This week, Pete talks with Josh Kaufman, author of The Personal MBA, about his new book The First 20 Hours: How to Learn Anything… Fast!. They discuss how to identify the core elements of any skill, and how to rapidly reach competency in any field.
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Accelerated Learning with Josh Kaufman
Dom Goucher: Hello, everyone, and welcome to this week’s edition of PreneurCast, with me, Dom Goucher, and him, Pete Williams.
Pete Williams: I’m back!
Dom: He is indeed, he is indeed. Hello, sir. How was this week for you?
Pete: It’s been fantastic. A lot of really cool stuff going on. Some new things, hopefully people who are part of the Preneur Community will see in their inbox over the coming weeks, which is super exciting. All really good stuff happening.
Dom: Cool. This week, folks, we’ve got another great conversation that Pete’s had with an author. This week it’s Josh Kaufman, the author of The Personal MBA, and now his new book is called The First 20 Hours, which is a book about rapid skill acquisition.
And before we get into that conversation — which I as always recommend that you get out your pencil and paper if you can, or be willing to listen to it again when you get back from walking the dog — what’s been going on with you this week? In fact, the last couple of weeks, Pete, because you went AWOL.
Actually, as I said in last week’s show that I did on my own, you’ve been spending time focusing on single projects, as we always recommend, serial versus parallel, so what have you been up to?
Pete: Well, definitely been doing a lot of writing for the blog. If you don’t regularly check out PreneurMarketing.com, definitely worth checking out, so that’s been a lot of fun. There’s a series on there which was posted earlier this week around e-mail marketing tools.
Now, a lot of people listening probably use AWeber or MailChimp to manage their business. We did a whole really intensive, I’d say, audit of all the different platforms available for our businesses (not just Preneur Marketing, but also the e-com businesses and telco, and everything else we have our fingers in).
We came to the conclusion that for the information marketing-style projects, Preneur Marketing-type stuff, to go with a self-hosted e-mail service to increase deliverability and control. So basically wrote this whole series of posts between myself and some of the staff writers to help everyone go through that jungle of working out what are the different e-mail services available.
Why you would go hosted versus the self-hosted options. Like the cloud-based AWebers, MailChimps, Infusionsofts of the world, versus something you can host and manage yourself. So yeah, it’s a pretty in-depth series and had some really good responses from the e-mail.
And comments are starting to flow into those posts as well, so that’s been a lot of fun, going through that whole process and writing that. What other projects are we working on? Some secret stuff I can’t really talk about. A couple of the telco various businesses, we’re going through some changes there, which is exciting.
That’ll hopefully be announced over the next few months. Some new websites coming alive for those businesses as well, which is pretty intense, and just plowing down, working in the trenches a little bit the last week or so on a few projects. It is always fun when you get to do a deep dive in something for a while.
Dom: Yeah, and there’s something that we’re going to be talking about real soon that — I’ll just say look forward to next week’s show, where we will be talking about a big project.
Pete: Ah, a new piece of software.
Dom: That you’ve been just getting out the door, haven’t you?
Pete: A new piece of software, so that’ll be a lot of fun. We’re working on that. It hasn’t been a lot of my time the last week or so, because that’s been using some outsourcers and some developers to put together a new app. But we’ll talk about all that in next week’s show, which I’m super excited to release and talk about.
Dom: Cool. Now, just reflect back on the e-mail piece. Pete, as you say, it is incredibly in-depth, really well-researched, behind-the-scenes look at your thinking and the reasoning behind your decisions. We have such a wide range of listeners on the show.
I think — the first thing I would say is, don’t skip over that, the knowledge about e-mail or what we call autoresponder systems. Because having regular contact with your customers is a big thing. And these e-mail autoresponder systems, whatever level that you get involved with it, is an incredibly powerful tool.
In fact, I think, Pete, we should maybe talk about the principles of it in another show, or maybe it’s an opportunity for you to put another post on the blog, just at a more introductory level, to just explain to people why they should care.
Pete: Well, I think we should absolutely put it into a future edition of the show. Because from our perspective, we use e-mail in a lot of different areas of the business. But one of the real prime, profit-generating areas is that transactions-per-period as part of the 7 Levers framework, which I’m sure is what you were directing this conversation towards.
