Wednesday, April 06, 2016

No Shortcuts (with Steve)


When we catch up with old friends, people often talk of how we slip quickly into the comfortable space. Time doesn't affect the closeness. While I think this is great, it also makes me a little sad. Tim Urban of 'Wait But Why' looks at how we might be at the tail end of many of the relationships that matter the most to us. Part of the reason for us putting less time aside for the people we care about is busyness. Part is distance. Part may be focus. Part may be time. I am not sure, but I really value the incredibly interesting and interested people I have come across in my life. One of those is Steve Bradshaw. I got to catch up with him, and meet his wife in Los Angeles.

Steve and I both have similar backgrounds in Finance, and have shifted away from the traditional world of work. Steve's story reminded me of Josh Waitzkin. Steve has changed his focus from rock climbing to art. He is starting from scratch with anatomy books and the drills required to learn the craft. I have read Waitzkin's 'The Art of Learning' about 6 times since I first found it about two years ago. What you are good at is not necessarily the 'thing' but how it became the thing. Josh was a chess prodigy who became a martial arts champion. The thing he was good at wasn't chess or martial arts (although he was world class), it was learning. He brings the idea of how to get right to the heart of the things we love down to incredibly well expressed, small ideas. Ideas you can grab onto. Ideas you can climb.

Greetings earthling donkeysaur. Yes, great book. I love the advice that Josh’s mother gave him early in life: If you become exceptionally talented at something you love doing, it doesn’t matter what it might be, you’ll be able to make a living from it. I don’t know anyone personally who has received such advice from a parent. 
I particularly like Josh’s approach that to improve performance you don’t need to overlay more skills and flourishes, but instead you need to spend more time on the basics, along the lines of Bruce Lee’s:
"I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once, but I fear the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times.” 
His philosophy came from his original chess teacher who made him practice the end game endlessly (when there are very few pieces left on a chess board)—an approach none of his peers where taking. In this way he learnt the most basic moves and interactions at a deep intuitive level and was not reliant on the game following particular paths and structures. Similarly, on his way to becoming Tai Chi world champion, he practiced just one throw for months, slowly increasing the speed and power micro-inch by micro-inch.

Once he has perfected a skill at the most basic level, Josh widens the circle of knowledge very slowly, retaining an intuitive feeling of mastery as he extends outward. His performance stays automatic and effortless. I believe it is this unrushed state of mind that allows him to stay motivated to train much longer than anyone else. He stays in a state of flow, moving just quick enough to avoid boredom but never too quick to overwhelm his interest or deplete his energy. The achievement of mastery at each step provides the energy for the next step.
Josh describes 'chunking' where by developing an extensive knowledge of movement in both chess and Tai Chi he is able to perceive more information in less time leading to a feeling of time itself slowing down and of being able to move faster than an opponent, even faster than his opponent can track visually.
Another concept he employs in martial arts (taken from his mentor Marcelo Garcia) is hyper-training the transitions between moves so that he can exploit the opening created as the weight shifts and the mind moves ahead to the next move.
Josh is clearly one of the smartest people alive. Just as you think you’ve absorbed his approach he surprises you with even more depth and insight, breaking things down one step further.
Maybe because he is so remarkably talented, he appears to be delightfully free of the ego and gamesmanship notable in other life-hackers who follow similar rules of learning and strategy. In fact, the title of Josh’s book, The “Art of Learning” says it all. There is a subtlety and an art to his approach. It is not a shortcut or a hack.
Now go read it!
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