What the hell is water?

Andrew Gillott
Aug 1, 2015

Earlier this month, a brief tweet from Al Smith concerning David Wallace Foster’s brilliant speech “This Is Water” provided me with a simple, powerful metaphor for what David Wallace Foster describes as the situation in which “The most obvious important realities are often the ones that are hardest to see and talk about.”

As I go about my daily business, it seems that the strongest bonds that anchor practitioners in the past are unseen. The water that surrounds them, to borrow Wallace Foster’s metaphor is so powerfully tidal that it resists all attempts to take on new ideas; practise and apply; fail and learn; synthesise and learn; develop knowledge in to practical, agile, creative understanding.

Some weeks later, I read David Didau’s “What if everything you knew about education was wrong?” Didau retells a Chinese proverb, Three Men Make a Tiger to illustrate his ideas on group bias. In the proverb, a vizier is inclined to believe an improbable tale of a tiger loose within the markets of the town when the tiger is said to have been seen by not one, not two, but three of the great unwashed. It’s reminiscent of The Emperor’s New Clothes and an example of how our professional environments are quickly filled with water.

Capping off the week, I read an article on the Filter Bubble and how it drives Google’s personalised search engine, effectively eradicating results which are likely to challenge our personal view of the world. Now that most certainly is water.

I’ve worked with coaches from four major British sports since I saw the connection between these stories and metaphors. For each coach swimming against the tide, denying the likelihood of the tiger, retelling the story, is the biggest challenge to their development. Willingness to learn isn’t enough and culture can eat our strategies for breakfast. As a developer of coaches, I see ever more clearly how complex the system is and how coaching practice may be the symptom of any number of related- and disparate- causes.

But of course, you shouldn’t take my word for it.