The shortcut to learning a new skill

Evolving and learning new skills is part of life and is a great idea to pursue if you want to progress, not only in your career, but in life in general. Whether it’s learning new technology, learning a new art, learning leadership skills, doing an MBA, learning chess or learning to play the guitar; anything that can help you to grow in your depth of experience as a human is always a positive thing. 

But life is busy, and very often, learning new skills stays on our to-do list for far too long, being put off and pushed to the backburner because we just can’t seem to find the time we think we need to invest in learning a new skill.   

If you have listened to Josh Kaufman’s Ted Talk, starting something new, and how long it takes to become ‘reasonably good’ at it, you can take a sigh of relief in the knowledge that it is not going to take you as long as you’d think.

According to Kaufman, it actually (generally) only takes on average twenty hours to go from being ‘grossly incompetent’ to being ‘reasonably good’ at something – be it a language, a new sport, any new skill. Twenty focussed hours invested, over a period of time, will lead you from knowing nothing about your new skill to being pretty good at it.

Clearly the emphasis here is on the words ‘reasonably good’; twenty hours of playing tennis will not get you to the same skill level as Roger Federer. Twenty hours of learning how to cook isn’t going to make you a five-hat chef. But you will be pretty good, and certainly a LOT more skilled than before you started!  

The key though, is in the how you use those twenty hours. And luckily, Kaufman provides a great framework in order to use them wisely; 

1. Deconstruct the skill 

This involves conceptualising exactly what you want to achieve by the end of your twenty hours and then look into the skill and break it down into bite size chunks. “Most of the things we think of as skills are actually big bundles of skills that require all sorts of different things. The more you are able to break apart the skill, the more you are able to decide ‘what are the parts of this skill that would actually help me get to what I want?’ and practice those first”.

If you are travelling to Italy let’s say, and you want to learn Italian, you’d be better off learning some of the language that will actually come in useful when travelling around, so you can hone in on what words and phrases you really want to learn and become proficient in those, rather than learning how to count up to five thousand. 

2. Learn enough to self-correct  

Once you know what you want to learn, collate three to five resources – apps, podcasts, books, online or off line courses etc.. So that you learn just enough so that you can self-correct or self-edit as you practice. The point is about having a smaller number of resources so that you don’t create a road block for yourself.

One book is enough, five books creates a block for you and simply makes you fall in to the trap of procrastination. Think of a person who buys five books on how to be a better parent and thinks they will start being a better parent, once they read all five books. 

3. Remove distractions  

This is a particularly relevant point because we have so many distractions or ‘barriers’ to our focussed attention. Devices, phones, TV, other people. Sometimes we need to carve out time and space free of distractions to really hone in and focus on what we are trying to learn. Twenty hours won’t work if you are somewhat distracted. How often have you been reading a book, only to get through several pages before realising you weren’t concentrating and absorbing anything you have read for the last half an hour.

Learning a new skill in twenty cumulative hours definitely requires focus. If you wanted to learn something new in one month, could you dedicate one full, focused hour every day (with weekends off) for one month? If you can, then you can learn something new in a month. You could even learn something new every month with this technique! 

4. Practice at least 20 hours 

Pre-committing to 20 hours, allows you to overcome the frustration you might have, that is associated with feeling stupid. Kaufman refers to a ‘frustration barrier’ – which is the frustration you feel with yourself for not knowing something. Pre-committing to learn something for twenty hours allows you to push through the frustration and stay focussed and accepting of your initial incompetence.  

What is something you would like to learn? I’d love to hear from you. Could you and your leadership team do with one of my tailored workshops? I’d love to share my experience and fool-proof leadership techniques with you. 

Don’t hesitate. Get in touch today.

Share News