In our e-commerce, in the Simply Headsets business, one of the e-commerce products we have, we have an autoresponder sequence that is all about getting clients to come back and buy from us again. In the very first blog post in the series that we’re talking about here, I took some snippets out of some replies that we got from people.
And those snippets were taken from I think a one-day period or a two-day period of responses to the autoresponder sequence from people really engaged with the actual series, which is in turn causing an increase in transactions per period, which is the goal of the Levers that we talk about in the 7 Levers of Business.
Dom: Absolutely. That’s exactly where I was going. So yes, I really do think we should pick up on that in another show.
Pete: Sounds like a good plan.
Dom: But in the meantime, folks, if you’re already using e-mail autoresponder systems, then definitely go take a look at that series of articles. It’s a great piece of work that Pete’s put together over at PreneurMarketing.com. So that said, shall we hop into your conversation with Josh?
Pete: Absolutely. Let’s dive in and learn how to gain skills much faster.
[Pete’s conversation with Josh Kaufman starts]
Pete: Josh, really appreciate you taking the time to join us today, mate.
Josh Kaufman: Thanks, great to be here.
Pete: It’s going to be a lot of fun. So The First 20 Hours, love it. And the thing that, I guess not surprised me but I found really interesting, is you talk about rapid skill acquisition and deliberately differentiate that from mastery, which Robert Greene talks about, who we’ve had on a show, and Tim Ferriss, to a certain extent, who we had on a show as well. Do you want to explain that differentiation, set the scene a little bit?
Josh: Yeah, so a lot of the books and resources and courses, and everything about skill acquisition over the past decade or so, has all been really focused on the long game, right? What does it take to become the best in the world at something?
That whole conversation really started back in 2007, 2008 when Malcolm Gladwell published Outliers, which very publicly broadcast some research by Dr. K. Anders Ericsson of Florida State University about that topic. What does it take to become the best at something?
So Dr. Ericsson was researching things like if you want to step onto a golf course and be able to compete with Tiger Woods, what does that process look like? How much are you going to need to practice to get there? And his answer was this whole idea of the 10,000-hour rule.
It takes about 10,000 hours to “master” a new skill, or become one of the best in the world at whatever it is that you’re doing. And so the skill acquisition and rapid learning books that have come out over the past decade or so have all really been focused on that mastery aspect or mastery take on the subject. But I was interested in quite the opposite.
What if you’re not so concerned about being the best in the world at something? What if you want to learn something to get a particular result? So maybe you’re learning something for your business, maybe you’re curious about a personal interest or a hobby. You’re interested, but you have absolutely no idea where to start. You don’t know where to begin.
It’s frustrating. It’s intimidating. What does it take to learn something new? So not the really long game of skill acquisition. What does the first zero-to-20 hours of practice look like, and how can we learn as much as we possibly can and improve as much as we’re capable of in the early hours of skill acquisition?
Pete: I think as part of it, too — because those first 20 hours can be quite hard for a lot of people just to stick through it, keep their bum in their seat, so to speak, and get through it as well, so having a good plan and process to follow is very helpful, too, I would imagine.
Josh: Yeah, it’s a double challenge. So getting started, going from being interested to even putting in your first 10 minutes of practice, that’s a hurdle in and of itself, right? So what does it take to get started practicing something? Then once you start practicing, those early hours are always frustrating, for everybody.
Because you’re horrible and you know you’re horrible. And so what does it take to get started, and what does it take to make sure when you get started you put in enough practice to see some results from your practice? The method I talk about in The First 20 Hours is designed to do just that.
It’s designed to help you identify something you want to learn, figure out a smart strategy to get started, and then make sure you practice long enough to see results. In my experience, you can go from knowing absolutely nothing about what you’re doing, to being really demonstrably good in about 20 hours.
Pete: Awesome. You mentioned a word there quite a bit, which I really want to delve into in the conversation, and the word is “practice.” But before we go there, could you give a little bit of a cheat sheet for people who haven’t read the book yet and inspire them to go out and buy it, in terms of some of these steps that you’re talking about?
