A major issue when trying to improve in any field is in having knowledge that one can trust. This is especially important in a game such as chess in which our ideas are tested by an opponent who is trying to beat us.
In such situations it is not enough to have second hand ideas that have been acquired superficially or from third parties. Under the pressure of combat and when nerves get frayed it is essential to believe in the moves we are playing with every atom of our being. This calls for deep personal knowledge, the kind that is only achieved by studying chess with the brain fully engaged and highly inquisitive. You need to try out different ideas for yourself rather than slavishly following what the book says. Only then do you understand the why rather than just the how.
This is something I’ve done a lot and I like to think it has more than compensated for being largely self taught. Basically I spent a large amount of time with a pocket set in front of the television, or anywhere else for that matter. My chess development was spent constantly testing out ideas, playing around with them until they became my own.
This is a far more effective way to learn than being ‘well schooled’ because the knowledge is personal. Of course the best coaches will attempt to foster this kind of personal experimentation, but in doing so they are swimming against the consensus of how to train for less critical tasks. Most people regard education as being shown how to do something and then learning how to do it themselves, not many will immediately wonder if there might not be a better way.
Can someone learn to experiment, even without a ‘natural’ inclination to do so? I think that maybe they can, though it may require changing some deeply ingrained habits.