Most law enforcement officers choose that career path because they want an exciting and interesting career—one in which they can help people in society and address injustice. This empathetic drive to help people reinforces a drive to do it perfectly every time; the very nature of a civil servant’s position is to protect human lives. Continuous officer training stresses time-on-task, where officers can practice drills and hone their skills in de-escalation and discernment in use-of-force, towards the goal of perfection. But practice does not necessarily make perfect. A phenomenon exists: the things we try to improve on the most, the things we care about the most, the things we work on the most—these are often the very areas in which stagnation is common.
According to Eduardo Briceño, founder of Mindset Works, in his TED talk, “How to get better at the things you care about,” continually striving to perfect performance on task doesn’t actually result in improvements. He calls this the “performance zone,” the zone where we strive to execute our job as best as we can, to concentrate on what we have mastered, and to minimize mistakes. This mindset actually can have the opposite effect of what we desire: it can hinder our growth and even our performance. Instead, according to Briceño, we need to focus on the learning zone, where our goal is to improve, rather than to be perfect. “The performance zone maximizes our immediate performance, while the learning zone maximizes our growth and our future performance.”
In the learning zone, we “do activities designed for improvement, concentrating on what we haven’t mastered yet, which means we have to expect to make mistakes.”
The keys to being in the learning zone include:
- Clearly Breaking down tasks into component skills
- Clearly identifying which subskill we’re working to improve
- Challenging ourselves outside of our comfort zone
- Working at a level just beyond our reach
- Requesting frequent feedback
- Processing with a skilled coach
This type of training leads to improvement and is much more effective than simply spending time-on-task. But it is difficult to systematically create effective opportunities for learning zone training. Limited resources in the training room, limited time with a qualified facilitator, and limited features in training technology can force agencies to just offer training that is replication and practice of the performance zone. Bringing officers into the training space and ‘testing’ their de-escalation and discernment in use-of-force skills as a form of proficiency does not create growth. Establishing a training space filled with learning zone opportunities is critical in order for improvement to occur.
As Briceño points out, “the best chess players spend a lot of time not playing games of chess, which would be their performance zone, but trying to predict the moves grandmasters made and analyzing them.” The job of law enforcement officers is a real-life game of chess, and the chess pieces are human lives. MILO Range Training Solutions can provide thousands of new experiences for exploration and reflection, where officers can practice and hone their skills in a low-stakes simulation environment. The ability to modify training scenarios so that they aren’t one-size-fits-all ensures that the learning zone continues to evolve with the individual trainee as they navigate their careers from novice to expert and eventual mastery. Providing opportunities for officers to request and receive feedback safe from judgment and negative consequences can facilitate growth, thereby improving officer performance in the incredibly high-stakes performance zone in the field.
Simply put—without growth, performance stagnates. In a profession where communities and missions continue to evolve, those who volunteer to serve them deserve the best opportunities to learn how to protect them.
Stay tuned for part 2… steps leaders can take to provide Learning Zone opportunities.