Dec 2, 2021

Key ingredient in mastering a skill

 As someone who is fascinated by the idea of learning, I always wondered about how one builds up expertise in a particular skill. Through experience, I realized the power of a very important tenet - INTUITION.

Let me explain with an example. I started to learn cooking sometime in 2005-06. By going through a couple of cookbooks and by observing my MIL (for a couple of weeks when I visited her), I slowly started understanding the nuances. But the real experience came in when I kept making new dishes over the weekends - following the recipes to the T, varying a few ingredients here and there, trying new methods of cooking, etc. As I practiced more and more dishes, a new dimension opened up, which I believe is INTUITION towards cooking. This intuition now helps me to multitask more effectively in the kitchen, use the right amount of spices and cook just the right amount needed for my family.

I also realized that this same intuition prevents me from being effective at transferring my cooking knowledge to my husband K. He is now starting to learn the basics and I'm finding it extremely difficult to give him the exact recipe, procedure, cooking times, etc. Yes, cooking involves a lot of science (and Math too). Recipes can be easily replicable, provided the instructions are accurate. BUT over and above these aspects, each individual observes and learns through his/her practice, which can't be codified easily. I presume that the unique learning each of us experiences is INTUITION towards a skill. This is extremely valuable and varies from individual to individual. In Tamil, we use these terms - "kann pakkuvam", "kai pakkuvam" which all point to this very intuition.

I'm currently reading this fascinating book by Kathy Sierra - Bad Ass: Making Users Awesome, where she talks about unconscious perceptual knowledge. It is that feeling we get in a particular skill we are good at - "I don't know how I do it. I just......know" (think of "you just know" in Snape's voice🙂 )

Quoting from the book,

"After enough exposure (in a particular skill) with feedback, your brain began detecting patterns and underlying structures, without your conscious awareness. With more exposure, your brain fine-tuned its perception and eventually figured out what really mattered. Your brain was making finer distinctions and sorting signal from noise even if you couldn't explain how.

I was just blown away by this insight. And I felt relieved to know this - that it's not really my fault that I'm not able to give clear instructions to K on the exact recipe :-) 

It is not only about the time and effort that one invests in a particular skill that matters. It's also about how our brain learns and captures this perceptual knowledge. More on that after I finish reading the book🙂

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