Friday, 31 January 2014

The Art of Learning by Josh Waitzkin


I have been spending my time during my travels into university reading a book that I stumbled across, through recommendation from a professional Starcraft: Brood War/esports commentator known as Sean Plott (Day[9]).

Written by Josh Waitzkin is an eight time National Chess Champion in his youth. Now a martial arts champion, he hold a combined twenty-one National Championship titles in addition to several World Championship titles. He regularly gives seminars and keynote presentations to maximising each student's unique potential through an enriched educational process.

This book is not directly core 'Game Design' theory related, but can easily be applied - as with most things. Already, its been one of the most valuable tools for enhancing my understanding of stressful competitive situations - which I relate back to my own game jam experiences at Brains Eden, Game Hack and many Ludum Dares.

I cannot recommend this book enough, particularly to students, anyone who lives in the world of competition or for those who want to reach personal goals in any level of achievement.

Amazon link

The following are my summary notes on the chapters that particularly stood out and proved useful to me and for aiding my dissertation project.

Two Approaches To Learning  - Chapter 3

Waitzkin discusses two approaches on mindset when approaching learning new material that is particularly challenging. Developmental psychologists have done extensive research on the effects of a students approach on his or hers ability to learn and ultimately master material.

Entity theorists - Use language such as "I am smart at this" or "I am not smart enough for this" and to attribute their success or failure to an ingrained and unalterable level of ability. They see their overall intelligence or skill level at a certain discipline to be a fixed entity, a thing that cannot evolve.

Incremental theorists - Also defined by Waitzkin as "learning theorist", use language such as "I got it because I worked very hard at it", "I should have tried harder" or "Oh boy, now I'm really gonna have to try hard". A student with a learning theory of intelligence tends to sense that with hard work, difficult material can be grasped - step by step, incrementally, the novice can become the master.

The Downward Spiral - Chapter 6
Waitzkin describes the process of how to best deal with the downward style. Meaning when the situation at hand is spiraling out of control and a competitive loss may be imminent. He states that truly great ones are those who "make the moment work for them, heightening performance with improvisations that shine with immediacy and life".

I try to apply this mindset where applicable throughout my prototyping. Prototyping games really quickly can sometimes be ruthlessly unpredictable, "making the moment work for you" and working around problems can often make for brilliant creations.

"Musicians, actors, athletes, philosophers, scientists, writers understand that brilliant creations are often born of small errors."

Beginners Mind - Chapter 9

Waitzkin discusses the beginners mind as a fundamental part of him achieving his goals. It is the idea of approaching every learning process as if you were a child. When children learn something they don't worry about being embarrassed for a day, a week or a month after, they simply dive in and learn. Having no fear of embarrassment along with the beginners mindset you can begin to find yourself getting really skilled at the thing which you are trying to learn. People may tell you that you are getting really good, that's when the ego gets involved - then leading you to believe you may have all the answers whereas in actually reality you may not have all the answers.

Josh Waitzkin (2007). The Art Of Learning. New York: Simon & Schuster. NA.

Further Reading

- Alan Watts - This Is It, and Other Essays on Zen and Spiritual Experience

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