content i'm thinking about week ending 06-26-20

I’m going to try out a new format for these posts.

I was starting to find that this post was turning into a content treadmill, and that was having downstream impact on my note library.

Rather than trying to craft a signal about how much cool content I’m “consuming”, I think more thoughtful notes on a few pieces will serve my own thought process better, and might provide better long-term cognitive value.

Maybe Deliberate Practice Isn’t So Great?

I imagine that a reasonable cross-section of people, particularly knowledge workers, are familiar with K. Anders Ericcson and “Deliberate Practice”. James Clear has a concise definition on his site:

…Deliberate practice refers to a special type of practice that is purposeful and systematic. While regular practice might include mindless repetitions, deliberate practice requires focused attention and is conducted with the specific goal of improving performance…

This methodology is often combined with Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000 hour rule to provide a rough framework for describing what it takes to achieve expert level mastery in something.

There is some debate as to the efficacy of either method, particularly in the context of whether the discipline has an established pedagogy or not. Learning piano? Deliberate practice is probably of some value. What about something that can’t be easily taught or practiced?

In Why Tacit Knowledge is More Important Than Deliberate Practice, “tacit knowledge” happens through imitation, emulation, and apprenticeship. “Learning by doing” builds up knowledge that you might not be able to gain just by practicing in a vacuum. Any decision based on instinctive choice is going to be hard to communicate simply through rote memorization, the scenario has to be lived in, “experienced”.

Invoking Nassim Taleb, the post also discusses how rote memorization and procedure makes humans fragile and unable to utilize Naturalistic Decision Making. Antifragile systems need creative problem solving, built on earned expertise. Listen to Episode 396 of Software Engineering Radio, where Barry O’Reilly discusses the value of this exact model in designing complex software architecture.

Circling back, I made a mental note to start highlighting whenever I saw “deliberate practice” presented as an ideal learning methodology. Some instances from this week alone:

In my own experience, there are some things I’ve only managed to accumulate skill and knowledge for via deliberate, persistent practice and repetitions. Programming comes to mind immediately. However, there are many other things that require tacit, instinctive knowledge. Earlier in my tech career, I was an Operations Engineer for Amazon.com and AWS. Our team was tasked with first-line response to any kind of systems outage, failure, or general issue across both platforms. Learning how to respond effectively and efficiently wasn’t really something I could go home and practice over and over, I had to learn by doing.

How do we get better at gaining tacit knowledge? The end of the post offers a couple sparse suggestions, including an expensive Oxford textbook and to look out for NDM-focused literature. I think, for now, I’ll make a note to spend some time reading up on tacit knowledge, and see if I can find a consensus sentiment.

Hopefully everyone is continuing to stay healthy and safe. Enjoy your weekend!

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