Can You Become An Effective Tactical Decision Maker By Making A Fool Of Yourself?

I received a newsletter from Brian Willis of Winning Mind Training, that offers some great advice on not being afraid to make a fool, of yourself. Yes that's correct; in the risk averse culture of law enforcement he recommends not being afraid to make mistakes. In my view this is sound advice because making mistakes and then applying the lessons learned to become better is what it leads to. The current state of things in law enforcement when it comes to mistakes is all too often to punish for them. A letter in the file, a verbal reprimand, a suspension, a critical/negative review, or even negative comments and disdain from peers are all too common, while identifying the lessons learned through after action reviews and debrief are all to uncommon. This hold true in handling calls for service, a more serious crisis and in training as well. The current state is you screw up you are a screw up! Is this helping our cause for safer and more effective policing or can we be much better at learning from our mistakes? I believe we can.

What could be? How much better and more effective could we be? How much safer could we be if our way of looking at mistakes was more as an opportunity to learn versus an opportunity to punish? Strategy and tactics in the law enforcement context means that "situations matter" and hence a need for cops to continuously explore situations via their observation, orientation, decision and action cycles and be prepared to adapt plans, policies, procedures, methods, tactics to fit the situation. Seeing mistakes as a positive factor to learn from, helps open up interest outward towards the tactical problem (what’s going on? and how do I fix this?) instead of driving thoughts inward; (what will happen if I screw up? Will I get a suspension, a letter in my file or be thought of as a screw up?) Thinking outward again allows you to be interested in what’s going on and to focus your efforts on, what Brian Willis calls the most important question "WHATS IMPORTANT NOW?"

If we understand that the types of situation we respond to and deal with are dynamic and continuously evolving and changing in nature, that the people we interactive are complex and have their own plans and ideas about how a particular situation will end. if we agree on this, then we must understand that there is no one scientific solution to a tactical dilemma and that the outcome we seek requires adaptable, creative thinkers who must use their insight and imagination to position themselves advantageously to seize the initiative on the street. Experiential learning is the key to creating and nurturing this type of decision-making and we must not be afraid of making a mistake. Instead we must be willing to take calculated risks which is much different from being rash.

I have often been thought of as weird, and just learned recently some cops in my area call me the Bill James of policing (I LOVE THESE TERMS BY THE WAY) for my unconventional approach to developing police tactics because i don't teach by telling cops what to think and what to do. Instead I put people in problem situations they must solve. They must figure out what’s happening and then apply tactics to fit the situations. They learn how to think and how to do in pressure situations. Cops make mistakes in this training. They get ambushed, shot, killed in training as they attempt to maneuver a building, home, suspect, active shooter, terrorist or car stop. Then after they complete the scenario (and only after its completed) they discuss their strengths and weaknesses in a red team/blue team formatted after action review. Then from what they learned, the positive and negative, from beginning to end, they adapt the lessons to the next tactical dilemma and improve. They build confidence in their competence to observe, orient, decide and act applying strategy and tactics effectively and safely to a vast array of situations, that include tactical decision games, tabletop exercises, after action reviews and with free play force on force exercises. I also utilize methodologies from other disciplines such as critical question mapping and A3 problem solving formats from the research and development and manufacturing professions creatively in an effort to identify current conditions effecting tactical decision-making, and help identify the target conditions we should be aiming for along with the steps to continuously improve in our quest to be more effective and safe on the street. Card games is another tool I use to help develop the tactical decision making process. In effect this training teaches the cops teach themselves through the strengths they possess (their attitudes, open-mindedness and willingness to learn) and through the mistakes they make by critiquing them openly and candidly and then making improvements. They are not looking to impress the instructor by following directives and strict protocols nor are they looking to impress their peers participating in the training. Instead they know the mission and intent of the exercise and use their experience, knowledge in foundational tactical principles, the scenarios and ability to think on their feet to develop sound decision-making and tactical skills.

There is power in making a fool of yourself. That power comes from mistakes we make if we are dedicated and interested enough in adapting the lessons learned. I have witnessed it in those I have facilitated tactical workshops for. I have experienced it over the years from the mistakes I have made on the street and in developing training programs. I have had to fight the fear of making a fool of myself, of adapting, shaping and reshaping my thinking about how to do the job and develop myself and others. Perfection is a goal not a standard. The clarity of hindsight makes it easy to cast blame and always overshadows the chaos of the situation. This is a factor we cops must learn to deal with and we start by not being afraid to do what needs to be done.

Be sure to check out what Brian Willis has to say bellow and remember to always stay oriented!


Making a Fool of Yourself

"A man learns to skate by staggering about making a fool of himself; indeed, he progresses in all things by making a fool of himself." ~George Bernard Shaw

For those of you who have learned to skate you can instantly relate to this quote by Shaw. For those who have not you have likely watched enough movies where people go skating for the first time to get the picture.

What struck me about this quote was not so much the memories of learning to skate but the second part of the quote. When we are learning a new skill we will make mistakes and sometimes we will make a fool of ourselves and that is ok. Unfortunately accepting that making a fool of yourself is ok does not come easy to most of us. In fact, the prospect of making a fool of ourselves scares the crap out of us and too often holds us back.

We are afraid to learn a new skill, to ask a question in class, to speak in public, or to 'go first' for fear of looking foolish. As a result, we too often stay with what we are comfortable with, stop making progress and become stagnant. In order to make progress and grow you have to take risks. Sometimes when you take a risk you will stagger about for a while making a fool of yourself. If you stick with it however, you can often learn to skate pretty well.

When you learn to skate as a child, no one thought you looked foolish staggering about the ice and falling down. In fact, it was expected behaviour and others thought you were courageous for going out and learning to skate. Every current NHL player, profession figure skater and Olympic speed skater started out that way. It was the same when you first learned how to ride a bike. As we get older however, something changes and suddenly many of us are afraid to be a beginner at anything.

What's Important Now is to find your inner child. The one who was willing to fall down repeatedly and keep getting up until you learned to skate or learned to ride your bike. Remember the amazing feeling of accomplishment the first time you skated around the rink without falling, or the first time you rode your bike without the training wheels and without falling? You can feel that again. Release that inner child and allow yourself to take a risk and take on something new remembering how great it will feel as you continually make progress and grow. You might just be surprised at how much fun you have.

Take care and always remember Life's Most Powerful Question - What's Important Now?

Brian Willis