The importance of Knowing Your Stuff!

I had a great learning lesson over the last week that motivated me to write this post. The lesson focused around a business decision and the perception of business that I possess, that is based on mostly self learning, through trial and error. Lessons also stem from reading and conversations with those in business with much more formal knowledge and experience than I. The lesson I learned was the importance of "knowing your stuff" and how it relates to proper orientation and proper decisions being made. The focus of this post will be how experience, "knowledge" gained from all walks of life can improve our decision making in the law enforcement and security professions.  We will also focus on the "how too" of developing overall knowledge so that the decisions we make are reasonable... as well as; how do we modify knowledge when we fail and evolve into better profesionals.   

If we are to make proper decisions, whether in a business setting, law enforcement, security or any other field for that matter, we must first know the basics. As well as; learning the more advanced concepts that are required if we are to succeed in our efforts. Learning must be constant if our goal is seize the initiative in a given scenario. There is a time to think and a time to act, a time to wait and a time to move. A time when decisions are immediately necessary and a time when contemplation and council are prudent. Knowing your stuff insures the the right method, the right actions are taken.

Its important to understanding how we make decisions, how we process information. Then a more complete understanding of the the why, you need to know your stuff, should be more obvious. In a non-threatening environment we analyze the circumstances because time is not critical. There is time to think and formally solve problems that present themselves and require action, although not immediate action. This is known as problem solving through analysis. This is great for strategic planning or putting together a business plan or a written raid plan for high risk warrant service. This is the decision making process I should have been using in the business decision I made alluded to above. In retrospect I had plenty of time to way options, analyze the situation, speak to others for input, then decide what to do. Lesson learned? Immediate decisions are not always necessary.
The second way we make decisions is what is known as; "Recognition Primed Decision Making" I call on the fly or under pressure decision making. This decision making is in the moment. Something needs to be done and done now. This ability to make implicit decisions comes from experience (real world) and training . You are recognizing patterns and coming up with solutions to problems as they unfold. In this type of situation we learn as we go based on trial and error. This is where your Boyd Cycle, observation, orientation, decision and action cycles come into play.  You must make judgments as to "whats going on? in unsure, uncertain, unexpected, chaotic circumstances. Under this pressure you find a solution, "what works!" You have learned patterns of behavior, you recognize the normal and abnormal. This in combination with new information presenting itself (at that moment) you orient yourself, to the situation, asking yourself "whats going on?" Then based on your implicit analysis, make decisions based on options, you have learned from your past experiences. Creativity is also necessary in your plans and actions. Canned approaches do not always work, the unorthodox approach, through your thinking in the moment could be the key to a safe resolution. Decisions are time critical in these types of circumstances. There is no time to go back to the office and come up with a written plan, you must in these types of circumstances plan mentally based on what "your" Boyd Cycle is telling you.

The nature of what you know, what you have learned through all aspects of life to this point, is critical to the decisions and options you make in these type of circumstances.  A lack of preparedness or understanding, confusion over some seemingly insignificant detail for example; law or procedure, can slow the decision making cycle down. Also the perception you have of your organization i.e. is it one of mutual trust, fairness or is it distrusting, critical and unsuppotive when quick, reasonable and necessary actions are taken? This also will weigh on your decision making. Putting you at a disadvantage. Hence the importance of "Knowing Your Stuff!"

You could not expect a person with no knowledge, of our field to succeed consistently in resolving serious conflicts and problems faced. Imagine a person thrust into a domestic disturbance or an unruly and angry patron of a establishment with the intent to assault and harm, those present. Or worse yet, an active shooter on the loose and the officer present has had no training and no knowledge of mental or physical tactics, for example; the basic knowledge of cover and concealment, tactical communication or marksmanship. It would most likely be a disastrous ending. The basic understanding of these concepts as well as; rules of law and procedure, conflict resolution, tactical response and approach, perimeter containment, negotiation, tactical movement, room entry and situational awareness; are paramount to the successful resolution of this type of event.  

Lets look at simpler example; driving a car: Imagine someone attempting to drive a car without ever having been taught the difference of the gas pedal and the brake. Think back to when your first learned to drive or if you have taught new road warriors (young drivers) and there first attempts to hit the roadways. A rather scary thought, drivers on the road with no training or understanding of how the car works? A new driver must be taught the basics, rules of the road, what a red, yellow and green light means, what side of the road to drive on, who has the right of way (remember those left turns!), etc. Then we get into the nomenclature of vehicles, gas pedal, brake, rear view mirror, gear shift, i.e. park, reverse, neutral and drive etc. Then  fundamentals of driving. Any parent knows these basics, this knowledge is detrimental to not only the health of the young driver (your child) but at times while teaching your health as well.

I love the driving a car analogy, because it shows how over time, based on knowledge and training. The constant repetition of driving, "the physical skill" in combination with the countless decisions we make intuitively based on, the behaviors and actions of other drivers on the road. We evolve, through basic knowledge, trial and error, via the Boyd Cycle, decisions are made implicitly and accurately. Proving the importance of knowing your stuff through experience, training and repetition.   If we took this type of success and applied to developing the mental and physical skill required to perform skills our jobs require. We would have similar successful results.

