Silencing the Noise: Strategies to Improve Golf Performance Judgment
Insights from Daniel Kahneman's 'Noise: A Flaw in Human Judgment'
In this article, I will connect the ideas from Daniel Kahneman's book, Noise: A Flaw in Human Judgment, to golf and reflect on their implications.
What Is Noise?
Noise in human judgment can be defined as
Undesirable variability in judgments of the same problem.
For example, if a golfer seeks guidance from three different golf coaches and each one identifies vastly different issues, this would suggest a lot of noise. If all three identified the same issue, this would suggest less noise.
If the only tool you have is a hammer, you tend to see every problem as a nail. — Abraham Maslow
When a golfer seeks guidance from their coach, the coach's background largely determines what the "problem" is. Coaches are usually trained to evaluate swing mechanics, which often makes it the most convenient perspective to form a judgment.
However, the importance of the lens through which we assess golfers is highlighted in this passage:
Coaches may focus on skills in various aspects of the game, physicians on susceptibility to injuries, and psychologists on motivation and resilience. When these different specialists evaluate the same players, we can expect a considerable amount of pattern noise.
Consider how different coaches would judge the causes of a golfer's performance breakdown on the last three holes of a tournament where they had a chance to win:
Swing Coach: The swing is very timing dependent, and the player lost their tempo during the last few holes.
Fitness Coach: Insufficient cardiovascular endurance led to inability to exert necessary force, which led to poor swing execution on last few holes
Nutritionist: The player failed to provide their body with essential nutrients required for maintaining energy levels, leading to dehydration and fatigue, which consequently affected their swing execution negatively.
Mental Performance Coach: The player was unable to remain focused on the present moment and deviated from their pre-shot routine, causing them to hurry and make hasty decisions, ultimately leading to poor shot selection.
All of these explanations seem plausible and provide a causal explanation.
The human mind craves causal explanations. Whenever something goes wrong, we look for a cause — and often find it.
However, just because an explanation sounds reasonable doesn't mean it's accurate.
Our subjective confidence in our judgments is not necessarily related to their objective accuracy.
To address this flaw in judgment, a collaborative team approach is vital.
…When management has the opportunity to construct teams that will reach judgments together, diversity of skills becomes a potential asset, because different professionals will cover different aspects of the judgment and complement one another.
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Emotions & Judgement
Our ability to make sound judgments can be significantly influenced by our emotions.
…you are not the same person at all times. As your mood varies (something you are, of course, aware of), some features of your cognitive machinery vary with it (something you are not fully aware of).
When attempting to objectively review our performance, our emotions can pose a significant obstacle.
…mood has a measurable influence on what you think: what you notice in your environment, what you retrieve from your memory, how you make sense of these signals…it also changes how you think.
As a result, our judgment can vary considerably depending on whether we are feeling angry or frustrated after a poor round or happy and excited following a good one.
If you are shown a complex judgment problem, your mood in the moment may influence your approach to the problem and the conclusions you reach, even when you believe that your mood has no such influence and even when you can confidently justify the answer you found. In short, you are noisy.
This can be quite concerning, particularly since arbitrary factors such as hunger can influence our emotional state.
To reduce the impact of noise on our performance review process, it is crucial to have a comprehensive and consistent post-tournament reflection process. In a previous post, I offered an example of how to create such a process.
Individuals who consistently make good judgments are commonly known as “super forecasters”.
Good judgments depend on what you know, how well you think, and how you think. Good judges tend to be experienced and smart, but they also tend to be actively open-minded and willing to learn from new information.
Super forecasters possess three distinctive characteristics:
Task-specific skill (what you know)
Intelligence (how well you think)
Open-mindedness (how you think)
“Super forecasters” are willing to try, fail, and learn from their mistakes
They like a particular cycle of thinking: try, fail, analyze, adjust, try again.