Sunday, March 07, 2010

Hunting for critical events.

So we were talking about planning to scan versus scanning with a plan. I've been thinking of a way to illustrate this. Strangely enough, I thought of a photographic example. Go figure.

Let's say we're attending an NFL football game with our camera and zoom lense. We want to make some photographs of special moments during the game. We've managed to secure a seat right next to the field and pretty much in the middle of the action. It's almost as if we are actually playing.

( By the way, the football photos are from the Vikings-Saints playoff game. I picked them off the NFL's website. I wanted to make sure and specify that these are not my photos and to give credit where credit is due. )

Our approach is to keep our eyes moving. We glance very briefly at the fans. Then the field. Then the refs. Then the cheerleaders. ( come on, keep your eyes moving, buddy! ) Our eyes are constantly in motion, never lingering for very long at one spot. There's no arguing the fact that we are aggressively and actively scanning, is there? However, are we effective in reaching our objective?

With our aggressive scanning we're positive that nothing will escape our notice. This might be a good time to step back and look again at our objective.

Our objective is to capture dramatic instances in time like the ones depicted in these photos. Those split second happenings that make or break a team's effort to win the game. Moments that make a critical difference between a positive or a negative outcome for a team. We could call these moments critical events.

So here's the question. Will our aggressive scanning by itself ensure that we capture these moments and achieve our objective? Are we going to be successful at noticing these critical events by means of our scanning method? Or is there a better way?

I used the word "notice" deliberately. To me, that word implies a degree of chance and probability. There are things in this world that I don't like to leave to chance. One of those things is my personal safety and well being. I admit that we just can't control some things. At the same time, there are many misfortunes blamed on chance that really could have been prevented. So how do we become more effective at scanning?

The adverb "aggressive" is certainly a fitting one for the act of scanning. Let's add another one. How about the adverb "purposeful"?

Going back to our photographic analogy, what was our purpose? Observe how I substituted the word purpose for "objective". Our purpose was to identify and photograph critical events in the game. With that in mind, how do we change our scanning to be both aggressive and purposeful?

Here is the meat and potatoes.

We alter our scanning pattern to prioritize on where these critical events will happen. Note the way I phrased that. "Where these critical events will happen".

In other words, they haven't happened yet, but we want to capture them when they do.

Based upon our knowledge of the game, we look first to critical points. A better way to phrase it would be to say that we are hunting for where critical events are likely to occur. The snap from center. A pass or hand-off from the quarterback. When the runner or receiver encounters players from the other team. And so on. We scan the places where we know critical events will happen. It involves knowledge and anticipation in order to be properly prepared for success.

This is a subtle, but extremely powerful, difference.

To go back and clarify a point, notice that I used the word "prioritize", not "fixate". What we might call "special moments" can happen anywhere on the playing field. Best not to be so concerned with looking some places that we ignore others. We're still scanning everywhere, keeping our eyes moving, but we've added purpose by prioritizing on where we know pertinent critical events will happen. I know there's a degree of repetition here. Let's just say I consider it "critical"!

Come with me, now, back to riding a motorcycle. Let's apply our analogy to the real point, which is surviving on the streets. Actually, I don't really like the word "survive". That somehow implies settling for just getting by. Being lucky to escape with our skins intact. How about using a term like "fully enjoying our ride because we're confident and comfortable"? Less is left up to chance and more comes under our direct control.

Rather than simply aggresively scanning everywhere with no particular strategy, we need to add the other adverb. Purposeful. Think about it. What's the purpose of our scanning?

Isn't it to hunt down and gather critical information as early as possible?

So you know where this is going, now, don't you? Keep up the aggressive scanning of everything around us, but prioritize on where the critical events that affect us will happen. Again, don't fixate. We use our knowledge of the kind of area we're riding in to first hunt down and identify those places where critical events will likely happen. Then we look elsewhere.

