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Tony Romo and Deep vs. Superficial Understanding

January 23, 2019



What Can We Learn from Tony Romo Calling the Perfect Game?


Over 53 million people watched last weekend's NFL playoff games. Tony Romo was one of those. Situated in the TV booth, Romo was providing color commentary for the viewer’s enjoyment at home. In theory, we were watching the same game. In reality, Romo was watching something entirely different.
Romo displayed an uncanny ability to call plays before they happened.  Runs in a specific direction; passes to a particular receiver; Romo called them before the ball was even snapped.
Was Romo blessed with the power of foresight? Of course not. Through years of study and practice, he was simply seeing the game in a different way. He’s able to pick up patterns and tells, clueing him into what play is about to happen. That’s part of being an NFL quarterback. Reading the other team and understand what’s coming and how to adjust.
The difference is between a deep and superficial knowledge level. The vast majority of us know a little about football. Even if we are diehard fans and have watched hundreds of hours of games, we see the game through a superficial lens. The sheer amount of time watching football fools us into thinking we have expertise, but we are watching a completely different game than someone like Romo.
This superpower isn’t reserved for ex-NFL quarterbacks. It occurs in all of us. Whenever we obtain a deep understanding, we are able to recognize patterns and turn slow deliberate thinking into almost automatic processing.

And to obtain this superpower what did Romo do? He gave the game attention. When you are watching a football game, you are giving it partial attention. Seeing the zoomed out picture of pass completions and touchdowns. Romo is zoomed in. Seeing the details that provide clues to the big picture.
The lesson isn’t that Romo is prescient. It’s that time spent watching or doing an activity doesn’t guarantee expertise. If you aren’t giving it your full attention, you are operating on a superficial level. No matter how many hours you devote to it. To truly understand just about anything, it requires much more: A focused attention; seeing the interaction of the details and the big picture. Learning of the nuance of the game or activity.
Once you’ve achieved a deep understanding in whatever endeavors matter most to you, maybe you too can predict what play is coming next.


Three Kinds of Friendship



Community and friendship have been on my mind a lot lately. So much of the technology that is supposed to connect us ends up pulling us apart. It gives us the illusion of connection in bite-size chunks. It promotes superficial at the expense of deep.

In his Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle writes that there are three different kinds of friendship:


1) Friendships based on utility, in which one or both of the parties gain something as a result of the friendship. This is akin to the modern “networking” enterprise, or becoming friends with someone because you think they can help you.


2) Friendships based on pleasure, or those centered around pleasant experiences. These are people with whom you can have a good, carefree time.


3) Friendships based on virtue, in which both individuals share the same values. These are people whom you admire and respect, and with whom you align on what you find most important in life.

It’s fascinating that, centuries ago, Aristotle offered that many individuals “who are young or in their prime” too often pursue friendships predominantly for utility only to come up wanting. Spend some time on a college campus or in the corporate workplace, and it’s easy to see that some things never change.


Likewise, he wrote, “Those who love because of utility love because of what is good for themselves, and those who love because of pleasure do so because of what is pleasant to themselves.” Yet what one finds useful or pleasurable,Aristotle wrote, “is not permanent but is always changing; thus, when the reason for the friendship is done away, the friendship is dissolved.”


While all three of Aristotle’s friendships can be advantageous, only those founded in virtue — and with common core values — are enduring and meaningful: “Perfect friendship is the friendship of [those] who are alike in virtue,” he wrote. “For these [individuals] wish well to each other [in all circumstances] and thus [these friendships] are good in themselves.”


Yes, these kinds of relationships demand lots of effort and are hard to come by — “great friendships can only be felt toward a few people,” Aristotle wrote — but they yield a wonderful sense of satisfaction and contentment. It is a rare blessing to connect with someone on this deeper level.


Aristotle’s schema is not only prescient, it’s also practical. Ask yourself: in which categories do your relationships fall? It’s OK to have some (perhaps even most) friendships mainly for utility and pleasure, but it’s important to realize that these fill a different purpose and are likely to have a shorter lifespan than the ultimate kind of friendship — one built upon shared virtue.And it is these latter friendships that are worth protecting and cherishing.They don’t emerge overnight or on social media alone. They require considerable energy to maintain . But it's generally energy well spent.


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