2012-09-18

The Curve of Inevitability

Pretty arrogant huh?  To call something you came up with “inevitable”?  Like most things I say or do that come across as arrogant, it’s mostly tongue-in-cheek.  Mostly.

So what about this curve?  What is it?  What’s invertible about it?  Well, to start with, it’s two curves, and it looks like this.

Right about now you’re either thinking “yeah, I get it, it’s the indian not the arrow” or you’re thinking “this guy is a jackass, everyone knows good gear helps you if you have the ability”.  And you’re both right.

As a community or industry we throw around phrases like “it’s the indian not the arrow “ or “it’s the singer, not the song” all the time.  Mostly we pay lip service to them.  It’s not until you keep trying to solve software problems with hardware (how’s that for a cliche?) and START RECORDING THE RESULTS, and see that you’re not getting anywhere that you really start to grasp those concepts.  And what is outlined in the curve is the reason for that.

For someone starting out right out of the gate with their first gun, if you take away their stock Colt 6920 with iron sights shooting Wolf and hand them a gun with stainless barrel, two-stage trigger, magnified optic, and bi-pod, and give them some match-grade ammo instead, they are going to shoot tighter groups.  “But Rob”, you’re saying “aren’t you the one that always says those things don’t make you a better shooter?”  Yes, I am.  And they don’t.  They just made some guy with a whopping 100 rounds through an AR ever shoot a tighter group on a piece of paper.  Now, if his whole goal in life is to only ever shoot that size group, and he’s never going to practice beyond that first 100 rounds, and he’s never going to shoot any other gun until he need to shoot that size group again at some point in the future, then he should go buy all that shit and bolt it on his rifle and stick it in the safe.  He will forever stay at the far left-hand peak of the red line.  He doesn’t know shit from brown bread, has zero ability, and so gear matters more to him than to any other person in the universe of firearms.  He will see more improvement per dollar spent on gear than anyone else, ever.  And it still matters twice as much in your head as it does on the range.

But the very next time that guy goes to the range, all that shit is going to matter less.  And less.  And less.  and his buddy or partner who doesn’t have so much disposable income to burn on gidgets and wizmos is probably becoming a better shooter, and catching up to the guy with the proton pack and flux capacitor on his gun pretty quickly.  Give that broke guy a class instead of a scope and a bipod and he’s going to be smoking the rich dude right quick.  Because the money guy that never practices and relies on all his accessories is going to plateau right out of the gate.  So not only does your actual reliance on all that stuff wane pretty quickly, but it also means your abilities are going to stagnate right where they are, and sooner or later your head is going to pop out of your ass and even you are going to realize how little it matters.  That’s why after the initial peak both the red and the green lines go down, but the red line really drops fast.  That’s the post-head-pop trajectory.

Whether you start with the basics or you start with more gun than you know what to do with, at some point the two lines almost meet.  They never fully meet because most people will always fool themselves into putting more emphasis on the equipment than they should.  More on that at the end of this post.  But you reach a point where the gear is mattering less and less and your skills really are being limited by the equipment you’re using.  Many people think this happens much earlier than it does, and they go from Production to Limited to Open all in the matter of a few months because they think it’s their skills that plateaued.  They haven’t.  If you’re not WINNING Production at your local match, to the point that everyone else that shows up is battling for second place, it’s not the gear.  Most people are going to miss that bottoming out, which is why the green curve bottoms out a little bit after the red.

But there is a point that you simply can’t improve in either time or precision without changing the equipment.  If you’re shooting 2” groups with iron sights at 100 yards with XM193 out of a Milspec barrel, you’re definitely at the limit of your equipment.  If you’re cleaning dot torture at 7 yards with your Glock 19 with mostly stock parts, you’ve definitely reached the limit of your equipment.  If you can shoot a Half-and-Half clean with iron sights and a stock 6920, you’ve reached the limit of your equipment.  There are dozens of other examples, but these are just a few, and they’re made here to point out that there is a limit.  I had a 2005 GTO that I used to take to the drag strip.  When I was getting the same ¼-mile time, week after week, and it was the best time I was seeing anyone report with a stock car, I had reached the limit of that equipment.  If I wanted to go faster I needed a torque converter, or drag radials, or I was going to have to start getting into power-adders.

So the results actually do improve with the new gear.  The thing is, you’re also still learning and practicing all this time.  If you’re not, you’re not seeing the improvement.  And if you’re not the type to practice, you’re not the type to keep records, and in that case this whole post is useless to you.  You cannot report improvement if you don’t keep records.  If you can’t tell me how much tighter your groups got with your new trigger or optic, or how much faster your times got, you’re no less silly than the guy who put a cold air intake into his Civic and reported a 15 HP increase by measuring with “the seat of my pants”.  So if you know it is helping, you must be keeping records, and if you are keeping records you have to be practicing, otherwise what is there to keep records of?

Now notice on the graph that about the time you start to plateau in ability, the “thinking” curve, the red curve, starts back down again.  you though I just drew this shit with my finger, didn’t you?  Well I did, but I still drew the curves with a purpose.  That’s because you’re finally starting to get it.  That’s the second, smaller pop.  Like when a jet comes back down from breaking the sound barrier.

Remember earlier when I said I’d talk about the curves touching at the end of this post?  Well this is that part.  Notice that the red line is still on a downward trajectory?  If you’re lucky, that will continue, and you will finally, actually, understand what people mean when they say “it’s the indian and not the arrow”, and you’ll also realize how you had no idea what you were talking about when you said it before this point.

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