Josh: Yeah. So the general method of learning anything — and when I say anything, I really do mean anything. It could be anything from a skill that you would use at work to something that you just want to do for the fun of it. So things that require physical movement, called motor skills, or cognitive skills, anything that you can practice in a way that can improve, the method applies to.
And the core method for rapid skill acquisition is very straightforward. The first thing is just decide what you want to do. I call this setting a target performance level. Specify exactly what it is you want to be able to do when you’re done. The common mistake at this stage is saying, I want to learn golf, or I want to learn how to speak French.
And the problem with those kinds of constructions is they’re way too general. They’re way too broad to be very useful. So Step One is decide what exactly do you want to be able to do, in as specific terms as possible, before you get started. Because the more you specify it, the easier it is to figure out ways to get there as quickly as possible. So step one is decide what you want.
Pete: I think you mentioned the book from memory, the quote that “a well-defined problem is half-solved.” I’m sure I just completely messed that quote up, but that’s the essence of it anyway.
Josh: Absolutely. I think that was a Peter Drucker quote. And there’s another quote that I put in there that was by Voltaire, which is, “No problem can withstand the assault of sustained thinking.” So what we’re really trying to do in this process is be very clear what it is exactly we want to be able to do.
And then formulate a smart strategy to get started and practice that thing so you can get there as quickly as possible. After you decide what you want, the next step is to deconstruct whatever it is that you are practicing or want to learn into smaller parts.
Most skills are just bundles of much smaller subskills. A good illustration of this is, imagine a game like golf. “Be good at golf” is not very helpful because it’s not very specific. But if you think about it, all golf is, is really just a collection of much smaller skills that you use in combination.
So, “hitting a ball off the tee with a driver” is very different from “putting the ball in the hole on the green with a putter,” is very different from “chipping out of the bunker.” There’s a lot of things that you do in the context of playing golf, but in isolation they’re all very different. So Step Two is break whatever it is that you’re doing down into those small parts, because those are the things you can practice.
Pete: Let me ask you this question. I’m going to stop you there, because if we equate this to business — and I think I say this so often talking to people in our community who listen to this show and just people in general who are trying to be “entrepreneurs” and start a business — is that they want to become a businessperson and “master” this art of business.
But they have a problem seeing the forest from the trees and breaking it down to realizing that the business comes down to things like traffic generation, conversion, repeat business, maximizing your profits, and the skill required to do each of those five, six, or seven key elements of business.
They have trouble seeing that forest from the trees. So is there any real easy way to have that deconstruction happen and work at — in the game of golf it’s a bit more clear that you’ve got tee off and you’ve got putting, and all that stuff. Is there a skill around that?
Josh: There is. Actually, this is a subject near and dear to my heart because my first book, The Personal MBA: Master the Art of Business, does that. Basically, you can treat business as a skill that can be developed. It’s something that you can practice, it’s something that you can learn about, it’s something that you can intentionally choose to get better at.
And so the way that I first like to deconstruct business is, figure out exactly what every single business does on a fundamental level. So instead of imagining a business as something that you do that brings money into your bank account, let’s get very specific about that.
Based on my research, every single business does five things, in roughly the same order. First off, every business creates something of value. Value creation. Every single business goes out into the world and finds people that are interested in whatever it is that they’ve created. That’s marketing.
Every single business takes the people who are interested in whatever it is that’s being offered and converts them into a paying customer. That’s sales. Every single business, after they collect somebody’s money, has to deliver what they’ve promised or they’re running a scam, they’re not running a business.
That’s value delivery and customer service. And the fifth part is looking at all of this activity that’s going on and, as you’re creating value, marketing, selling, and delivering value, you are spending money in terms of your staff and resources and all that stuff. You’re collecting money in the form of sales.
And so finance is basically just looking at all the money that’s coming in and all the money that’s going out and answering two very important questions. Is more money flowing in than flowing out? If not, you’re in trouble. And, very importantly, is it enough? Is it enough to make all of this effort that you’re putting forth worthwhile?
Because if it’s not, you’re probably going to close the business and do something else. So if you break business, which is this really big topic, into those five very specific parts — value creation, marketing, sales, value delivery, finance — all of the sudden it becomes way easier to look at a business or to analyze a business idea and have a very clear picture about how it’s going to work. Does that make sense?