There is an old sane I remember reading, it went some like this "you don't know what you don't know" it refers to ignorance, lack of knowledge of a particular topic. This can obviously lead to acting on incomplete information and dangerous assumptions being made. As well as failing to act due to no or improper orientation. Continued learning, evolving in our knowledge, is the key.

Education leads to effective training. We have established that the basic knowledge we possess on any subject matter is crucial to the decisions we make. The knowledge we possess is based on the way we were raised, the experiences we have had in our life time, up to this point; have a profound effect on our decision making. Any new information we are sensing is processed and viewed by us as individuals is based on what we have learned thus far and how we personally see the world. As COL John Boyd put it; our "orientation." In short, our individual perception of things.

In the security and protection professions, it is important to understand the mission, as well as the goals and critical tasks to be performed, before we can upgrade our skills to a high level of efficiency through training. Education will prepare the mind so that we can begin to blend the information learned into well thought out training programs which enhance necessary skills. Without this educational component, training will be ineffective. Lets talk briefly about methods of education and training we can utilize in accomplishing this goal.

Education, combined with training, is the key to developing patterns of recognition that enhance decision making in rapidly changing circumstances. A necessary requirement in dangerous encounters. Education and training come in many forms, self education through reading books, listening to audio presentations or watching videos. Also utilized is the classroom environment, lecture and demonstration formats which gives the student basic information about the particular task or tasks they must know, to be able to perform. An example from the law enforcement and security perspective, would be overview of criminal laws, detainment verses arrest, policy and procedural information, initiative driven tactics, or the fundamentals of marksmanship etc. It goes without saying the programs of instruction are comprehensive and well thought out.

Task training or physical skills practice, is hands on training, required to develop the skills discussed and demonstrated on a particular topic, in the classroom such as; dry fire practice to develop marksmanship or defensive tactics training. A technique is taught and demonstrated. Then the technique is practiced over and over. Some trainers believe thousands of repetitions are required for a student to perform in a dynamic encounter.  This practice helps you develop confidence via your performance. As you practices you see an increase in skill level. Continued practice is key in the development and maintaining of these skills.

Stimulus response training, is another method to enhance skills and goes beyond teaching a series of skills.   You  must first recognize the threat and then respond to the threat. Here is where processing information via the Boyd Cycle comes into play, taking into account the prior training "knowledge" you orient to a particular threat level,  a decision is made as to what response you will utilize and you act. The goal of this training is to decrease reaction time to a particular stimulus i.e. a punch, a kick, man with a gun or knife etc. and you respond accordingly.  Again continued practice to condition responses, is critical.

Scenario based training, focus's on getting you to apply the knowledge you possess in a set of circumstances requiring you to plan and come up with a solution to a problem. The training is done through use of tactical decision games, also known as decision making exercises. This type of training is done with pen and paper, or a more involved table top exercise. Scenarios are given, and individuals or teams solve the problem presented. The decisions made are discussed openly in a candid setting and lessons learned are applied in a different scenario, so continued learning takes place. This conditions individuals and teams to think on their feet and adapt.   

Free play or role play exercises, are a more in depth form of scenario based training. A TDG, utilizing role players. This is three dimensional real world interaction between the good guy and bad. The interaction is as real as you can make it without actually being in real conflict. This trainings goal is to have you apply all your knowledge to include the mental, moral and physical lesson learned and perform in real life circumstances. This is the crux of decision making training and physical skill development. This is where the basic knowledge you possess, accumulated through training and past experiences is applied collectively. You will experiences the psychological and physiological effects of dangerous conflict. Resolving the problem using your individual thinking, and decision making skills, as well as individual and team strategic and tactical know how in combination with the physical skills possessed.   

The After Action Review, as a training tool: The instructor can utilize this tool of critiquing an incident via the individual or group involved in an incident. In my view there is no better training than actually being in a set of circumstances and after its over, discussing the circumstances and coming up with the lessons learned. A powerful experience, when those involved are open minded and willing to learn from everything that happened, positive and negative. The AAR is a powerful tool in critiquing tactical decision games and role play exercises as well. Lessons are learned and the student is placed back into another scenario to test and refine his abilities.

In any endeavor where you are expected to produce results, you must first understand the basic concepts. Then evolve through training and experience. Formal training through school, college, the academy or corporate training and orientations as well as informal training through reading, conversations and on the job experiences do well to teach us lessons necessary to succeed. Then based off this knowledge you evolve through continued training and experience. If we are to improve decision making, improve all aspects of the Boyd Cycle in combination with physical skills, we must start from the basic understanding of our particular professions and evolve. 

Know your Stuff! And train, train, train in the physical, mental and moral realms of conflict. It is an on-going process. A process necessary to detecting, preventing, avoiding, defusing and resolving problems and conflicts in an uncertain, rapidly changing world.  

LESC  is an organization dedicated to teaching the strategy and tactics  essential to detecting, preventing, avoiding, defusing and resolving conflict. Your comments are welcome and encouraged so that continued learning and adaptation takes hold.