Skill Rot, or Why You Shouldn’t Learn That

It’s not like riding a bike: you can’t hop right back on and it doesn’t come back easily, even though you still might end up getting your groin impaled by the contraption you’re trying to control.

Skill rot is what happens when you don’t do something for a while.  Just like muscle tissue, your skills slowly decline without regular use, no matter how good you were before.  Skill rot sucks.  And worse, it sets in fast.  You might spend three to six months getting pretty good at something, whether its HTML programming or fine woodworking, and if you don’t do it for just a few months, poof, it’s pretty much gone.  Even if you’ve spent years getting great at something, taking six months or a year off can have similarly devastating effects.  The stuff you once knew how to do without even having to think now require a trip through google hell or over to the reference book.

So, why do we care?  Well, other than maintaining your skills by regularly doing whatever it is you’ve spent time to get good at, you should think about what you want to devote your time to learning in the first place.  Ya, learning some java so you could build that web app would be cool, but if you’re a mechanical engineer, and you’ve only got plans to build the one thing, it’s probably going to be a waste.  Even if you get around to working on project number two, by the time you do, you’re almost sure to have forgotten everything you spent months learning to complete project number one.  Better to hire somebody to do it for you and spend your time honing or acquiring skills that you’ll regularly use, and thus won’t soon lose.

The good news is, just like muscle tissue, the better you were at something, the more intimately you knew how things worked and why, the faster it comes back.

*Caveat: This thinking shouldn’t apply to anyone under 21, who, if they don’t yet have a passion, should try as many things as possible until they find that thing they can be passionate about.


Be Sociable, Share!
This entry was posted in Advice, Art, Business, Creativity, Food For Thought, Rationality, Self-Improvement and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Skill Rot, or Why You Shouldn’t Learn That

  1. Shanna Mann says:

    I disagree. While it might be inefficient on a purely time-spent ROI, learning how to solve problems in other fields, learning to master new skills and was of thinking can only improve your odds of brilliant insights in any aspect of your life.

    Steve Jobs studied calligraphy, after all.

    • AJ Kessler says:

      I agree with you, but I think you’re conflating “mastery” with “learning a bit about”. If you’re truly going to master a new skill, that’s fantastic. If you’re just going to learn enough of something to do it once, it may be better off leaving it to someone else. For example, if your only goal in learning HTML or CSS is to design your business website, I guarantee you’re going to forget it all shortly after you’re done, unless it’s something you’re doing all the time. All those hours you poured into learning it, while they produced a web page, are essentially wasted.

      I bet Steve Jobs didn’t know much about calligraphy in his last few years. It seems what he got out of it was an appreciation for line, spacing, art, etc, not a deep knowledge of how to draw Chinese characters.. That’s not so much mastering a skill as it is exposing yourself to a bunch of different things, which I think gets at your point of improving odds of great insight.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *