This week: The Socratic method as a tool to optimize performance.
Image: Professional triathlete Travis Wood.
Here is your weekly Tri Town Times newsletter:
Quote that struck a chord:
"The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing." Socrates
Socrates, the ancient Greek philosopher, wrote the playbook on how to win races, but of course he didn't know it at the time.
At its core, a race is simply a lesson in problem solving. Participants are given a set problem (the course), and asked to solve it (cover the distance). The problem becomes most interesting when an athlete commits to solving the problem as fast as possible. Limiting resources, options, and time requires participants to exercise not only their bodies but also their creative muscle, resulting in them thinking about the problem more deeply.
Thinking deeply is where Socrates and his Socratic method comes in. Designed as an exercise between teacher and student, the Socratic method makes a concerted effort to explore the underlying beliefs that shape the students views and opinions. I imagine Socrates was like a child continuously asking "why", with the goal to challenge assumptions and instill a thirst for knowledge and self-improvement amongst his students. The exercise could end when they discovered the underlying principles at play, also known as the first principles.
Uncovering first principles is the key to solving a problem in a unique way. This is exactly what engineer and track cyclist Dan Bigham did when setting the hour record in August of 2022. Dan came to cycling late(r) in life, and did not have the power output of some of the more seasoned riders. He used the Socrate method, first principle thinking, and his experience as an engineer working for Formula 1 to optimize the first principles of track cycling- namely aerodynamics, rolling resistance and power. The result was a new hour record while holding a power output lower than almost any prior competitor. The key was in asking the right questions, challenging all assumptions, and developing a quick feedback loop to test ideas.
For your next race, remember it's just a problem that needs solving. By using the Socratic method and drilling down to the root principles at play you will focus on the factors that matter most. The rest can be ignored.
Tri Town Bicycles
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