Pete: That’s perfect. Because that’s the thing — you can look at each one of those five areas and work out where you’re deficient, and then find the skills required to enhance the finance side of your business or the marketing side of your business. That’s a great analysis of that. With the deconstructed business, what’s the third step?
Josh: The third step in picking up a new skill as quickly as possible is to research just enough to figure out what the most important subskills are that you should practice first, but not so much that the research becomes a form of procrastination in and of itself.
Pete: That’s a tightrope, yeah.
Josh: This is a big problem I had before I did this research. For example, in the process of researching The First 20 Hours, I was field-testing this approach. I wanted to make sure that it works before I teach it to people. And so, I was learning how to program.
I was writing web applications in Ruby, which is something I’ve wanted to do for a long time, just hadn’t learned it yet. And so my inclination there is, okay, I’m going to learn how to program, so I’m going to get 10 books about programming, and I’m going to buy these three courses.
I’m going to read all the books and go through all the courses, and then I’m going to sit down and write my first program. When really, that was completely, completely misguided, because reading books doesn’t help you learn how to program, right?
It can help you do that more efficiently if you know what you’re doing. But in general, it’s much easier to just identify the most important subskills and jump straight into it, and then leave the learning and the research for times where you have a specific problem practicing whatever it is that you’re trying to do.
You’re trying to accomplish something specific, and you use the reference material to help you solve the problem. So you want to research just enough so you can jump in and start practicing whatever it is that you want to do as quickly as you can.
Pete: I think that’s a big problem with the education system in a lot of courses and things like that. It’s more about this learning stuff and this understanding acquisition as opposed to skill acquisition.
Josh: Exactly. Most modern academic contexts place high value on memorization and regurgitation, and that’s pretty much it. When really, when you look at all of the skill acquisition research that’s been done over the past six or seven decades, it’s very, very clear that the only thing that really helps you improve — and if we define skill as something where performance in the real world matters, it’s not just a memorization thing.
You’re training yourself to perform something specific in a very real capacity. Memorization doesn’t help you. The only thing that helps you is practicing the thing that you want to be able to do in the context in which you want to be able to do it.
For example, if you want to learn how to draw or want to learn how to play the guitar, you can read 50 books about learning to draw, and if you never pick up a pencil and start sketching something, you will not improve one bit.
Pete: Not going to help at all. You need to build those — is it neuron connectors? By doing the thing over and over again?
Josh: Exactly. So the only thing that really helps you perform is practicing, which helps your brain physically change itself to complete the neural connections that allow you to move your body or call up certain memories or call up certain things that helps you perform. Let’s say you want to learn a new language, like Spanish or French.
You could read a grammar book on that, and you could read 100 grammar books. But when it comes to speaking with a person in the language and understanding what they’re saying, you’re not going to get there until you practice that thing. So just skip the grammar books. Start practicing and trying to understand, speaking with a real person. You’ll get there way quicker.
Pete: Cool. And the final part of the four steps of skill acquisition?
Josh: There’s two more.
Pete: Ah, I can’t count.
Josh: No worries. So Number Four is remove barriers to practice. So anything that distracts you or gets in the way of sitting down and practicing the skill that you want to learn in context is something that you need to ruthlessly remove. And those barriers can look like all sorts of different things. So turn off the TV. Turn off your cell phone. Close the door.
Block your internet connection if you can. Anything that when you’re in the process of practicing something and the going gets rough, we have an incredible tendency to look for distractions. So eliminate them from your environment. Remove them so when you’re sitting down to practice, it’s way easier to stay focused on what it is you’re trying to do.
Pete: We’ve spoken about that a lot on past episodes of PreneurCast here, and it’s what I term “positive constraints.” I’m putting positive constraints in place to basically force yourself to do what you want to do. So there’s whole ways you can do that. You can use, as you said before, internet blocking things.
Something I use every morning to turn off Facebook and Twitter and News.com, to make sure I don’t have that habit of a quick Alt-Tab to see what people are having for breakfast on Instagram. So those positive constraints make a huge difference to your ability to take action.
Josh: Yeah. And this is where the method starts incorporating a lot of what has been found in behavioral psychology for the past couple decades. How can we make it easy for ourselves to do the thing that we want to be doing instead of the thing that our brain wants to do because it’s easier than what we’re focusing on right now? A lot of that is eliminating distractions.