I spent some time riding around a big city and taking some photos of different traffic situations. Tough duty, but it was for you all. I sacrificed myself for your sakes! This is not meant to be an all-inclusive list. I would rather have everyone take away the general strategy to be applied to a variety of situations. As opposed to my covering every single contingency. That's the beauty and power of a strategy, after all. A strategy is an adpative and effective tool to be used in many situations as needed.

Simply take a look at some of these photos and think about how we would prioritize our scanning to be more effective at getting critical information early.

Some driveways we can see and some we can't. The ones we can't are actually more dangerous if we don't hunt them down.

Wow! Lots to look at! By the way, that's not my pickup. As you saw earlier, Elvira is in the parking lot behind me. Our aggressive scanning without a specific strategy probably netted us the Firestone Store and the tire rack. We're also probably trying to figure out how to pronounce the name of that restaurant on the other side of the tires. Isn't it getting close to lunchtime? Scanning with a purpose, prioritizing on finding where critical events will happen, has revealed both a hidden driveway and a hidden intersection. Even if we couldn't see the intersection, we look for clues like the overhead traffic lights and the break in the cement curbs alongside the street.

Typical downtown parking. As drivers back out they can barely see around the other cars. We have to ride right behind these people, you know. Look at the next two photos.

They don't show as clearly as I had hoped, but do you see the illuminated backup lights? Take a look at the parking position. The woman driver walked up to the van with the help of two canes. Here's the larger view. The small red pickup to her left might allow some visibility, but the larger gray pickup takes a lot of that away. Look to the right of the minivan.

Not only was the driver of the mini-van backing up, but the white pickup next to her was exiting, as well. Double trouble.

Like I said, this isn't at all meant to be an inclusive list. These are simply a few situations I recorded in a very short stretch of time. There are so many things to watch for that we need to be as effective as possible in taking care of ourselves out there.

To wrap it up, Level 1 scanning skills are comprised of not looking very far ahead of the bike.

Level 2 scanning skills mean looking farther ahead and even aggressively looking around but hoping to notice things instead of having a strategy for how to make the scanning more purposeful and effective.

Level 3 scanning skills mean being both aggressive and purposeful. Our purpose is to hunt down and identify where critical events will happen as early as possible. This early warning lets us make small adjustments that keep us smoothly underway and out of trouble. It might seem like a subtle change from Level 2 skills, but it is extremely important that we make this change.

Level 4? Yes, there is one. We can get yet another step ahead of the game. Keep scanning purposefully for the next post to see what this step is. I hope this post was of value to you. If so, you'll appreciate the next one even more. In the meantime, go hunt down those critical events!

Miles and smiles,



Keith said...

When I played football years ago my favorite position was linebacker. It is both a disciplined and intuitive position. One is looking for "reads" that hint at what is going to happen next. To be good one must dwell in a constant state of anticipation and awareness.

When I began riding I discovered that my "linebacker eyes" were returning. I sometimes think this is perhaps the major reason I ride. Riding is the only activity other than playing football I've done that triggers in me this total involvement. It is single moment, single activity with nothing extra. As a linebacker if I missed the read I didn't end up in the right place at the right time. As a rider if I miss the read I can find myself in the wrong place at the wrong time.


Mike said...

Good post with good information Dan. A lot of work went into it... thank you! Someone commented on an earlier post that they scan without realizing it. I'm kind of in that camp. After years of driving you kind of develop a method for watching out for situations. The difference on a bike is we are the crumple zone so scanning is much more critical, to use one of your words. I guess another aspect of riding with a plan might involve positioning which touches on the last topic, being un-hittable. When riding down city streets like you show in this post I try to stay in the left lane which gives more time for dealing with people darting out from side streets and driveways. Is that a correct theory?

I like your football analogy and having a purposeful plan. Scanning is vital for running backs staying on their feet.

Oh, and that restaurant...they have great fresh style Mexican food. And there's one near The Lloyd!

