Sunday, April 13, 2014

The First 20 Hours by Josh Kaufman

A lot has been written over the last few years about expertise, often referring to a 10,000-hour rule. Research indicates that the people who exhibit the highest level of expertise, even possibly being a genius, have in their life put in 10,000 hours or more of deliberate practice.

Your response to that bit of knowledge might be like mine: “I’d don’t have 10,000 hours to put into learning something new.” What if you don’t need to be an expert; you just need to be proficient. Maybe you want to learn something for your personal edification, and you do not aspire to be great, but simply to be good enough.

According to Josh Kaufman, gaining a basic proficiency in a new skill is within reach. With an orderly approach, it can be achieved in as little as 20 hours. Kaufman event entitled his book on the subject The First 20 Hours.

Unlike other books on learning I’ve read, Kaufman focuses more on skill than knowledge, more on being able to do something than knowing about something. Acquiring knowledge is important to learning a new skill, and he acknowledges this by making research a part of his program, but he still emphasizes using as much of the 20 hours as you can on deliberate practice.

Kaufman lays out a strategy for rapid skill acquisition. If compressed to a list, it wouldn’t cover the length of a page. Part of what he does is break down his method into parts that are easy, at least conceptually. That is one of the methods: breaking a skill into sub-skills that can be more easily learned and practiced. In this way, his method is simple.

If simple were easy, more things would be simple.  Kaufman’s methods may reduce gaining proficiency in a skill to 20 hours, but they are 20 hours of focused work to which you must commit yourself. You can give yourself some early wins that will make it easier to overcome the discouragement that comes when you become frustrated by difficulties, but The First 20 Hours holds no strategies for overcoming laziness or disinterest.

If Kaufman only described his method, his book would be quite short. He illustrates the methods by showing how he used them to rapidly acquire six different skills. In addition to reiterating the steps to rapid skill acquisition, he demonstrates the variety of skills one can learn. They range from knowledge-intensive, technical skills (programming) to physical skills (yoga), and much in between (playing an instrument).

The skills that interested Kaufman were not skills that were of much interest to me. Even so, it prompted me to think of skill I would like to acquire and how I might apply his strategies to the task.

Kaufman also hints that his method could be used by a proficient person to improve his skill, taking a step closer to expertise. The strategies are aimed at engaging you in deliberate practice. Deliberate practice is the heart of both acquiring and improving a skill.

If you’re interested in this book, you may also be interested in


Kaufman, Josh. The First 20 Hours: How to Learn Anything…Fast.  New York: Portfolio/Penguin, 2013.