Why Fluency beats Accuracy

One of the more interesting developments in Training and Development is the move towards 'fluency' over accuracy alone.


Accuracy can be measured by test scores, but fluency adds a crucial component of time:  Accuracy and pace (or quality and speed).


So why does this differentiation matter? Because any learned skill in its practical application has a time component to it. You can 'know' how to play the piano, but you aren't actually proficient (fluent) if you can't play it at the speed or sensitivity required. Driving is a good example as well, you need to make your decisions and have your reactions at the speed required.


But does that apply in other professions as well? Of course. If you hire a designer you want good results in a reasonable amount of time. If you hire an electrician she needs to make good decisions and follow a methodology with no mistakes at the speed required.


The other interesting idea in fluency is that there is no top, you can always improve more in this framework. For example getting 100% implies that you are at the top and it limits the ability to see improvement from that point. Increasing your accuracy under other constraints, such as time, actually has no limit and gives you another vector in which to measure.


So intuitively this idea makes some sense, less errors at higher pace means better results in almost any industry job or task. Sports performance naturally falls under this kind of measurement due to its very nature as the accuracy over time and under pressure is evident on the field. In my mind it is evident everywhere, what is surprising is that the way we educate and evaluate athletes and other high performers can be very different.



When it comes to high-stakes interactions the same is very true. Ever left a conversation thinking 'oooh, I should've said…'? You can be accurate without the time pressure, but with the time pressure (or stress) you are not as 'fluent' as an expert would be in the same situation.


So what do you do? Learn skills, practice them in discreet sections, and then combine them for performance or scenarios.


Dr. Carl Binder describes this learning process like this:


"It is helpful to view learning as occurring in three stages:

 • Initial learning for accuracy or quality

 • Practice for fluency and endurance

 • And Application or combination of components into composite behavior"

 From http://www.fluency.org/Need_Fluency.pdf


So as you look to improve, in any endeavor, start asking yourself whether you are becoming more fluent or just more accurate.


Practice. Get better. ™

-Mark Dawson



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