The Feedback Problem

My Blog Bear­lamp: First, Previous

Less­wrong: First, Pre­vi­ous -- Greater­wrong: First, Previous

“Let me prac­tice my free throw from differ­ent dis­tances so that I can throw well wher­ever I am in the game”. An­ders Eric­s­son (10,000 hours guy) in Peak, talks about de­liber­ate prac­tice. He also talks about the difficulty in get­ting feed­back.

Feed­back is the hard­est part of learn­ing any­thing. Good feed­back and you can go from chop­sticks to beethoven in sim­ple steps. Tech­ni­cally speak­ing, the “hard part” of the skill is not the part which re­quires you to phys­i­cally press the but­tons on a pi­ano. Or the part that re­quires you to work out how to move the piece in tetris to where you want it to go. The part of the chess game that is mov­ing the piece to the next lo­ca­tion on the board. The part of poker that is read­ing the cards and know­ing which ones you have.

Most games have a ba­sic level of skill that isn’t that hard. Any­one can play ten­nis pro­vided they can hold a racket and swing.. Okay maybe you need eye­balls and the abil­ity to move around a court too but the bar­rier isn’t much higher than that. Some skills re­quire more, uni­cy­cle ac­tu­ally takes bal­ance, that might take longer to learn, and some games are com­pli­cated like this too.

Bad feed­back is also use­ful. From the books, How to Mea­sure Any­thing, Su­perfore­cast­ers, and ev­ery­one in the quan­tified self move­ment… Even a shitty piece of feed­back has a Value of In­for­ma­tion that can be valuable. One of my favourite poor pieces of feed­back is when I added to my Self Form, “did I stick to my diet to­day? yes/​no/​maybe”. Like magic for a month I stuck to my diet and I lost 2kg. One good clean feed­back mea­sure and I made leaps. (Sure enough, even­tu­ally other prob­lems got in my way, but it was a good start.)

The feed­back prob­lem asks, “How would I know if I am im­prov­ing?”. For a mu­si­cian, that might be to record­ing your­self play­ing then listen back to what you sound like. For a farmer, that might be to weigh or count the crop and com­pare that to last year. For a sci­en­tist that might be re­peated tests for re­li­a­bil­ity, and for some­one with an emo­tion­ally trauma his­tory that might look like “I don’t feel ter­rible”.

Next: Emo­tional train­ing model