Fires in the Mind

Why ‘do it again’ isn’t enough

We really love that Lewis Black is thinking about how you get really good at something. (In his case, being hilarious.) And his cranky-funny take on that has a lot, a lot, a lot, a lot of broken-record truth to it.

But it’s not quite fair to us learners that Black omits certain key steps, which turn that endless do-it-again practice into something really good. Something deliberate.

Critique, for example, is more than “You get smacked.” It’s a certain kind of smack: in the right direction, toward just the right thing to try, the next time you get up and do it again. Critique works best when it comes from someone who both builds on what you’re doing right and puts a finger on just where you need work. A good critique gives you the courage it takes to get up and try it again.

“Don’t whine to me ‘it’s hard,’” Black growls. But a good critique erases whining from the picture. It creates a crucial expectation inside us that we can succeed at the hard thing, if we try again, a little differently this time. And our sense that the coach cares lends a high value to that seemingly endless next try.

Great teachers are doing that kind of coaching . . . again and again and again and again and again. They do it because they’re watching their students so closely. And the teaching and learning is going in both directions.

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