Tag Archives: Pacific Standard Magazine

Visualization and Sports: Accounting for Errors in Performance

There was a great article in Pacific Standard magazine last month that I really enjoyed called: “The Game Slowed Down.” It talks a great deal about visualization and sports. In reading through it, I was somewhat amazed at just how mainstream the idea of visualization has become.

“Mental rehearsal” isn’t a new idea by any stretch of the imagination, but as I think back to my brief time as an elite athlete, visualization was hardly spoken of and certainly not openly encouraged by coaches or teammates. Lucky for me that it was something my parents taught me, so I had that early exposure to it, but I certainly think I would have benefited (and my teammates would have benefited) from group sessions where we all sat down as a team and went to “practice” by closing our eyes and visualizing our successful outcomes.

On that note, there was one passage in the article that pleasantly surprised me:

During the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi, 18-year-old Shiffrin was asked if she was nervous about participating in her first Olympics. Her response was, well, these aren’t my first Olympics:

I’ve envisioned this moment for quite a while. I’ve visualized myself on the top step of the podium, and on the third step of the podium. I’ve envisioned myself crashing, because I know what mistake I (would have) made to crash, and I know I’m not going to do that in the race.

Running reps through her head—every sliver of ice on every turn, every scenario in which something didn’t go exactly right—prepared her for the biggest event of her life. When she made a mistake halfway through her second run, causing both of her skis to leave the ground—a big no-no in downhill slalom—she didn’t panic, over-correct the error, and tumble into the snow. Instead, she stretched out those vital milliseconds through practiced over-cranking, shifted her body back into the correct position, and quickly got back on track for the rest of the run.

That’s brilliant. When I used to visualize my performances, I don’t remember accounting for “errors” in my performance, but it certainly makes sense that one would want to be prepared for all scenarios and to do that, one would want to prepare for “errors” in one’s performance.

This reminds me of the study (that I can’t seem to find at the moment) about positive self-talk. Most people think that before a performance (be that sports, musical, or even a job interview), it’s best to tell one’s self that one is awesome or that one is great and that undoubtedly, they’re going to perform well. However, this study found that, instead of pumping one’s self up in this manner, it’s actually better if one asks one’s self how one is going to perform well. That is, if you’re applying for a job, instead of saying to yourself that you’re awesome and that you’re a perfect fit for the job, it’s better if you ask yourself how you’re going to get this job or how you’re going to do well in the interview to get the job. The research showed that by asking yourself these questions, it prompts your brain to come up with strategies or ways to do perform well.

A Lesson in Overcomplicated: Gender-Neutral Washrooms

If you’ve ever been part of an organization, there’s a better chance than not that you’ve been involved in a meeting where at some point, you found yourself thinking, “what the heck are we doing?” Well, hopefully you’ve found yourself saying that, otherwise you might have fallen into the trap of overcomplicating something.

There was a great (and short!) post on Pacific Standard about the “problem” of a sign for a gender-neutral bathroom:

“But what would you put on the door?!” said a facility manager at an airport, his concern echoed by an administrator at a university: “When people are looking for a restroom, they look for the ‘man’ or ‘woman’ icon. It’s what we know to look for that means restroom.”

And the sign that answers this problem:

Wow, right?

This situation is a perfect example of how overthinking something can lead to a terrible and overcomplicated solution. Is this sign really necessary to signify that there’s a toilet behind the door (or around the corner, in the case of many airports)? Absolutely not.

While there are many problems we can talk about, let’s look at the key issue: false dilemma. Presumably, upon trying to to develop a solution to this problem, the people in the meeting thought that something had to be added to the existing sign. That is, the sign is usually a little man or a little woman, so we’ve got to make it resemble that little man or woman or people might be confused. There are clearly more options than creating that weird looking sign. From the post, there’s this sign offered:

That seems like a pretty good alternative to me. It’s universal in that many people know what a toilet looks like. To be sure, the person who came up with the idea of this pictorial representation took his laptop to a coffee shop to ask patrons if they could hazard a guess as to what was being the sign: 100% of participants were able to identify what would be behind a door with this sign on it. The author, obviously in jest, explained that his research was limited to a corner in Philadelphia, but I think it’s safe to say that most people would be able to perform as well as his participants.

