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Being ready

July 5, 2012 8 comments

It’s crazy that teachers are criticized for training students specifically for the test. Standardized testing is a mainstay of the US education system and teachers are highly incentivized to produce good test scores. This has nothing to do with developing critical thinking skills, writing skills, or any of the myriad attributes we’d like to teach kids. Our current public policy and priority in the US is to deliver high test scores on standardized tests. We can debate the merits or pitfalls of this educational priority, but if teachers are mandated and incentivized to raise test scores, teachers will teach the test.

I recently entered an “adventure event”. The Tough Mudder is a 10 – 12 mile adventure foot race with 20+ obstacles laid out over the course. This event is billed as “Probably the toughest event on the planet” and the obstacles are designed to induce maximum psychological and physical discomfort. They include fire, electricity, confined spaces, cold, heat, barbed wire, immersions, heights, and above all, mud. Lots of mud. Pretty much from the outset the participant is wet and dirty. You’ll stay that way for the entire race; a period of 3-5 hours. It makes sense to train wet and muddy, since this is the condition of the event. To that end I’ve tried to simulate race conditions during my workouts in the hopes that come race day I’ll be impervious to “wet and muddy”.  My neighbors, colleagues, and family must think I’m crazy when I dash into the woods in a pouring rain or come back soaked, filthy and bloodied, but to me this is the sanest approach to preparing for the “toughest event on the planet”. It would be crazy not to train soaking wet and muddy.

Consider Gene Hackman’s character in the movie Crimson Tide. A roaring grease fire erupts in the galley and begins to spread. In the middle of that high-stress high-risk moment  the captain decides to stage a missile launch drill. When his unbelieving executive officer (Denzel Washington) questions the wisdom of the drill Hackman replies this is the very best time for a missile drill. You train to perform successfully under the most adverse conditions. Consider the Navy Seals; whose mission is conducted under the most demanding physical and psychological conditions. Seal training simulates real-life conditions.

We should always stack the deck in our favor, especially when we know what the expectations are and what outcomes are incentivized. This is “life-hacking”. If the expectation is higher test scores, then teach the test. If the goal is to lift more weight, stop running and start lifting. If your business is FDA regulated, turn every conversation towards your successful defense in an inspection.

It is so important for leaders to both set and understand the expectations. The world incentivizes specific behaviors and outcomes, and punishes those who ignore it. Teach the test, train for the most demanding and realistic conditions that you can imagine. When the test comes you’ll be ready.

Do you have a task, event, or life-test coming up?

Do you know what the expectations are?

Are you preparing for “life” the right way, no matter how crazy it may look to others?

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