Knowledge applied is the process of gaining both the prerequisite knowledge and the hands experience you need to excel in the shortest possible timeframe. My thirst for knowledge has driven me to travel the world seeking new ideas and different perspectives. I have never been intimidated by those who are better than me – I see them more as an opportunity to learn and push myself to the next level. However, it is my dedication to training and my appetite to take a calculated risk and try something new that has over time, given me invaluable experience, on the track, in business, and in education.
These days, if you want to know something – google it! Knowledge is easier to obtain than it used to be. What remains elusive, and the area that I have focused on as an elite performance coach in sport, business and education, is how that knowledge can be applied in a high stress environment or a real situation. I want to bridge the gap between the theory and the application of elite performance.
I have met many in my career that knew the theory but could not apply that theory on the track. I have known others with extraordinary natural talent but have not been dedicated enough to studying the art of athletics to reach their potential. Of course, you need both theory and experience in the pursuit of elite performance but the real question is how you get there?
Knowledge applied requires firstly an insatiable thirst to learn more. Evert moment, every challenge, every person you meet is an opportunity to learn something. You then need to shift your way through the relentless flow of data we all receive each day and identify what information is meaningful for you and what will help you achieve your individual goals. Finally, you must apply what you have learnt. This will usually involve some risk, perhaps you might fail a couple of times or the experience may be uncomfortable. However, the path to true wisdom is often frought with failure, embarrassment and, in some cases a generous douse of calamity. So, be warned, your quest for knowledge applied, will be a rocky ride and you will have to roll with the punches!
I have always been interested in technology and sport. The idea of science and technology combining with the grit, determination and power of an elite athlete is a perfect storm of both theory and practice and being pushed to the limits.
During my time in athletics, I worked closely with Adidas, a world leader in wearable technology. In 2005, Adidas were working on a ‘PowerWeb’ sprint suit designed using TPU. In basic terms its elastic technologies to help elite athletes perform at the highest level. I was attracted by the possibility that wearable technologies could assist the muscle on the recovery phase of my stride, increasing the leg speed and ultimately making me quicker. It made perfect sense and I was confident that it could give me a competitive edge.
The problem with TPU, if not applied correctly, can create too much resistance in a real race environment and thus actually have a detrimental affect on the runner, making them slower. The theory was excellent, the lab tests were conclusive but when the theory was applied, it did not pass the test. The researchers at Adidas were unperturbed and we continued to work together to create new sprint suits that work both in theory and practice that made a big difference to both professional and amateur runners.
The innovators at Adidas understood this. They worked with the best in science and technology and with elite athletes. They understood that failure is part of the process of learning, research and development and they were relentless in creating wearable technologies that were right, both in theory and in practice.
World class educators like MIT and BISS Puxi, part of Nord Anglia Education, also understand this. They ask students to solve real world problems and push them to get hands on with their learning, to design, to test, to fail (quickly!) and then to improve. BISS Puxi works in partnership with MIT to create a unique Science Technology Engineering Arts and Maths (STEAM) programme for their students.
As part of the programme, I was able to share some of my experiences of using and developing wearable technologies in the classroom. But of course, we went further than that. Once the theory was complete, I was out with the students on the track testing different types of wearable tech and sports equipment, assessing how could we scientifically assess the performance and understand what variables we could control (and those that we could not!). We were surprised just how much data we could collate, and what a difference tiny changes could make to performance.
This was good experience but it was not yet knowledge applied. During STEAM week, the school set a number of real world problems for students to solve. Inspired by nature, they needed to understand, design, test and create their own real world problems in one of the state of the art innovation centres in the school. The students at BISS Puxi are incredibly lucky with the facilities and support that are available to them at the school. However, whether they embrace the theory and practice of knowledge applied is ultimately, just like for the athlete’s, up to them. The opportunity is there for them to achieve, but like all of us, it is them that have to take that opportunity and apply it.
Next week we will look at L for losing. I will definitely have plenty of experience to share on that one! So until then, good luck!
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