A decade ago I was reading a chess book, author and title now forgotten, about how to improve one's game. The writer proposed a neat mental model: skill equals the sum of two liquids with different rates of evaporation. (Envision something like water and alcohol.)

Study and practice produce these fluids; with the passage of time, they fade away. "Cramming" before a competition can improve ability, but most quick gains are also quickly lost. Different people generate these two substances at different rates. Some folks learn slowly but retain what they've picked up longer, for instance. Some have a native genius that lets them progress with explosive speed to a high level of competence, but then have a hard time adding to that talent base. Some modes of learning are biased more toward making one liquid and not the other.

This two-fluid image is a powerful, highly extensible metaphor. And the same model applies to lots of other areas in life—such as physical fitness, or studying a foreign language, or maybe even figuring out how to make a long-term relationship work ...

(cf. LearningInvestment (11 Feb 2000), TenThousandHours (20 Sep 2001), WayAhead (18 Jun 2003), ...)

TopicRecreation - TopicScience - TopicRunning - 2005-05-04

(correlates: Chess Is an Ocean, PracticeMakesProgress, NoRetrenchment, ...)