Maria Konnikova teaches how to play poker

Maria Konnikova, who gave a pop-up lecture on poker, has a new book coming out next called The Biggest Bluff. I had an advance copy and wanted to share a passage on learning.

“Most real-world environments are … “wicked”: there’s a mismatch between action and feedback because of external noise. Activities with elements of surprise, uncertainty, the unknown: suddenly, you’re not sure whether what you’ve learned is accurate or not, accurately executed or not. There’s simply too much going on. … But despite all this, one thing is undoubtedly true: while practice is not enough and there’s not even close to a magic number for its effectiveness, you also cannot learn if you do not practice. If you’re serious about thing—playing chess, writing a book, becoming an astronaut, playing poker—you have to learn the composite skills. No one is so naturally gifted that they can just get up and go. Even Mozart needed some lessons.”

We tend to think of meta skills as the skill. For example, we default to thinking that reading is a skill. But there is really no skill called reading. Reading is the meta-skill that results when you alloy other skills together. You need to know the alphabet, how letter form words, how words have meaning, how words together have meaning, and so on. So often we focus on the meta-skill and not the sub-skills.