So, the next time you’re in a meeting where your team is trying to come up with an idea that uses an existing structure/idea, double-check that it might not be better to approach the problem from a different perspective.

What’s Better: Binge-Watching TV or Movies?

Quite some time ago (maybe 1-3 years ago?), I remember Matt Yglesias writing something about how movies were far superior to TV shows. That opinion has stuck with me for a while. It’s not that I agreed or disagreed, but I found the idea curious. With the explosion of binge-watching, I wondered if Matt Yglesias still thinks that movies were far superior to TV shows.

That is, when you can watch 3-5 hours of a TV show and really get into the intricacies of the plot in one sitting, does that somehow make it better than a 1.5- to 2-hour movie?

More recently, there’ve been a couple of interesting articles about movies and binge-watching. The first, on movies, discusses how going to the movies is a shared experience and how that might be dying out. The author explains that fewer people are going to the movies, even though ticket sales are at an all-time high (increased prices). She closes by saying that she thinks only a limited number of movies will debut in the theatre and the rest will go straight to video.

I think she’s right — the movies as a shared experience is dying out. However, I don’t think “shared experiences” are dying out. Instead, I think they’re moving away from the movies to other events like the one the author mentions, but not in the same context, the Oscars. Or perhaps the Superbowl is another good example. More than that, I wonder if we’re substituting the shared collective experience of going to the movies for binge-watching.

The second article, on binge-watching, argued that humans are wired to binge-watch. With the rise of online video streaming sites like Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon (Prime), it’s not surprising that people are spending more time watching videos online and at home than they are going out to the theatre. I would posit that as more people binge-watch, the more other people also want to binge-watch.

Think about shows like House of Cards or Orange is the New  Black. These shows were released all at once on a Friday. As a result, some people will have watched the whole season before going back to work on Monday. As a way to stay “part of the conversation,” some people may feel compelled to watch the whole season, too. Given that we’re already wired to binge-watch, it’s not surprising that this might become self-reinforcing. 

This leads me to my argument that binge-watching might be replacing movie-going as the norm when it comes to shared experiences. After you’ve binge-watched House of Cards or some other series, maybe you start binge-watching that series that you never got into when it was on TV (Lost? Frasier? The West Wing?). There are a lot of series that are on Netflix and there are also lots of series on some of the other online streaming sites.

After having a baby fall asleep on my lap/shoulder night after night, I think my vote might be for binge-watching.

Could Markets Have Predicted the Civil Rights Movement?

Author’s note: It’s been quite some time since my last post. In fact, it’s the last day of November and this will be my last post this month. It’s been a bit hectic getting settled in Ottawa, in addition to some other things that have been going on, but I do hope to get back into a regular habit of writing posts again.

I came across an article recently that espoused the value of the efficient-market hypothesis through the success of InTrade — when it was still functioning. In case you’re not familiar, InTrade is a betting site that would post contracts, for instance — “Mitt Romney will be the Republican Presidential nominee” — and then people could ‘buy’ that contract if they thought Romney would be the nominee or (sell) that contract if they thought he wouldn’t. There’d be all kinds of questions, not just political. There are questions about world events (the US will find Saddam Hussein) and questions about awards shows (Avatar will win Best Picture).

In the article, there was a small blurb about futarchy:

The potential of prediction markets to aggregate and reveal information is so great that some have surmised they might remake whole political systems. Robin Hanson, an economist at George Mason University, has endorsed what he calls “futarchy,” a form of government that would use prediction markets extensively as a policymaking tool. If the aggregated predictions of the market are better than the individual predictions of a few appointed experts, why not let citizens bet on, rather than submit to professional opinion on, for example, which tax policy is more likely to bring prosperity?

For the most part, there certainly seems to be something to the argument in favour of the wisdom of the crowds, but as I’ve written before, the wisdom of the crowds can’t always be trusted. When thinking about the wisdom of the crowds in the context of policymaking, I wonder about the crowd’s ability to divine the need for civil rights. That is, I wonder if, during the time leading up to the civil rights movement, the crowd would have accurately predicted it was beyond time to implement a new level of equality in the United States. Or, what about in the time of Lincoln? Would the wisdom of the crowds have decided that black people deserved freedom?