Training, Naval Training, and What's Next

Note: If you came here to see some movies of knot tying on board ship, and elsewhere, you can just skip to that part right now, and read the essay later.

Learn the Ropes


Part 1.

Naval training was fashioned by the Royal Navy in the 1700's. For three hundred years, Her Majesty's sailors have been learning the ropes by demonstration of their shipmates, under the supervision of an officer, with the ultimate responsibility for the seaman's knowledge and ability falling to his master and commander. The current system has the same general idea of knowledge and abilities, ratings, on the job training, and the ultimate reward of rank and pay. It seems to me that "naval training" is so widespread, that various watered-down forms of it have come to be known, in every walk of life and every place of work, as "training", in the same way that "method acting" came to be called just "acting" and "butterfly goaltending" came to be known as "goaltending".


The system still works. Maybe it ain't broke so don't fix it. Maybe, though, it's time to change it out, just as it once upon a time supplanted the non-system that came before it. I can't argue with the ain't broke don't fix it thinking; that's the status quo, and inertia is a powerful force indeed. But the digital revolution is changing everything else.


The only thing we're changing is the demonstration by the shipmates part. We're going to digitize it. We'll make short digitized videos of solid performers doing their jobs. The new hires and the soldiering incumbents get to watch these movies over and over, and thus they acquire the skills they need. It's digitized video structured OJT; it's the rapid skill acquisition technique. It's used by Wal-Mart.


That is going to have a ripple effect, and it's going to end up changing everything. That's just the way digital information works; digital information tends to reorganize the information that surrounds it. For the first time, you're going to have to decide just which physical means, methods, and mannerisms are the correct way to do the job. The camera doesn't lie. This will have repercussions up and down the chain of command. The implications for accountability alone, both in the accounting department and in operations, will just stun people. The requirement of correct nomenclature (for the text tracks) will have an effect on efficiency that can only be described as vast.


Part 2.


About the time that naval training was being discovered, the Royal Navy could have also invented biochemistry. Naval personnel were the first to propose limes and lemons as the therapy and the preventative for scurvy. Given even the fifty or so years that it took the Royal Navy to implement this fully, they still had a two hundred year head start on anybody else who wanted to fully investigate this phenomenon. You see, the rest of the world, up until about 1920 or so, believed that scurvy was a communicable disease. It seemed to be; one guy got it, then another, and then another. (It wasn't until ascorbic acid was synthesized from scratch that the MDs quietly shut the books on that embarrassing chapter in the history of Western medicine.)


The Royal Surgeon didn't pursue the interesting observations about scurvy. Biochemistry was discovered instead down the avenue of yeast and brewing; it could just as well (and somewhat earlier) have been elucidated through nutrition. Who knows, the Royal Surgeon might have cured gangrene.


We've got another chance, though.


Just as nutritional science was way outside the purview and, I suppose, the mission of the Royal Navy of the 1700s, so is cognitive science way off the radar screen of naval training today. But pursuing the analogy of scurvy in the time before there was a science of nutrition; and naval training while there is still a vacuum where a science of cognition ought to be; we can sense that the maritime folks, with their tradition of learning the ropes in a structured fashion, could go that extra nautical mile, emulating Columbus, Cook, Bligh, and Vancouver (and not meaning to slight any other experimental navigator and his crew,) and make a quantum improvement in the understanding of learning itself.


I would be glad to propose how we could do that, or at least one way we might do that as a first attempt. But I'm not going to propose it, not here and now. You see, I have no doubt -- absolutely no doubt, none at all -- that had the Admiralty made it their mission to get to the very bottom of the scurvy situation, we would have elucidated most of the mysteries of the chemistry of living cells much sooner, and would by now have already elucidated the structure, function, and regulation of even the most mysterious aspects of metabolism -- oxidative phosphorylation, even that!


But the Admiralty did not choose to pursue it. If someone in any corner of Naval Training should ask me my thoughts on the matter of getting down to the bottom of this learning thing, I shall be more than happy to unburden myself of the whole megillah; all the way from harnessing the power of visual reasoning, to near infrared spectra of cerebral oxyhemoglobin.


We can, if we so desire, finally get the novices' attention without threats or abuse and can, if we so desire, pour knowledge into them just like filling up a row of postholes with fence post cement.

 At this end, we're just awaiting orders to proceed.



*Here's a training module on grinding, starting with "Hard a'lee" and ending with sitting out. I went ahead and shot a mockup of what it looks like, my concept for the visual vocabulary.

That's the skipper, Roger Craine, Master and Commander of Dreamtime RYC Point Richmond California. He is here, laconically, ordering his grinder to just grind. He even placed the grinder so he can't even see the sails easily (without turning around); and the tillerman can see whether the grinder is looking at the sails or doing his job grinding. That, to a first approximation, is the concept that grinding takes 110% of whatever you brought to the dock that day, mentally and physically, so you don't have time to do anything else including stare at a sail for any length of time.*

This short unadorned digital video sequence is minimalist and abstract. There isn't even a length of rope to mimic the sheet. It starts with the word/insignia "Dreamtime". Dream Time. If one knows that the moviemaker believes that short unadorned digital video sequences are an exogenous substrate mimicking the stuff that dreams are made of, well, great; that's the kind of information that definitely makes for sterling connoisseurship.

The real training videos are not minimalist and not abstract, they're strictly cinema verite (including being under sail with the boat heeled over and spray all over the place.)

We got turned down by the Defense Department so roundly last month (March 2003), that it made a convincing case for a total overhaul of training, up to and including the retraining of the officers. Well, nobody is going to retrain any officers. So the only alternative is to train brand new officers; and the only way to get the new officers to not be like the old officers, who reject this video training out of hand, is to get the midshipmen to shoot these things themselves. They can rig the camera, given a jpg of how to do that. And I'll warrant that they could operate a SteadicamJR under sail, after a little practice. I'll show them how to postproduce such a thing, and they'll probably write some kind of SOP for that, after they get it down to a routine. If the videos are done for them, they may very well turn out to be just "something we did back at the Academy," and nobody will ever use any such thing on board a big gray ship.



**As Britton Chance once said (to me), "I pay you to work, not to think."

Back to FrogOJT page., with links to some Quicktime movies.

On (or back) to The Philosophy of Quicktime, Bridging the Gap between Matter and Symbol I

[On (or back) to Cognition, Recognition, and Recall , Bridging the Gap between Matter and Symbol II ]