The Art of Learning, by Joshua Waitzkin

By: David Naider

Joshua Waitzkin is a prodigy. In his book, The Art of Learning, a journey into the pursuit of excellence, Joshua Waitzkin speaks on the learning processes that he used from the time he was a child after he fell in love with the game of chess.  Joshua was only six years old when he saw several men playing chess in a nearby park. He quickly asked the man to teach him to play, and he picked up the game so instinctively well that he nearly beat the man in his first game. Joshua was able to become a master of this discipline through hard work and an effective learning process. Waitzkin shows the importance of different approaches to learning and how unbelievable outcomes can be achieved.

Waitzkin believes the way most people learn is wrong and that is the reason why so few people truly succeed and others work their way to the top of their skill or their field. Waitzkin discusses how children who have a “helplessness” mindset, thinking they are not smart or bad at something, will instinctively fail when trying to achieve a goal in each skill.  Waitzkin describes how important incremental intelligence and learning is when trying to move forward in the learning process.  He used the example of those learning chess and trying to simply win. Rather, Waitzkin took a deep dive into each chess piece and was able to master nearly every obstacle he would come into during a match. Waitzkin speaks on different mindsets when approaching learning. He discusses the importance of an incremental mindset in order to move from being a novice to a maser. If you don’t think you can improve a skill, the odds of you actually moving forward, is unlikely.

Waitzkin asks if we know what we want to become a master in. If you don’t believe you can, you likely won’t. You should have an end goal in place and work your way up to achieving and overcome the goal in mind. Furthermore, Waitzkin asks if you want to be decent, good, great, or among the best. Goals are important, and you need to have a goal in order to move forward in your life and skills. Waitzkin wanted to become the best of the best, and he was able to achieve that goal.  If he was not shooting for the stars, he likely would not have become a star.  Waitzkin speaks on several other principles throughout the book but those outlined above made the biggest impact on me when reading, and I believe those are good steppingstones to understanding the fundamentals of learning and overcoming roadblocks that may get in your way.  Waitzkin, ultimately, became a star in martial arts/Aikido and received a world champion title in Taji Tui Shou. He shot for the stars again, and achieved greatness such as he did with learning the intricacies of each chess piece, continuously repeated and learned small Taji Tou Shou movements.  He dove into each movement and technique, examining each piece of the puzzle, rather than the whole when learning this art.

When working with a candidate, the thing that comes to mind from this book, is that you need to be a “unique you.” Waitzkin had a certain way that he liked to play chess and had one teacher that wanted him to go in a different direction. He made the tough decision and went with a teacher that wanted him to change the way that he played the game. Ultimately, he lost the love he had for chess, and as a candidate, we want you to be comfortable in the decisions you make and not lose what you love or your personal identity. This is important when interviewing for a role, understanding where this position could take you in the future, and most importantly, where you want to be in the future. Candidates should strive to still be their “unique you,” and we are here to help guide you in that path.

I believe this book can make a big difference in your personal or professional life. Waitzkin is such an inspirational individual that even if you may not agree with all his thoughts and findings, there are surely plenty of takeaways that can make an impact in your everyday life.  I recommend this book because it can show you that greatness if not achieved overnight, and there are personal roadblocks that you need to mentally overcome to achieve your goals. I hope you read this book and I know that it can make a difference in your life!