Action vs Waiting, Practice vs Talent

Action wrote Debugging Habits: “Wait and See” vs. “Act and Learn” in which he discusses the results he gets by taking action versus waiting around for things to happen or fall into place.

On a similar topic, David Seah wrote Building a Niche of One, in which he discusses leveling up abilities by orders of magnitude. He cites an article that claims talent isn’t the only thing. Practice is just as important.

Just like successful songwriters need to write hundreds of songs before they get their “overnight” hit, chess players need to play thousands of hours worth of games to become good at chess. Seah was nice enough to provide a graudated scale. 10,000 hours over the course of 10 years might make you a master, and it sounds daunting. Well, yeah. It is. That’s a lot of dedicated hours. But 1,000 hours is doable within a year if you work full time, and you can be an experienced expert. Already have something taking up your full time? 100 hours can be done on the side, and you can still be somewhat of an expert. 10 hours could be a dedicated weekend or spread over a few of them, and you’ll definitely learn enough to be dangerous. Even dedicating an hour to a task will give you practice with the basics.

I’ve never liked the idea that some people are just never going to have certain talents. It sounded too much like your lot in life is set before you, and you never had a chance to make a difference one way or another. “Some people just aren’t meant to be programmers” or “Some people just aren’t musically inclined”. I personally think that if they aren’t going to be able to do it, it is because they’ve decided that they won’t do it. It wasn’t due to any inability except to take action, any action. I’m sure talent is important, but I also believe that talent isn’t always inate. Left-handed people might be more creative initially, but I’m sure if I practice being creative enough, I’ll also get a +4 creativity roll. Or at least be much better than I am. No law says I must stagnate.

I can play chess, but I don’t have nearly as much experience as a friend of mine does, and he destroys me almost every time we play. Almost, because I’m slowly getting better. One game I almost won, and one time I managed to take his queen before he realized his mistake. B-) I also play as Terran in Starcraft, and while I know “how” to play, I am almost always struggling to survive by the end of a game. Almost, because there were a few games where I made a decisive strike that would have turned the tide of battle permanently in my favor if I had only paid attention to producing more units (Larry, I will defeat your Protoss!). When I first played Quake 3 Arena, I was the n00b that would stand on a platform and look around while rockets and machinegun fire found me like mosquitos on a hot summer day. Eventually I became the regular leader on the boards within my group of friends. Well, until they remembered how to play again (there was a long absence from the game for a lot of us). Even then, I was holding my own. I gained experience and was able to play more competitively. I became better, even though I stunk something fierce when I began.

Whether it is programming, meeting women, writing novels, juggling, brainstorming, or playing games, taking action and getting the experience of the attempt, whether you accomplish your goal or not, will always improve what you know. How can I possibly learn the best way to design a C++ class in my game project if I don’t get familiar with the problem domain? How will I learn how to write the next great American novel if I don’t try to write anything before taking it on?

I’ll make mistakes. I’ll make HUGE mistakes. I’ll probably look silly. But I’ll only have myself to blame if I don’t learn from it. I’ll take a variation of “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me” as “I stumble once, and that’s expected. I stumble again, and I should have marked the stupid rock on a map!!”

Perfect practice makes perfect. No one is perfect. You’re expected to make mistakes. Learn from them. Then do better. Then do better again. Take action, practice and learn.

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