Dean W said...

You know, if you're going to keep taking example photos in my neighborhood, you should give me a call some day; I'll bring the bike and we'll stage some scenarios.

Or at least call me and I'll meet you for lunch. Sheesh.


bluekat said...

Great post on scanning - well worth the wait!
I can't say what plan I have for scanning. I'm always watching for all the usual suspects and anything out of place. Sometimes it's just an odd sensation that someone is going to do something unexpected, so be ready for it.

"Clowns to the left of me, jokers to the right, here I am stuck in the middle..."

More great stuff to work on after all this nasty talk of snow and hail is through. I don't ride in the slippery stuff.

'nother cliff hanger ending I see :)
Good write up and thanks!

Jack Riepe said...

Dear IronDad (Dan):

I scan the road ahead like I enter a marriage, fairly certain that my immediate future is full of asassins in what I like to call the "lurk" zone. The lurk zone starts at the garage door. I find myself asking the question, where would I lurk if I was going to "not see" a motorcycle?

Interesting use of of a photographic metaphor in this blog. But violent. May I suggest using women's championship volleyball photos next time?

Fondest regards,
Jack • reep • Toad
Twisted Roads

irondad said...


What you describe is a great way to think about it. Looking for "reads". I really appreciate your sharing that.

Just curious, though, you're not out there riding looking to put a hit on anyone are you?


A lot of people scan without realizing it. I just figure something that important should be done deliberately and with a strategy.

As to riding in the left lane, that is one strategy that works. It will put space between you and those on side streets. It will also provide more chance of being seen and letting you see them earlier.

On the other hand, there are also those who want to turn left in front of motorcycles, people who take their half out of the middle, and so on.

This post might be of interest when it comes to lane position strategies.

Take care,


irondad said...

Dean W,

Sold. Thank you! Just remind me which phone I'm supposed to try first. Home or cell?


Never discount that sixth sense! Like I mentioned earlier to Mike, things always work more effectively with a plan and strategy behind them.

Sorry for the cliff hanger. I couldn't bring myself to write one post that takes days to read.


Thanks a lot. Now I'm going to be watching for lurk zones, too!

I presume you mean winter volleyball where the girls wear parkas?

Take care,


Young Dai said...

"May I suggest using women's championship volleyball photos next time?"

Jack may have a point here, anticipating the risk and Beach Volleyball, it's all to do with watching out for the t*ts

(Jack can get away with that word on his site, but I won't use it on yours, Grandpa. )

Dean W said...

Dan- Doesn't matter much which you call; the house/work phone rolls to the cell if I don't answer fast enough.

Chuck Pefley said...

Dan, a question you've voiced in the past was "why" so many motorcycle blogs turn into photo blogs.

I think your post today shows one very good reason.

When one is "actively" looking for ____ (fill in the blank with photo, opportunity, peak action, threat) a person simply begins to see more. Anticipation of how that "possible event" might play out and how best to position yourself to take best advantage of the event is a skill that is learned. The more you do it, the more skilled you become. Your analogy of skilled (highly skilled in your examples) photographers capturing "the moment" is an excellent one.

Photography, well done, is so much more than buying a camera and saying "I'm a photographer".

Buying a motorcycle is the very same deal.

To become a skilled rider (or photographer) it requires daily practice and constantly striving to be better than yesterday over many years in all kinds of situations and circumstances. Even when the rain is pouring down.

Nice post!

Keith said...


Nope not looking to put a hit on anyone while I'm on my bike, but since my other vehicle is a Toyota...

irondad said...

Young Dai,

I'm sorry. Women's vollyball is just too distracting for a motorcyclist! Especially for Jack!

Take care,


irondad said...


Thank you for the kind words. I'm also sincerely grateful that you graced my blog with such an insightful comment. There is much wisdom in what you say.

I can readily identify with the "more you look the more you see" progression. Then you want to share it!