The First 20 Hours

Fascinating talk by Josh Kaufman, author of The First 20 Hours, at TEDxCSU.

Josh looks at how long it takes to learn something to a reasonable level of skill. There’s a perceived wisdom that it takes 10,000 hours to get really good at something, and as Josh says, you see this all over the place – books, blogs, articles etc.

I don’t have ten thousand hours… I’m never going to be able to learn anything new, ever again

Ten thousand hours equates to a full-time job for FIVE YEARS.

Turns out that the 10,000 hour rule applies to expert level, world-class, high-performing people at the very top of their very specific fields. This turned into 10,000 hours to get good at something, to 10,000 hours to learn something.

Who’s got ten thousand hours? Not me.

So, how long does it take to get reasonably good at something?

According to Josh’s research,  it takes about twenty hours. But you’ve got to be canny about it. You can’t just throw 20 hours at something and expect it to stick.

Josh breaks down his approach into 4 basic steps:

1. Deconstruct the skill.
Decide *exactly* what it is you want to do when you’re done. What are the parts of the skills you need to do what you need to do. Find the most important thing to practice first – such as a few key chords on the guitar (or in Josh’s case, the ukulele) which will give you enough to play a lot of songs. Learn the most common 2,000 words in a language, and you’ll be able to get by.

2. Learn just enough to self-correct.
Make mistakes, identify where the error is and correct it yourself using books, DVDs, online sources etc. But don’t spend all your time reading the books first.

3. Remove barriers to learning.
Get rid of distractions which stop you from sitting down and doing the work. Turn off the TV, internet and so on. Make space and time to practice.

4. Practice for at least 20 hours.
Twenty hours is 45 minutes a day, for about a month. That’s do-able, right?

So, twenty hours. What are you going to learn? Me, I’m going to pick up the guitar that I got for christmas last year, the one which has sat in its bag right next to me for six months. The one which I’m scared of picking up in case I’m terrible. It’ll take years to get good, right?

Apparently not.

Let’s see where we can get to in twenty hours. Josh talks about a band called Axis of Awesome, who have a song in which they reckon that you can play pretty much any pop song from the last five decades with just four chords (G, D, Em, C). He plays it in the video above, but here’s the original.

Four chords? I’ll take that. I figure that once I can knock out a few songs on the guitar, I can go get the ukulele I’ve secretly always wanted…

I’ll report back on progress!

Author: dave

writer, photographer, coffee-lover, cyclist, bookworm and stationery geek. Doing fun things with digital.

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