Tuesday, March 04, 2014

Book: The First 20 hours by Josh Kaufman (a summary)

The First 20 Hours by Josh Kaufman firmly lands in the bracket of improving/ideas books that offers very little by way of new insight and so doesn't really warrant appearing in anything longer than a pamphlet or long-form article. Indeed, I haven't read the book and recommend you follow a similar approach. Instead, listen to the TED lecture but only from the 8-minute mark onward (even the first half of the video isn't worth listening to!), take some notes, read one or two reviews to take comfort that you aren't missing anything critical to the message, be inspired, and start looking into some new skills to master. I do think the overall message is important and very well communicated by Kaufman; I just think that a full length book isn't the best medium for the message.

The central idea: it takes approximately 20 hours of focused and deliberate practice to learn a new skill to a reasonable level of proficiency. Put in this time and you will be pleasantly surprised by the results of your efforts.

Key elements to the approach:

1. Deconstruct the skill - break the skill down into its key component pieces and practice the most
important things first.
2. Learn enough to self-correct - Don't get lost in research procrastination. By all means, have multiple books and resources at hand but use these tools to notice and correct errors instead of procrastinating. In other words, get stuck in and learn by doing!
3. Remove barriers to practice - Have everything in place to practice the skill. The TV, internet, etc are all distraction traps.
4. Practice for at least 20 hours - Pre-committing to 20 hours means that you won't stop at the initial "frustration barrier". Remember that a major barrier to learning something new isn't intellectual but emotional.

The idea is common sense codified into a simple framework. However, while the 20 hour rule may be appear little more than gimmicky cheese tailored to win over a publishing contract, if you apply the rule with some discipline then at least you will have given your efforts a fair shot at success.

I do think that with so many options available at our disposal, it would be a shame to spend all of our lives specialising in a narrow range of skills or worse still, just sitting on the couch. Surely, the act of learning new things is enriching in itself and the breadth of knowledge surely makes for a more fulfilled individual. Mastery clearly pays in the modern workplace but this is not always true, and it is certainly not true when applied to the personal sphere.

Here is a cool summary graphic from another blogger (click on the image to embiggen):

And here is the video, just don't forget to skip forward 8 minutes:

Kaufman also has some useful bonus material on his web-site for people who have bought the book, including summary sheets and some useful Q+As. He asks not to provide a link so I won't, but if you are a master Google sniper, you'll find the materials with ease. Here are some of my choice tips from the bonus page:

Info junkie? - If you are drowning in too much information, with too many choices and things that you want to pursue, simply list them down in a "someday maybe" list. This helps to mentally offload the ideas, freeing up your mind space to select the one you want to do most and focus on it without distraction. Note, Kaufman recommends learning one skill at a time, appreciating that most people have time constraints (and if you have extra time in the day, use it to better develop that skill).

What about ambiguous goals such as personal speaking? Ask why you want to achieve this goal and specifically what you want to get out of it. Maybe set a target of getting to a stage where you feel comfortable about the task without panic setting in e.g. a stage where it is fun to to talk to a group of people for 5 minutes. Try and find opportunities to practice, getting up and speaking as much as possible.

What if the skill requires physical training i.e. is beyond your physical ability - Training is different to  building a skill e.g. acquisition of motor skills, balancing etc. The skill can require strength which requires training (cardio, strength).

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