The Paradox of Transcendence
Get the fundamentals down and the level of everything you do will rise.
- Michael Jordan
One of the most consistent messages you will find from world-class performers is a refocusing on fundamentals.
The intuitive mental model for this is that experts will focus on expert things. That somehow the information they are consuming has transcended the information a beginner might be dealing with.
But over and over, we see this is not the case.
Intuitively we might imagine that a monk that has meditated for an order of magnitude more time than us might no longer need to focus on their breath.
And yet, what we know about transcendence from those same monks is that the effect is not a zooming up or out of these fundamentals, but instead, in.
Our technique is not about building on top, but building within.
Josh Waitzkin describes this in more detail in his excellent book, The Art of Learning. In the book he describes how his growth as a chess player was about finding the multitude of sub-second moments. He describes this as time slowing down, each twitch of his opponent giving him a world of information about the next move he might make.
This is not to say that more abstract information does not exist, but rather that it is an outgrowing of those same fundamentals, not some graduation and departure from them.
If you need a heuristic for whether you are on the right track, consider whether that track is leading you to abandon fundmamentals.
Written by Jonathan Cutrell, Engineering Manager at Guild Education and podcast host at Developer Tea. You can follow him on Twitter at @jcutrell.