Monday, 7 May 2012

We underrate the fast thinking of footballers, nurses and police

Doug Hawkins - famous in AFL for footy smarts despite low IQ
What are the fast thinking qualities that make a great poker player, midfield footballer, chess player or many other pursuits where there is very limited time for complex decision making? What we do know is that traditional intelligence doesn't measure it very well at all. Football (all codes) is littered with examples of players with  football smarts who are very unintelligent in the "real world". Chess success is also less correlated with IQ than you might imagine.  So what are these smarts?

Let's take a look at what makes good decision making.  

There are four key elements. 

1. Background knowledge.
For example, in football, you really need to understand the rules and the various strategies. If the coach talks about a zone v man on man defence, you have to have all of that knowledge stored away. You need to know which side your opponent prefers to kick with, and a champion Chess player needs to know all of the main opening lines.

2. You need to capture the relevant information at the time.
Scientists and analysts conduct research to collect their data (I'm in that category) but footballers need to gather a lot of critical information in a few seconds. Where is the ball, where are the players, where are they all moving to and more.  Collecting the relevant information quickly is vital. 

3. Processing the information. 
When the high IQ people in the world process information they often use statistics, computers, data models and a whole range of techniques. You can't do that in football and unless you are a computer you can't in Chess either. There isn't enough time.  So, smart players have an alternative method of processing this information that they've captured almost immediately. We know that some of this is innate and some is learned.  We also know that the thinking system they are using is a completely different one to the system I use when I am doing rigorous analysis. 

4. Act on it
The best players sum up all this information and make a decision - generally within one second. Once they have made that decision they have to execute it. A kick to a player, a tackle, a chess move. Actually picking up a chess piece and placing it where you decided to is pretty easy. Kicking a ball through a small gap when you are running full pace is not. 

So what is all this about?

We know that different thinking styles exist and are relevant to different careers. Nurses and police are more like footballers than analysts.  We need more nurses and police, so we need to understand more about this fast thinking style.  We are only scratching the surface but rather than focusing only on analysts like me, let's make sure our education and societal systems recognize the importance of these fast thinking approaches. 

This area hasn't had enough study. I will keep looking out for more information and let's all start to champion these differences as equals.

Let me know what you think

Mark S

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