Nov 22, 2015

Deliberate Practice Series - 1: How Do You Measure Real Progress

Here are some things I'd feel accomplished if I get really good at:
- Be an extremely competent Software Engineer and a Programmer.
- Play the Guitar really well.
- Learn the ropes of Investing and gain the experience and insights to make good, informed Investments.

To make well-defined, measurable progress in any of these areas is not as straightforward as just putting in the hard work and toiling away. For instance, to turn into a competent programmer, it doesn't suffice to read a few books and write practice programs. If I want to get good at playing the Guitar, then picking up the Guitar everyday for half an hour and hammering away won't help me make notable progress for years. Improvements will be very slow in coming. Be it cognitive or mechanical, any reasonably complex task requires more than working through a few books or putting in some unstructured practice time.

I've been contemplating this area for a while and am increasingly convinced that to make real progress in a given area, you need a well defined set of benchmarks that you can measure yourself against, and a solid plan that helps keep you focused and lets you realize whether you are on track or are steering away.

A significant amount of literature (books and blogs) exists out there that deals with the question - How does one get to elite levels in any cognitive field? I have in particular been attracted to the concept of 'Deliberate Practice'. As far as I know, the book that really made a name for itself in this topic is 'Talent is Overrated' by Geoff Colvin. I had read this book a few years ago and it was liberating to realize that no field is the proprietary playground of a few hand-picked lucky folks with natural god-gifted talents, except in physically demanding areas like Sports where people with certain physique have a natural advantage. The book makes a strong case of the fact that with consistent application of Deliberate practice, anyone can reach elite levels in their chosen cognitive fields. A blog (my favorite) that also deals with the concept of 'Deliberate Practice' at length is Study Hacks.

Below are the constituents of Deliberate Practice (copied guilt-free from here)
1. It's designed to improve performance.
2. It's repeated a lot.
3. Feedback on results is continuously available.
4. It's highly demanding mentally.
5. It's hard.
6. It requires (good) goals.

In the next few posts, I will be laying down a deliberate practice framework applied to my above areas of interest. If at all I wish not to be doomed to a life of mediocrity, it is vital that I do this.

Nov 1, 2015

My Books List - 2015

Here's a running post on the books I've read in 2015 and their brief summaries.

I am Malala - A biographical account of the brief but very eventful life of Malala Yousafzai, who's a Nobel peace prize recipient and a proponent for Women's education. The book also is an account of the times of turmoil in Pakistan during the the Taliban insurgency.

On Writing - A memoir and a guidebook for aspiring writers by Stephen King. This book is a must read if you ever plan on pursuing creative writing. The book demystifies writing to be a natural talent and portrays it to be an art that can be acquired and honed by constant practice and know-hows. As a software engineer, I could easily relate the writing advice in the book to the field of software development, which I view to be as much a creative art as writing fiction is.

Here's what it takes to become a competent writer (or in my case, a programmer) - Read a lot, write a lot. Steve has claimed that he reads close to 80 books a year. And he recommends a schedule of 4-6 hours a day of reading and writing.

The Finish - An account of the operation by the US government and the Navy SEAL commandos that finally lead to the demise of Osama Bin Laden.

Born to Run - A gripping tale where the author Christopher McDougall, pursues the art of ultra running and goes to the copper canyons of Mexico to learn about the ultra running tribe called Tarahumara that lives in the Canyons. As the book dives deep into exploring the theory of running from an evolutionary perspective, the reader is also introduced to the heroes in the sport of ultra running. This book just makes you want to lace up your shoes and run till you drop.

A Brief History of Time - A book on Cosmology and Particle Physics by Stephen Hawking. This book introduces the lay reader to the world of the laws governing our Universe, Quantum Theory, Particle Physics and Astronomy. This book surely is not an easy read. Many of the concepts, especially Quantum Mechanics and the Theories of Relativity get very convoluted and overwhelming. I found myself skimming through the pages without spending time gaining an in-depth understanding of the underlying science. This is a book that you would want to 'study' and not just read.