AUTONOMOUS CONTROL VS MANUAL OVERRIDE

Pilot's seat Get over yourself. You're just a slave to your own brain.

In a fascinating recent study, researches found evidence for yet another example where millions of years of evolution seem to have played the ultimate trick on those who believe they're in charge of their own destinies.

Apparently your brain contains programmatic information about different stride frequencies and lengths to fit a multitude of circumstances. Even before you can figure out how you want to travel, your body has already loaded the software and launched it.

"Captain! Switching to manual override."

Yeah, just try it.

In fact, do. Try it.

Consciously recognizing our autonomous decision making routines and then actively stretching ourselves to try something new can never be underestimated in terms of a value proposition. Yes, there's a value to having a playbook of tried-and-true techniques. Saving time in wheel-reinvention certainly tops the list; when we turn to techniques we know intimately, lots of work can get done in a hurry. More vitally, I believe, a playbook of the familiar also facilitates mastery. Turning to a finite set of tools enables a journey heading toward perfection, even if ultimate arrival never comes. By focusing on what we know works, we get better at doing whatever that may be.

To some extent, everyone develops a set of go-to solutions for everything. This is why we can recognize Mozart's filigrees and Pete Townsend's fretwork in just a few musical moments; they sound like themselves. You probably dry the dishes in a certain way, organize the clutter in your most used closet just so, find matches for your wayward socks by a means that only makes sense to you. Everyone turns to past experience to guide his or her actions of the present, and change usually demands a conscious effort to overcome inertia of what's come before.

But that's the real issue. When the autopilot gets switched off and you grab the manual controls, opportunities open for travel to undiscovered shores.

This will challenge you. This may throw you off your game. Experimentation with tools and techniques that don't fit comfortably are like counting to ten in binary code for the first time. Until you get the hang of how to even think about the problem, the solution will simply not fit into your familiar frame of reference.

This extends way beyond science and engineering, too. The phenomenon includes social justice, civil rights, political initiatives, and financial planning. Our muscles ache when we task our physical bodies with change; our minds ache when we task them with intellectual terrain not yet travelled before. But just like getting off the couch and getting your tired carcass into the gym, the pain you feel at first is the only way to get somewhere new down the road. Unless people have the courage to consider lives and values beyond their own experiences and preconceptions, society stalls. Values ossify. Creativity turns dull and gray and predictable.

If there's so much value in trying new ideas, what's the risk? The risk is to expect that all manual overrides of what's come before are worth endless grinding effort. For example, if I decide I'm going to become a great basketball player or carpenter or opera singer, it won't matter how long I practice: it simply ain't gonna happen! We can waste a great deal of time trying new things to the point of no longer mastering anything. There's a fine balance between turning off our autopilots for a while and flying ragged, seat-of-the-pants missions forever. Those barnstorming whoop-de-dos may be exhilarating, white knuckle rides of discovery, but they rarely provoke new passengers to get on board. If you have a movie to produce, you probably shouldn't consider switching from video back to film the day before you open you lens. The risk is too high. But in the formative stages of your movie, you might force yourself to learn something about the format, figure out what's valuable and why, and see if you can shake off that digital ease of use for a new way of thinking.

The secret is to force yourself into uncharted waters now and again, and discover new things from what you already know. You must balance hard earned expertise with an openness to discovery and a willingness to start learning new skills from the beginning. Manual override is the ultimate map. Only then can you travel to uncharted places and discover new sources of beauty. This isn't about traveling safe; it's about traveling at all. Otherwise, you're just standing still even if you think you're moving.

--MS

PS -- Like this? Like what it does for your day? Do you ever mention ideas you encounter in this blog to someone else in your life? If so, share the link! Sure, it sounds like a ploy for free, crowd-sourced advertising, and guess what: it is! If you do spread the word, we'll simply appreciate. We might even bake you a batch of your favorite cookies. (Just ask!)

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