Monday, February 27, 2012, 1:49 PM
Over the weekend, I refereed a fencing match between two 12 year olds, a boy and a girl. It was the gold medal bout for the youth event at our club tournament. The girl, slightly older, more experienced, and far taller, had a commanding lead early in the bout. Yet, when her opponent changed his game, things went south for the statistical favorite. The young boy figured out what was working against him and changed. He quickly caught up, picking up his points as the girl continued to attack with the same technique that had earned her the lead. In the end, the underdog won. Adaptation had defeated the tried and true technique.
As her coach, I explained to the young girl how common this was, sharing several personal examples of pig-headed attempts to drive in that proverbial square peg. It's a phenomenon most competitive fencers have faced. We are taught the principal "If a tactic works, keep doing it until it stops working." Our problem is always that last part. When a tactic fails, somehow we just keep trying. In our minds we are convinced that this should work because it has before. We bear down, refocused and determined to execute the maneuver just a little better than the last time. When it fails again, we get more focused, more determined. Our competitive edge drives us with cries of "This Should Work!" In a 15 point game, that is a fatal mistake.
This stubborn desire to stick to a failing strategy seems common today. We have seen it happen in businesses that don't change with the rapid evolution of technology: newspapers, video rental shops, books stores, and very nearly Apple. It happens in our government where we insist that we can keep doing things the way we always have if we simply raise taxes or cut services. We watch our environment change for the worse, driving to work in gas powered cars with disposable coffee cups in hand while blaming it on developing nations. Despite the lessons of history or scientific evidence, our society marches forward against an uncertain future, screaming "This Should Work!"
This determination-turned-stubbornness is a path to extinction. The solution is creative thinking, a willingness to challenge convention, and open mindedness. I recently changed my eating habits with extraordinary results. I was not looking for a diet. I simply got into a discussion with a friend who made an argument against my point of view and offered compelling proof. Thankfully, I was open to the ideas, despite the fact that these theories tore down every notion of nutrition I've ever known. Now, I cannot turn back.
There is no status quo. We progress and survive, or we fail, screaming "This Should Work!" I've tried that on the fencing strip, when it doesn't really matter. I mean to go forward when it does.