Continuous Improvement vs. Quantum Leaps

While reading Bruce Pandolfini’s book Chess Complete, I came across this passage:

The quantum theory asserts that people seem to make periodic and sudden jumps in chess improvement, rather than continuous and fluid ones.

Chess education offers peaks and plateaus, and learning the game goes something like this: Let’s say to climb to the next level of skill you must learn a thousand things. If you’ve learned 999 of those things, obviously you should be a much better player than when you knew nothing, but you may not necessarily show significant improvement yet. You still may not be able to implement certain acquired skills, so your overall play appears relatively the same.

But add that last piece of knowledge (the thousandth thing!) and suddenly, seemingly inexplicably, you jump to the next skill level. You’ve finally put it all together, and your ability has taken a quantum leap.

I found this really interesting. What skills involve quantum, periodic jumps in improvement versus steady, continuous improvement?

I would argue presentation skills, for example, are gained on a slow-and-steady progression, not sudden, significant leaps. Learning a new instrument, on the other hand, probably entails more sporadic jumps.

5 Responses to Continuous Improvement vs. Quantum Leaps

  1. Say a song requires a wide spread of notes. If the musician plays one note badly the whole song tune sounds bad.

    Once that note is learned the result may be very different. Even though there is only a small percent in skill difference.

    To the untrained ear, there is a quantum leap in the skill level of that person.

    I would argue quantum leaps are a result of how we look at improvements.

  2. Brad Stewart says:

    I’m a member of the U.S. Skeleton Team and we often deal with plateaus and “quantum” leaps throughout our progression in the sport. Often times you have a handful of pieces in place to reach a new goal but your missing something to get there. Get that last thing and you’re left with a new personal record.

    It’s important to recognize skills that take this path or you can be left feeling discouraged at your lack of “progress” even though you are learning and laying down the required foundation.

  3. Chris Yeh says:

    Some skills require a period of “digestion” to improve.

    For example, every entrepreneur will tell you that they get a lot better with each company that they start. I know I have. But I’ll bet that it takes some time for reflection and introspection to identify and internalize the lessons of each experience.

    That’s why it’s important for people to have some downtime in their lives, to consolidate the gains of experience.

  4. Dave Jilk says:

    Skiing is quantum

  5. I think public speaking improves with quantum leaps. What keeps us from exceling at is is usually a psychological block and so I thinkk when it clears — wooosh– quantum improvement time! Interesting post!

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