Training at the speed of life, June 2005

I. Tip of the Month: Learn That You Don't Know

"You don't know what you don't know." According to John Grinder, co-founder of a powerful learning and therapeutic intervention model known as NLP (Neuro Linguistic Programming) there are five levels of skill integration. These levels are:

  • Unconscious Incompetence
  • Conscious Incompetence
  • Conscious Competence
  • Unconscious Competence
  • Conscious Competence of Unconscious Competence
What this means is that in the earliest stage, you have no awareness of just how incompetent you are. That is, you don't know what you don't know, or you are ignorant of your own ignorance. This is usually a training issue, not a character flaw. An example of this would be someone who picks up a pistol without any knowledge of its various features and complexities, points it in a direction, presses the trigger and discharges the weapon. In their mind they are shooting, yet they have no idea that lining up the sights, pressing the trigger in a controlled fashion, breathing and gripping the pistol in a certain way etc. will have a profound effect on their accuracy. Nor, in many cases, do they care. They believe they can shoot.

This is an extremely dangerous mindset, yet it is extremely common in many areas of law enforcement training, particularly in Reality Based Training. "How hard can it be?" muse many novitiates to the world of RBT. "We've got some 'simms' gear … Bob, you be the bad guy … when our next victim comes through the door, blast him. We'll teach him about the hazards of walking in like that."

Most trainers these days aren't so blatant about their incompetence or lack of knowledge in this area, but the results are often the same even with a little bit of knowledge about the process. In fact, those who possess a little bit of experience with the RBT training methodology are often more dangerous than those who possess no knowledge whatsoever.

The truth is, RBT is an extremely complex blending of art and science. There are countless little things that must be addressed. In order to know what many of these things are, it is ESSENTIAL to acquire high quality training in this field. The most common comment I receive from those who have either attended my five-day instructor school or read the book " Training at the Speed of Life " (many of whom have been involved in conducting realistic training exercises for years) is that they had no idea how much more there was to RBT in order to perform it safely and effectively.

Many trainers who enter the world of RBT are often satisfied to just 'wing it' believing they don't have the time, budget or necessity to go get training in this field. Sadly, statistics show that over the past twenty years, at least one officer per year is killed in realistic training exercises at the hands of training staff. Every single one of these deaths have been preventable through the application of simple established training protocols that were either ignored or not known. How many more students are ill-prepared for the realities of the street after attending poorly structured RBT.

Those who come through an RBT training program or who have an opportunity to read " Training at the Speed of Life " advance through the hierarchy listed above - from Unconscious Incompetence to the category of Conscious Incompetence. That is, they are now at least aware of all of the things they never knew were perilous and now have a defined pathway for success. It is only by achieving this level of Conscious Incompetence that the stage is set and the mind is prepared to begin the journey of abandoning the dangerous behaviors and building a safe and effective training program. It will take time, practice, money and dedication to reach the level of Conscious Competence where focused attention can be paid to a training session, and trainees can reliably attend safe and effective training. It will be a number of years before those trainers will reach the level of Unconscious Competence, or that level where their intuitive sense of what is safe, effective and has been integrated through practice, experience, program organization, evolution and dedicated effort.

The zenith is reaching the level of Conscious Competence of Unconscious Competence. This is often called Mastery, and is the level where those at the top of their game can effectively teach others approaching the top of their game - train the trainer so to speak.

Remember, RBT - if done safely and effectively - is relatively simple, but it is not easy. People often confuse simple with easy. Simple implies a lack of complexity, whereas easy implies a lack of effort. Effective RBT is as simple as putting students through a series of experiential exercises in order to observe whether or not they have the necessary skills to solve the problems they encounter in accordance with policy and procedure. Setting up these exercises to ensure they are safe, effective and truly program officers for effective action in their moments of greatest challenge requires the correct measure of effort, money, logistics and properly trained staff who are at the very least functioning at the level of Conscious Competence. Ideally, such trainers are functioning at the level of Unconscious Competence. Those who choose to delve into this complex training model without acquiring proper RBT knowledge and skills border on negligence.

In his book "High Risk Training" author Gary Ward says that, "There might be such a thing as a One Minute Manager, but there can never be a One Minute Trainer. Those who take shortcuts to High Risk Training will be attending some funerals."

II. Close Call Corner

An emergency management director decided to spring a simulated terrorist attack during a county commission meeting. At a predetermined time, four people dressed as terrorists and carrying a simulated explosive device burst into the council chambers and waved weapons. One fired a shot, which turned out to be a blank, and took the members hostage, threatening to detonate the explosives. The sheriff and a few commissioners were told about the drill a scant few minutes before the meeting but didn't know the details. The mayor had not been informed and believed the attack and the explosives were real. There was a very real possibility for injury in this situation. Fortunately, no one was hurt. The director was suspended and the matter was investigated by the state Bureau of Investigation.

1) Well intentioned, yet untrained staff in the area of realistic simulation
2) Lack of communication and a 'surprise' attack
3) Nonexistent safety protocol

1) Proper training and organization of realistic simulations and emergency response drills
2) Establish safety protocols for any type of training exercise or demonstration and ensure all personnel follow them
3) Simulations should always be announced and programmed events

III. Q and A


A reader asks, "We use civilians as role players since their reactions are going to be more realistic than if we use cops since cops know our tactics and know how to defeat them. Is this the right thing to do?"


Let's first examine the mindset behind the method. It is suggested that you want 'realistic' responses and further suggested that cops will know how to 'defeat' the responders. Both of these statements suggest a competitive mindset in a RBT setting. Competition is not the point of RBT and such a mindset is counterproductive to effective RBT. Role players have one simple function. That is to demonstrate behaviors - predetermined behaviors - to which those who are going through the scenario are to respond. In essence, a role player is a stimulus machine. Once that stimulus has been demonstrated, it is up to the responder to act in accordance with policy and procedure to whatever that stimulus is. Such simulations are designed to test what should already be known and integrated through prior training. Using high level simulations (where there are role players and a 'story line') to teach tactics often leads to trainee failure during such experiences.

It should NEVER be the goal of the role player to 'win' in any such encounter. As such, role players who know exactly what the response should be is preferable. To that end, officers (when properly trained and scripted) often make the best role players. Using civilians as role players often leads to a chaotic training experience, especially if they have not been given tightly scripted guidelines. Any role player who thinks it is their job to 'beat' the responders in the scenario are counterproductive to the goal of RBT, which is to provide students with the experience of success.

This is not to say that role players should give up in the face of improper tactics, or 'let' the responders win. It means that this type of training should be designed so that trainers actively work with the students until the student prevails through the demonstration of superior tactics or through perseverance. No student should ever leave a scenario having lost the encounter. A debrief and remediation should be used to correct any questionable behavior or tactics. In the end, success in training fuels success in the real world, and our students should be programmed to win. It is the role players job to help facilitate this, and they need as much training and information as possible in order to help the training staff obtain this ultimate result.

Until next time, train hard and train safe.


Read: Training at the Speed of Life - May 2005
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