Lessons learned from riding a bike

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Do you remember when you were a kid and you learned to ride a bike?

For me, I was at the top of the hill on Mills St, Hampton in Melbourne. I’m on my pink bike, with tassels hanging from the handle bars, multicolored wheel spoke beads that rattled as I rode, fixed with training wheels, my Dad behind me, and off we went using momentum to get me moving.

Riding our bikes was a family favorite. My brother, Dad and I would venture off down Beach road with million dollar mansions on one side and the bay on the other each weekend. I’d jump on my bike, pedal as fast, my training wheels banging side to side as I pushed harder down.

Everyone started with training wheels (you nod in agreement). No one stopped to question is this the best way to learn how to ride a bike?

When it came to take off the training wheels, this is where I became undone. I had learned how to pedal fast, but not how to balance and ride a bike.

Pedalling is the easy part, anyone can sit on a seat and push down on a pedal (or down and up if you’re a pro strapped into your pedal). It’s the balancing that is the challenge.

Imagine it like a baby learning to walk, but you aided it instead of letting it learn to stand and balance, and take its steps on it’s own. The baby fell down more times than you can count, but they eventually learned to walk.

And one of the skills you learn when riding a bike is that you steer by leaning, and not by turning the handlebars. Training wheels create in the brain tha reverse of this as you’d not be learning at all, and form habits which aren;t helpful for the skill of riding a bike. You then have to unlearn this once the training wheels come off.

So some lessons so far;

  • Sometimes what we think is supporting us, is actually holding us back from achieving our goals.
  • Sometimes learning the easy way leads to hard work in unlearning the skill.

Fast forward to today, and training wheels are going out and balance bikes are in (it’s a bike without pedals). This way, they can progress from a balanced bike to pedaling and learn the skills required to actually ride a bike.

Why did it take decades for someone to come up with this simple idea? The new study, led by researchers from the University of Virginia, might have the answer: When wanting to make something more effective, it’s a human tendency to add rather than subtract.

You can geek out on all the results of the study here or watch the Youtube Less is more here. In a nutshell,Sixty-one percent of the people in the group who received the reminder made subtractive changes. The control group that didn’t get this reminder only made subtractive changes 41 percent of the time. Followup experiments show that people simply don’t think about subtracting when problem-solving. Thus, their default approach to problem-solving was to add to the initial model.

Maybe this thinking is the reason why some people struggle to work out how to resolve overburdened schedules, solve business challenges or simply how to teach your child to ride a bike. We find ourselves adding more meetings, more steps, more systems, more of something thinking ‘more’ will solve the problem.

Opting for complexity rather than simplification can be because of a sunk-cost bias, in which people continue investing in things for which time, money or effort has already been spent. And taking things away from what you’ve already invested in doesn’t make as much sense.

When we look for solutions, we look to add things on to upgrade them rather than asking what can be taken away.




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