by anticipatory awareness, theory and practice (praxis) and methods of what they call “side casting” which is simply treating the problem obliquely and not head on.
When I was listening to Tony teach this last month, I thought that this distinction can be crudely illustrated with the difference between playing golf and playing football (proper football, mind. The kind where you actually use your feet.) In golf there is a defined objective and reasonably knowable context, where you can measure the distance to the hole, know your own ability with golf clubs, take weather conditions into account and plan a strategic line of attack that will get you there in the fewest strokes possible.
In football it’s completly different. The goal is the goal, or more precisely to score more goals than your opponent, but getting there requires you to have all kinds of awareness. More often than not, your best strategy might be to play the ball backwards. It may be wise to move the ball to the goal in AS MANY passes as possible, in a terribly inefficient way because doing so denies your opponent time on the ball. And the context for action is constantly changing and impossible to fully understand. And the context also adjusts as you begin to get entrained in patterns. If you stick to a long ball game, the defending team can adjust, predict your next move and foil the strategy. You have to evolve or be owned.
This is, I believe, what drives many Americans crazy about world football. There is rarely a direct path to goal and teams can go for whole games simply holding on to the ball and then make one or two key finishing moves. Some call that boring, and it is, if you are in a culture that is about achieving the goal as quickly as possible and moving on. And God knows we are in a culture that loves exactly that.
You plan golf holes by pre-selecting the clubs you will use in each shot and making small adjustments as you go. In football you prepare by doing drills that improve your anticipatory awareness, help you operate in space and become more and more physically fit, so that you have more physical options. You become resilient. Yes you can scout an opponent and plan a strategy and a tactic, but football is won on the pitch and not in the strategy room. Golf is very often won in the strategy room, as long as your execution is masterful.
It’s a crude distinction and one has to be mindful all the time of downright folly of “this vs, that”, but sometimes these kinds of distinctions are useful to illustrate a point.