In a somewhat incredible coincidence, I received a fascinating and self-reflective email from my colleague Gail McGee last night. At almost exactly the same time I was posting about our (people, that is, or at least American’s) imperviousness to improvement in our driving–due in significant part ot the lack of feedback–Gail wrote to me about the same topic. Gail is an administrator at Houston ISD [in Texas I note, but only in parentheticals because, as an aside, people from Houston hate it when you say “Houston, Texas.” To them it’s just “Houston” and you oughtta know the rest], so it was a little unexpected that she was writing on the topic of driving, but her point was how some of the ideas from Practice Perfect had her thinking differently about learning in other settings.
I just changed my car insurance to Progressive. And part of the deal is that you install a monitor in your car for six months. They hook you into doing it by claiming that you’ll get a discount for your good driving, which I have yet to earn. But what they really do is give you immediate feedback on why you’re not a good driver (Shorten the Feedback Loop). There are so many things about driving that make it hard, but the smart folks at Progressive must have done a lot of research and came up with the one thing that they think makes the most difference (Practice the 20). Apparently, it all depends on how hard and how quickly you push on the brakes. The contraption beeps like crazy every time it deems that you’ve pressed on the brakes too hard or tried to stop too quickly. Who knew?
Turns out, I step on the brakes really hard all the time and I definitely don’t take enough time to hit the brakes either. So now every time I do it wrong I get three little beeps to remind me. I wish I could tell you that this has totally changed my driving habits, and that I’m a better driver. I’m not there yet. And I will admit that I really resented the beeps for a while. (On the bright side, I know I would have resented it longer if I hadn’t read your book.) However, the shortened feedback loop has help me recognize what I need to do better and I am working on it. I set small goals.. no beeps from the house to the office, for an entire trip.. maybe even for an entire day! And I am hearing the beeps less frequently (still haven’t made it an entire day yet).
Anyway, I should start by noting that I have driven with Gail on several occasions and she struck me as not only a better-than-average driver–are you listening Progressive?–but a better than average driver with a really good sense for exactly the right place to stop for lunch when you’re spending a long day going from school to school. That has to count for something! But seriously, it never struck me for a second that Gail was braking any differently from anyone else.
But also it is fascinating to see how viable–and data-driven–an endeavor it would be to dramatically improve they way we all drive–at immense social benefit. The principles of practice apply to the darndest things. Um, just don’t try to put one of those beepers in my car.