Building roads with a wheelbarrow

Developing a skill is like building a road. The wider the road, the more traffic it can hold. Each one of us builds these roads by making repeated investments using a wheelbarrow – one cartload at a time. By doing this over and over, our road becomes wider and we are able to execute something effortlessly.

When a novice starts off at chess, she has to think of all pieces on the board, one move at a time. She has merely started building her road. Only a trickle can pass through it. With hundreds of hours of practice, she can look at a position and develop an intuitive feeling for it. Thousands of hours in, she can play blindfolded. The road is laid well enough for traffic to ply in the dark. Eventually, she masters the discipline and can play a simultaneous game with several players.

The size of the wheelbarrow we use to construct our roads is our intelligence. With a larger wheelbarrow, one can build a road faster – surely the more intelligent among us have an edge. What matters more though, is whether we are building roads with our wheelbarrows. Road building is hard work. It requires us to make difficult choices everyday.  It much easier to squander our loads of wheelbarrows on frivolity.

What also matters is the choice of roads we build. What do they connect? How well are they planned? For the same length of road, the traffic can flow smoothly in a well planned city, while it can be chaotic, haphazard and noisy in one that is unplanned.

With every skill we build, we are constructing information highways in our brain. It isn’t all about the size of the wheelbarrow. It is about showing up day after day to build the right roads.

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