Kicking Ass


Kathy Sierra talks about kicking ass
Kathy Sierra talks about kicking ass
(click to enlarge)

Kathy Sierra takes the stage again at ETech to talk about kicking ass. She says that people aren't passionate about things they suck at. Finding passion is a way to kick ass.

She talks about neurogenesis, the idea that the brain can change positively. It's more plastic than we ever thought. She recommends an article by Jonah Lehrer in Seed Magazine on the work of Professor Elizabeth Gould. Stimulating environments matter--cages (or cubes) aren't stimulating environments.

The common thread of people who perform at a world class level is that they focus, concentrate, and practice. They put in the time. Putting in the effort is a key factor in more than 90% of the cases. So much for the slacker attitude, huh?

Do experts actually know more? Kathy shows two diagrams of chess positions and asks which is easier to recall. The question is "what do chess masters know" that everyone else doesn't. Chess masters recall "real" boards much better than "non-sense" boards much better than beginners but for non-sense boards, masters have no advantage. But with real expertise, it's not what you know--it's what you do.

Kathy gives some hints on how to kick ass.

  1. Exploit your telephony superpowers--use mirror neurons to exercise your brain without doing the thing itself. Primates respond to things other primates do by simply watching them. Mirror neurons allow us to run simulations of another persons brain. Video and pictures is better than text. Simulation resolution depends on you--you have to have expertise in the thing you're watching. Don't watch people who suck.
  2. Reduce interference--stop the mental chatter that's always going on when you try to do something. Tell the dumber part of your brain to shut up.
  3. Manage your flight or fight response-- Kathy recommends the Stress Eraser.
  4. Get to know your brain--Your brain is constantly telling you thing are or aren't important that your mind wants to learn. Read A Mind of its Own: How Your Brain Distorts and Deceives and Understanding how good people turn evil (here's a Wired article if you'd like the digest). Exercise (not mental, physical) is important.

Two big problems are motivation and practice. Get unplugged. We're addicted by intermittent variable reward. It's what makes slot machines addictive. It's what makes checking your email addictive. We can't lose the ability or intense concentration. You have to put in the hours.