Even though I do not know much about video games, I’d like to make a video game analogy to make my point. Why? Because some people I wish to get through to know a lot about it. If I am not exactly right about the granularities, do cut me some slack and go with the broad flow.

Imagine you are a gamer who has been playing regularly but not making as much progress as you’d like. Then, a friend suggests a tactic/strategy to try. You do it and it works. You keep dong that, or a slight variation of it, and you keep winning (or at least doing better). Then, the same friend, or another friend, tells you another strategy and that helps too. Over a period of time, you have accumulated a bunch of strategies and tactics and you have become much better at the game.

But, at least some of your friends who have helped you along have actually made much more progress than you. Why is that? Maybe they don’t tell you all their secrets. That is, of course, possible. But, the more important question is, how do they find out the strategies and tactics in the first place? Perhaps they have their own friends who tell them? Who have their own friends. And so on.

How do the friend’s, friends’, friends find out? Someone, somewhere down the line, has to figure out things for themselves. My contention is that the people who have mastered the art of discovering things for themselves are the top league players. They are the ones who are constantly pushing the boundaries of what is possible.

And what is their secret? Of course, one needs skill, discipline, practice and all of that. Yes, there are coaches and there is teamwork. Yes, luck often plays a part too. But my contention is that the secret sauce is the ability to figure out things for oneself – a self-reliant quest for sense-making.

It could be video games, sports, science, computer science, social-science; the best players are almost always obsessed with the same secret sauce — self-reliant sense-making. How, and what, sense you make will obviously vary. What makes sense in a video games is obviously not the same in history or in physics.

Is there a cheat-code to self-reliant sense-making? I don’t think so. Or perhaps the cheat-code to self-reliance is the voluntary renunciation for the desire for cheat-codes. Of choosing the ‘seemingly’ hard path of going on a quest of making sense on one’s own. I say seemingly, because once you learn to play that game it doesn’t seem hard at all, it seems fun. Like many games, this one has a steep learning curve, but once you get it, it is truly fun.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying you are alone in the world. No. Of course, you can learn from others, from your friends, teachers, coaches form your team members. From books, from sermons, form workshops… But, the fact remains, that real learning only takes place when you figure things out for yourself. When you are not just deploying the answer (the cheat-code) that someone else gave you. Once you truly figure things out for yourself, even the cheat-code, it becomes yours.

I have some ideas on how self-reliant sense-making works. But that deserves an independent post (hopefully soon). Here is a summary version of that as it might apply to a video game:
(a) Establishing the facts: What are the underlying patterns, connections and meanings that seems to really drive the game. As opposed to the obvious and the stated ones.
(b) Making inferences from the facts, groups of facts or abstracted facts: If we have not made observation errors then we should be able make claims like ‘x’ should lead to ‘y’ and ‘z’ should cause ‘w’ and so on.
(c) Objectively test the inferences: Play the game and test the inferences objectively. Tentatively accept the seemingly valid inferences and rejecting the invalid ones. And always be testing. Don’t expect what worked in the past to always work. The underlying game can change with a change of few lines of code (the world based on physics doesn’t generally change so easily, but sometimes that does too, as the current pandemic is showing us).

Self-reliant sense-making is an ongoing process that never ends. You observe, you infer, you test. A critical factor for success is brutal honesty (with is way harder than most people will admit). The honesty of objectively observing the facts (not allowing for a bias towards self or against others), and also when testing, means abandoning things that don’t work and refining things that do, till they either don’t work or work well. Repeating this process again, and again, and again.

The quest for this kind of sense-making is, to my mind, a game in itself. A higher order game. A game of games. Perhaps a meta-game, if I may. A game that you play in your own head, a game that is way more rewarding than any game anyone else can ever design.

Photo credit: by Fredrick Tendong on Unsplash

First published on June 27, 2020
#comment#learning, #sense-making