The other thing that you can do is just change the structure of the environment around you to make it as easy as possible, or to allow you to expend as little energy as possible, to start practicing. Let’s say you wanted to play the guitar. If the guitar is in its case in a closet on the other side of your house, you’re never going to pick it up.
So a very easy thing to do is instead of relying on yourself to remember that the guitar is there and to expend the energy going to get it every time to practice, the fix is really simple. Get it out of the closet, get it out of the case, put a stand right by the couch or chair that you sit on all the time. Just put the guitar there and keep it there.
And if all it takes to start practicing is reaching over two feet, picking it up, and starting to play, you’re going to spend way more time practicing than if it were anywhere else.
Pete: Absolutely. Reduce and remove as much friction as possible.
Pete: Love it.
Josh: So Step Four, remove barriers to practice. And the fifth is very simple. Pre-commit to at least 20 hours of practice before you start practicing. That pre-commitment is very important for two primary reasons. The first is, it’s a very valuable check on your priorities and values at the moment. We all carry around a lot of things that, for whatever reason, we feel like we should be learning.
But when you check how much capacity and how much energy and how much attention you have, and you ask yourself the question, am I willing to really rearrange my schedule to do half an hour or 45 minutes of practice a day for the next month? Am I really serious about sitting down and learning this thing?
A lot of times, you find that you’re not. So it’s an interest, but it may not be valuable enough to spend your time and attention on right now. If you’re not willing to pre-commit to putting at least 20 hours of practice into something, it’s a really good signal that it’s not very important to you right now to begin with.
Which is great! Just drop it temporarily and go do something else. That can save you a tremendous amount of time. The pre-commitment serves another purpose, which is, the first few hours of practice, you’re going to be horrible. It’s just a fact of life, right?
Josh: And so what research says is that those early hours of practice are incredibly productive. You improve dramatically, even in the first one to three hours of practice. Going from nothing to being reasonably good doesn’t take very much time at all.
The big barrier is, since those early hours of practice are so frustrating, you need to make sure that you’re willing to push through that early frustration long enough to see results. And so the whole idea of The First 20 Hours is, 20 hours is about the threshold where, no matter what you’re practicing, if you put at least 20 hours into the skill, you are going to see dramatic improvements in your performance, whatever the skill happens to be.
So 20 hours is long enough to see dramatic results, but it’s short enough that 20 hours doesn’t feel too big or too scary to pre-commit in the first place. If you say, I’m going to do this for at least 20 hours, and if I suck, I’m going to suck for at least 20 hours, and that’s okay — just making that pre-commitment is a very powerful way to change your behavior.
Pete: That willingness to say, “I’m going to suck for 20 hours” gives you that freedom to fail as well, which I think is so important for so many people. Whether it’s learning to play golf or copywriting, or whatever skill it might be — touch-typing, as you talk about in the book.
They get scared they have to be awesome within the first session because that’s what they see on the movies and on all these Forbes articles. And there’s a big problem with that, and we’ve spoken about that before, and I don’t want to get too much off topic.
But you can’t compare yourself to what’s in the media, because they want to highlight the good stories, not the average joes, and the average joes are what we all are most times, and average joes can be successful. It’s just not the Zuckerberg effect-type scenario.
Josh: I think there’s an incredible freedom of really fully understanding that it is perfectly normal, and to be expected, that you’re going to be horrible, and there’s nothing wrong with that. I think the other thing is (and this is partly an outgrowth of parts of our educational system as well), there’s been a persistent myth for several decades now on you need to be good or talented at something to get any value from it.
So a lot of people, what they’ll do is — let’s say they want to pick up the guitar or learn how to paint or learn how to draw. They spend a couple hours doing it, and it’s very clear that they don’t have any skill in doing that. So the drawing stinks or the guitar’s out of tune, or you can’t play anything to save your life.
There’s an incredible tendency for people to, when faced with that early frustration, to say, I’m not talented at that, I’m not good at that, I should spend time doing something I am talented or good at. When really, all that their lack of ability is signaling is they haven’t spent very much time doing it yet.
