It’s surprises that count so count your surprises (you’ll be surprised how many surprises you count)!
As we all should be aware by now, the surprise tells us that we have failed to correctly predict the future state of the system and as that is the only job we actually do understanding what surprises can tell us is going to be critically important. It’s also important to know that not all surprises lead to accidents but all riders involved in accidents will have been surprised at one point or another during the process. Armed with this information it’s then possible to turn surprise to our advantage as part of an effective self-training/learning strategy.
All surprises represent an accident that would have happened were the circumstances prevailing at the time been only a tiny bit different.
In cases such as that we have clearly made a prediction error, been surprised by the resulting system state, but have then been able to make sufficient adjustments and adaptations to avoid any accident actually happening. It doesn’t always follow though that we can make sufficient post-surprise adjustments and adaptations because that’s how accidents finally happen. That doesn’t concern us at the moment though as it’s those surprises that we successfully manage that can help us to avoid having surprises we can’t manage.
A good question to regularly ask ourselves is “If I was to ride through the same section again and under the same circumstances would I do exactly the same things?” If the answer is “yes I would” then we would have learnt nothing from our first experience, but if we would have done things differently, then the original experience has taught us a valuable lesson. We would only do things differently the second time around because one or two events happened the first time that we didn’t predict and so we would change what we did in the light of the new knowledge. This is the essence of learning by experience and if we can accelerate this ability then we will start to rapidly acquire new expertise. Of course the problem we have as road riders is that once we have passed through a section we don’t often go back and have another go at it and even if we did the circumstances would usually be quite different to the first time we rode it. Rather than go back and have another go what we can do is to count the number of surprises that we actually had during a ride and that would give us a very good indication of any shortcoming in our ability to make accurate predictions of future states. More surprises indicates that our predictions need work and fewer surprises indicates that we are getting the hang of things.
In his book ‘The Upper Half of the Motorcycle’ (see reading list) Professor Bernt Spiegel dedicates a couple of pages to the use of what he calls an ‘error counter’ as a really beneficial learning aid and as errors also generate surprises then it’s perhaps something we can use. What he suggests we do is to mount a cheap tally counter somewhere near the left handlebar and click it every time we get surprised for any reason. At the end of the ride we can see at a glance how many surprises we had during the ride and that will give us an indication of how many potential accident situations we got ourselves into, but were able to manage our way out of. The idea is that the fewer surprises a rider has the better the rider is and that’s something all of us aspire to.
Professor Spiegel has made an extensive study of how the error/surprise counter works and he found that after a short period of using the counter the number of errors/surprises recorded actually increased! What he realised was that the number of registered events increased not because the user’s riding was getting worse, but that they had become more aware of the number of errors they were actually making. Before the use of the counter he found that most errors and surprises seemed to slip by almost un-noticed, but once a rider started to actively hunt for them even the tiniest error or surprise couldn’t slip through the net. Eventually of course the number of registered errors and surprises started to decrease as the rider stated to learn what it was in the system that precipitated the errors and surprises in the first place. The increased sensitivity to error and surprise resulted in a commensurate increase in the rider’s predictive capabilities and a noticeable decrease in the number of prediction failures they made.
Considering that the whole point of the Nosurprise campaign is to help riders to become better predictors then a simple device like the error/surprise counter is something that we would thoroughly recommend.