How does our theory become practice? LO23796

Date: 01/20/00

Replying to LO23785 --

Hi Everyone,

I am happy that the thread of "How Theory Becomes Practice" is still

When I first started to read the contributions to that thread this
frustration arose consistently within me. I was hoping to receive some
insights into the process of how a theory transitions into a new set of
operations or behaviors. I wasn't finding much satisfaction in what I was
reading. I was reading more theory, and the frustration started to shift
into dismay and cynicism. Actually at times the theory was so complex and
dense that I would shake my head in confusion as to how anyone could use
the theory in practice at all. I could follow the logic and discussion but
could not find how these often ethereal concepts could ever be applied in
a real life setting. It felt more like the title of the thread should be
"How to make it more complicated to understand the transition of theory
into practise".

To resolve those emotions I started spending time working through how I
would articulate the way I had learned to transition a theory into a
practice. I found myself feeling that I understood the "how", and when
attempting to express that intuitive feeling, I was going into more
theoretical explanations myself, the opposite of the goal I was wanting to
achieve. The frustration grew stronger until I realized I needed to put it
down for a while. I wanted a clear set of steps to follow, not just more
complex ponderings.

My goal was to create a simple model of How Theory Becomes Practice. There
are some basics of information that needed to be defined before doing
that. I needed to come up with a set of steps and then perform them.

First, what is a theory? Secondly, what is a practice?

I wanted to find definitions that would not provoke argument over the
effectiveness of the definitions, my attempt to keep the focus more on the
"Becomes" in the thread. That the becoming was a process of executing
steps of behavior.

My reasoning for creating the definitions was to have a picture of what
those two states are. If we are desiring to see a transition, a becoming,
then we need to know what the present state is, and what is the desired
state that we are hoping to achieve is. The goal being to understand what
the actions are in the verb becoming when used to represent a transition
from state A (theory) to state B (a practice).

The simple definitions are as follows:

A theory is a mental model of something. It may include functioning,
descriptions, historical data, and proposed predictions of consequences, a
"this is what might be happening". The majority of the focus of attention
is on the mental model.

A practice is a set of steps or operations that are executed behaviorally,
a process where the majority of the focus of attention is sustaining the
implementation of the known desired steps.

The main difference in doing theories and doing practices is where the
focus of attention is. Where is the energy and effort being applied? To
transition from theory to practice a shift in energy/effort and attention
is needed.

I will use the example of Winning BlackJack.

The theory is that there are decisions that can be made while playing
BlackJack that can make a player money. The theory is based on
mathematical trials of finding the probability of beating the dealers hand
given the conditions of the players total hand and the dealers up card.
This is an oversimplified description of the theory of Winning BlackJack
but it contains the mental model basics. Basically, the theory describes
the context, what is going on, the goal of the play, and what might work
to the players advantage. The focus of attention is on how one might win.

The practice of Winning BlackJack is to execute the rules that are based
on the theory. It is a behavioral process. The focus of attention is on
executing the rules.

I am now introducing another step into the "How Theory Becomes Practice"
and that new step is, "Does the Practice assist in achieving the desired
goal"? Of course we need to then have a clear picture of what our goal is.
In the above example the goal of Winning BlackJack it is to walk away from
the table with more money than when they started. Winning is defined by
having more money.

The transition from theory to practice is when a player develops some
theory, either by themselves or some others theory, and then behaviorally
operates the extrapolated rules of the theory. The questions of does the
theory work, is it the best theory, etc. etc. are not important to the
understanding of how a theory becomes practice.

A theory becomes practice when the theory can be operationalized into a
formula of steps that can be executed behaviorally. Where those steps can
be practiced. That often requires that steps are broken down into more
"simple" behaviors where a person is able to execute that level of
performance. The focus of attention on repeatedly operating the steps in
the given conditions.

>From my example of Winning BlackJack:

The Goal: to walk away from the table with more money than when one

The Practice: executing, behaviorally, the rules from ones theory of how
they will win

The Theory: the mental model of how one might win at blackjack

I specifically used the example of Winning BlackJack because there are
many players who make a living at the game, and their are millions,
literally millions, more people who play the game and fund very large
businesses with their losses. The ratio of winners to losers is
extraordinary. The winners often write books, make videos, conduct classes
on their THEORIES of winning. The losers in the game generally have an
overly simplistic theory that contains no logic or practice in play, the
true definition of a gamble.

The "experts" have operationalized their theories into processes of
behaviors, step one of making a theory into a practice.

Step two is repeatedly executing the behaviors until performance becomes
automatic, "non-mental" / non-theoretical.

Step three is to execute the behaviors in differing contexts both
individually, different emotional states, and environmentally, to
generalize the practice. The focus of attention on executing the steps
consistently in all possible conditions.

That simple model of how a theory becomes practice does require consistent
motivation and supervision over time until the new behaviors become

What I think the list needs to focus on ( if they have the goal of
progressing in transitioning theories into practices) is how to
operationalize the theories. How to do step one. How to put the theories
into behavioral terms. How to create the focus of articulating the actions
involved in executing the behaviors that will lead to the desired goals.

As with the example of Winning BlackJack there are often hundreds of
steps, small skills, that need to be learned and repeated. The process of
transforming a theory into a step by step process can be complex but
functional given the work of operationally defining the process.

Following through with that process is a motivational issue.

Just some thoughts on the matter,
Glen Burns

[Host's Note: Glen, there were a number of sequences of special characters
in your msg... I replaced each sequence with a quote mark ("). I believe
the sequences were curly quotes or some other emphasis. ..Rick


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