Daily Dispatch

What A Hermit Crab Can Teach Us About The Art Of Learning

I’ve been looking forward to reading Josh Waitzkin’s book ‘The Art of Leaning’ for some time now after hearing his incredible life story, starting at the age of just 6 years old. I’d like to share a passage I found particularly interesting and thought-provoking from the book, as well as Josh Waitzkin’s biography as I believe it to be necessary for context.

Josh Waitzkin is an eight-time National Chess Champion in his youth, was the subject of the book and movie ‘Searching for Bobby Fischer.’ At eighteen, he published his first book, ‘Josh Waitzkin’s Attacking Chess’. Since the age of twenty, he has developed and been a spokesperson for Chessmaster, the largest computer chess program in the world, currently in its eleventh edition. Now a martial arts champion, he holds a combined twenty-two National Championship titles in addition to several World Championship titles. He regularly gives seminars and keynote presentations and is the president of the JW Foundation, a nonprofit devoted to maximising each student’s unique potential through an enriched educational process.

“The key to pursuing excellence is to embrace an organic, long-term learning process, and not to live in a shell of static, safe mediocrity. Usually, growth comes at the expense of a previous comfort or safety.

The hermit crab is a colourful example of a creature that lives by this aspect of the growth process (albeit without our psychological baggage). As the crab gets bigger, it needs to find a more spacious shell. So the slow, lumbering creature goes on a quest for a new home. If an appropriate new shell is not found quickly, a terribly delicate moment of truth arises. A soft creature that is used to the protection of built-in armour must now go out into the world, exposed to predators in all its mushy vulnerability. That learning phase in between shells is where our growth can spring from. Someone stuck with an entity theory of intelligence is like an anorexic hermit crab, staving itself so it doesn’t grow to have to find a new shell.”

Entity theory of intelligence = People that see their overall intelligence or skill level at a certain discipline to be a fixed entity, a thing that cannot evolve (this is fully explained a page before in the book).

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