The Myth of ‘Just do it’: Thought and Effort in Expert Action preface

But should experts aim to improve during performance?

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But should experts aim to improve during performance?

I have suggested that at times experts aim to improve during performance. But should experts do this, especially if it is during an important game or performance? Or should improvement be a feature of practice only? When the improvement is for a long-term goal, if the goal seems worthwhile, it would seem reasonable that they do so. But what about the type of online improvement that involves such things as making minor alterations to one’s movements in order to do better than ever before? Should that occur during the most important tournaments or games? Perhaps it depends on how high the stakes are. When an athlete falls in the Olympics, it results in a serious disadvantage, and so trying out something new might not be worth the risk in that case. In the performing arts, the situation seems somewhat different. From my point of view, in dance the artistic quality of the whole performance – while perhaps supervening on the individual movements (roughly, you can’t change the artistic quality of the performance without changing the movements) – is not reducible to the individual movements (meaning that, for example, an individual movement can go very wrong without marring the artistic quality of the whole). George Balanchine famously used to say that he liked dancers who fall (citation). What he meant is that he wanted dancers to take risks. And since risks sometimes lead to falls, it would seem that Balanchine too was a nonreductivist about the relationship between artistry and movements. In sports, however, performance might not be so irreducible.

Another reason to think that improvement should be an aspect of performance is that dancers often perform the same piece over and over again, which allows for some room for trial and error; likewise, while certain athletic events (like the Tour de France), occur only one time per year (or for others, even less frequently), it might be that in order to win, one must risk trying something new (such as Michael Phelps’ extra stroke), since sometimes to win one must perform not as one has in the past, but better than ever. Yet taking a risk seems to be the opposite of just-do-it – the opposite of “simply spontaneously [doing] what has normally worked” (Dreyfus and Dreyfus 2004, p. 253). Broadway dancer John Selya puts it like this: “You dance the same thing every night in a Broadway musical. That gives you a chance to really examine it and do something with it” (Nathan, 2008: p. 54). Examining and doing something with it is the opposite of “just doing it.”

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