3 stages; shu-ha-ri

Recently, I’ve been putting the waiting time for eclipse/tomcat to start-up and restart to good use by doing some reading (actually, more of skimming).  So far, I’ve been leafing through Alistair Cockburn’s Agile Software Development.  I came across a part of the book on stages of learning that reminded me of the Dreyfus Model which I’ve picked up from Pragmatic Thinking and Learning.

The book describes three stages of behavior of people who are learning or attempting to master new skills:

  • Following – At this level, people simply try to follow and copy whatever works. They only seek out explicit instructions. I suppose the predominant mantra at this stage is: “At least it works.”
  • Detaching – Here, they learn the “limits of the procedure”. They start looking into other ways, and figure out how to make adjustments when things go wrong. I reckon, at this point, they’re no longer bound to explicit instructions and they manage to make workarounds when needed.
  • Fluent – Here, at the third level, they’ve somewhat achieved a zen-like stage wherein they just know the goal and they just know what needs to be done to reach it.

Alternatively, there’s Shu-Ha-Ri, which roughly translates to learn, detach, and transcend.

  • At Shu (godblessme), “the student builds the technical foundation of the art… the student should be working to copy the techniques as taught without modification and without yet attempting to make any effort to understand the rationale of the techniques of the school/teacher.”  Mmm’kay, I do a backswing like so… what do you mean another 30 rounds?!
  • At Ha, “the student must reflect on the meaning and purpose of everything that s/he has learned and thus come to a deeper understanding of the art than pure repetitive practice can allow.”  Oh, right… locking my wrist does make for a better angle upon contact.
  • And lastly, at Ri, “the student is no longer a student in the normal sense, but a practitioner. The practitioner must think originally and develop from background knowledge original thoughts about the art and test them against the reality of his or her background knowledge and conclusions as well as the demands of everyday life.” You want to do some baseline volleys? Sure, no sweat!

Now, what exactly is the relevance of these different stages.  As a learner or a receiver of information, it reflects the type of information that you seek out.  As someone from the other end, it teaches you to be more wary of the needs of someone who’s just learning. As someone who communicates, it teaches you that whatever you said that you think is crystal clear could be any of the following:

  • Unnecessary chatter, esp for someone from a higher level
  • Undecipherable, esp for someone from a lower level
  • Clear enough, but it will never be crystal clear.

One other thing that the chapter expresses is that communication is imperfect.  You can’t do away with its imperfection.  Having an understanding of one of the possible causes of miscommunication (i.e., the different stages) would hopefully at least make you tolerant if not make you strive to bridge the gap.