An Introduction to Developing Powerful Skills

Hello. If you’re reading this article, you are probably interested in acquiring abilities which will improve your life. You may even be interested in making the world a better place in a major way. I’m here to help with that.

First, let’s take a look at the status quo. Do you ever find yourself despairing that you can’t do something that you want to do, maybe something that everyone else seems to be able to do? Do you ask yourself, “why can’t I plan ahead?” “Why can’t I use computers?” “Why can’t I save money?” “Why can’t I keep up with my peers?” “Why can’t I handle stress?” “Why can’t I understand people, or get them to like me?”

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Do you feel like this?

 

Do you want to accomplish something that only a few others have? If you’re particularly globally-minded, maybe you’ve asked yourself, “why hasn’t this problem been solved yet? Why does poverty still exist? What about war? Corruption? Oppression? Are these problems impossible? Are humans just too stupid or too flawed to solve them?”

I’ve got good news for you.

…Well, it’s not really news, actually. The knowledge and wisdom to help you build the life and world you want have already been discovered and articulated, in many cases decades or centuries ago.

The reason these issues still exist isn’t anything inherently wrong with you or humanity in general. The problem is we’ve all been forced to learn how to be people almost from scratch.

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The keys you need to succeed are somewhere in here. Good luck!

With the exception (if you’re lucky) of some basic guidance from family, friends, fiction, and mentors, most people grow up with only the skills they’ve picked up from dealing with their childhood environment.

Furthermore, one person may live decades without developing the skill to handle a situation they deal with every day, while another person learns the skill immediately from the experience. Why the difference?

The answer is paradigms.

(Pronounced “para-dimes”, because it was decided that a word should be spelled according to how it was pronounced in the original Latin.)

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You k’now, this mi’gh’t be a good time to ta’l’k about silent letters.

A paradigm is how you see the world. It’s what you notice and what you assume. It’s what you care about and how you fit everything together into a model that makes sense. You may have many different paradigms, each one for a different situation. Though you may not have words to describe it, a paradigm is how you think a situation works.

Why are paradigms so important? Imagine that at the beginning of your life you have a hammer. Maybe you’re born with it, or maybe your parents gave it to you, because they were given hammers by their parents. You go through life being good at pounding in nails and being terrible at driving screws. No matter how many screws you encounter, you’re not going to get better at it. Nails are all you can deal with.

You may not even recognize a screw or a screwdriver when you see one, until someone else points it out. After all, as the saying goes, when all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. People with screwdrivers might look like magicians to you, except when they try to drive a nail, at which point you show them the superiority of a good, old-fashioned hammer.

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Also, don’t make the mistake of thinking you can turn nails or screws with a wrench. That’s nuts.

What if someone handed you a screwdriver and showed you how to use it, though? You’d still be bad at driving screws, at least for a little while. However, you would get better with practice. You’d become at least competent, if perhaps not a master. Importantly, you would also be able to understand and judge the skills of other screwdriver users, instead of being limited to saying, “that one is more powerful”.

As a more concrete example, imagine a little boy has fallen off his bicycle and skinned his knee, and the bike chain has come loose.

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Not pictured: Actual bicycle accident.

Someone with a person-oriented paradigm might notice the child’s emotions and comfort him. Someone with a health-related paradigm might notice the injury, inspect it, and want to apply disinfectant. Someone with a mechanical-based paradigm might look at the bike and know how to fix it. Someone with a social order paradigm might see that the boy was riding in a forbidden area and move to scold him. All these are valid approaches to dealing with different aspects of the same situation. These people are starting from different premises about what is important or relevant and different knowledge of how things work.

What happens when a paradigm meets a situation it doesn’t know about, though? Would the medic know how to fix the bike? Would the mechanic know how to comfort the child? Would the comforter know how to discipline him?

No, they wouldn’t.

But could they learn?

They say people learn from experience, but that’s not completely true. Watching television in another language or living in another country helps you learn the language, but mere exposure doesn’t work for just anyone. Being allowed to play around with a piano doesn’t mean that a person will automatically learn how to play music, but you won’t be able to play music if you don’t practice. Experience is necessary for learning, but it is not sufficient on its own. Paradigms are necessary as well.

If a person doesn’t have a paradigm to help them gather what is important about their experience, then experience won’t do them much good. That’s why people who are decades older than you aren’t necessarily any wiser about things you’d expect them to pay attention to. They never had access to the paradigms that would have allowed them to learn from their experiences, or they considered the paradigms unimportant.

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If that describes you, it’s never too late to start learning. Or to stop being so obnoxiously arrogant.

The paradigms exist, though. There are people out there who know how to interact with people, how to build good habits, how to learn technical skills, how to take smart risks and avoid stupid ones. Their paradigms even guide them in seeking out new experiences to learn from. There are a few reasons why other people haven’t been able to find useful paradigms, though:

  • They don’t know what they need to know.
  • They don’t know the paradigm exists or could help them.
  • There are just too many paradigms to sift through to find what they need.
  • They don’t know how to recognize a useful paradigm from a flawed one.
  • They think mere knowledge is the same as a paradigm. (Knowledge becomes obsolete, but a paradigm helps you keep up-to-date.)
  • They don’t know how to generalize a paradigm to solve multiple similar problems.

Often, people give up on looking for the paradigms they need and try to brute-force their way through life with the paradigms they already have. They are resigned to the idea that they’ve either got it or they haven’t. It may be true that some people take to a paradigm easily while others need more help, but there’s no reason to limit your learning to the paradigms that come naturally to you. Doing so cripples your learning in every direction, including what you do best—a paradigm can only take you so far without support from other key paradigms.

What does this all mean for our world, and for you in particular?

All the hard work in the world won’t help if you don’t have the right tools, but if you do have the right tools, you have a decent chance at almost anything. You can do things you can be proud of, and even change your world. Furthermore, you’re not stuck with the tools you already have.

Where can you find more tools? That’s where I come in.

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Useful for plying your trade.

I’ve identified and cataloged all the fundamental tools (more or less), and I can point you to some good places to pick them up and learn to use them. Many articles in this blog are and will be about what these tools are, how they work, what they can do, and how to obtain them. Once you have them, using them is up to you.

Take care, and have fun.

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