What’s nice is, all of the research basically says that there is — in this early stage of skill acquisition, there is no such thing as natural talent. So the first time Tiger Woods picked up a golf club, he was as horrible as you were, right? He’s just practiced for much longer.
There’s a lot of value in understanding that those first couple hours are going to be frustrating, and that’s okay. If you spend your time practicing in a smart way, it’s not going to be very long before you’re going to be very good at it.
Pete: I think one of the things that you write about in the book is that the major barrier, which is what we’re talking about right now, is not a physical attribute or even intelligence to a certain degree. It’s that emotional skill of pushing through and giving yourself that freedom.
It’s an interesting concept for a lot of people to think that ability to gain a new skill is not [dependent on] your intelligence level or your physical prowess. It’s literally your emotional intelligence, almost.
Josh: Yeah, that was the biggest surprise for me in this process. When I started doing the research behind skill acquisition and how to do it quickly, I really expected digging into the research literature and figuring out what works and what doesn’t, I expected it to be an intellectual, cognitive, tips-tricks-and-hacks process.
Here’s a whole bunch of things that you can do to suck in a lot of information and stick it in your long-term memory and get very good by studying correctly. And what I found, both in the research and in my own experience, testing these sorts of methods, is we’re all smart enough, way smart enough, to do this.
We’re all strong enough. The major barriers are not physical. They’re not intellectual. They’re emotional. It’s getting yourself to the point of committing and overcoming that ooh-this-looks-way-too-big-I’m-not-sure-if-I-can-do-this type of feeling. So the early doubt or the early intimidation, and then overcoming that early frustration of getting started and not being good and wrestling with that cognitive dissonance that comes from, I’m trying to do something that I’m very clearly not good at.
And how to push through that so you get to the point where you’ve spent enough time to build very real skills so you can accomplish something that has deep meaning in your life, whatever that might be.
Pete: Absolutely. So you’re listening to PreneurCast here with Josh Kaufman, author of The First 20 Hours. Now, Josh, let me ask you, a bit of a slight change of direction about this word you keep using so much, which is “practice.” I’d love to talk about how to deconstruct practice in a way.
Because you talk in the book about doing practice on a daily basis as opposed to immersion, which is something that we’ve spoken a lot about, which I’m a believer in. I’d love to chat about your take from your experiences and your research around why you think that almost an hour a day of practice is more effective than 20 hours over three days.
Josh: Right, right. So the whole idea of the importance of practice — and this was one of the really great things that Dr. Ericsson coined in his research on expert-level performance, this whole idea of deliberate practice — it’s not just dabbling around with something and hoping that you improve.
It’s not fiddling around or just ambiently soaking up things. Deliberate practice is very intentionally and very systematically sitting down to practice with an eye towards something specific you want to improve. It’s very focused. And the connotation of deliberate — you’re really, really paying attention when you practice.
So deliberate practice really is the core of skill acquisition. The more deliberate practice you put in, in general, the better you’ll get. The rate of your improvement will be extremely high at the beginning, and then over time as you improve, that rate of learning will very naturally taper off.
That’s the whole idea of the learning curve. And so, deliberate practice is the core of skill acquisition, all types of skill acquisition. There are a number of different ways that you can go about doing that, and in general probably the most widely known method of what would qualify as rapid skill acquisition is the idea of immersion.
You want to learn a language, let’s say you want to learn Japanese — sell your house and sell all your stuff and pack your bag, hop a flight, and live in Japan for three months, and lo and behold, by the end of that experience you will know a lot of Japanese.
Pete: That’s a very strong positive constraint as well.
Josh: Yeah, exactly. So in general, immersion works. It works extremely well. The challenge is that very few of us are in a position where we can drop absolutely everything and go live in Japan for three months. If you have an immersion opportunity, whatever that looks like, and you’re at a point in your life where you can really follow that opportunity, fantastic! Go do it. You will learn a ton.
The challenge comes when people think that that’s the only way that you can learn something quickly. And so they wait, sometimes their entire lives, for an immersion opportunity that doesn’t come. When really, if you rearrange your schedule to put in just a little bit of time every day to practice this thing that is meaningful to you, you can improve a lot in a very short period of time.
Just to put it in context, 20 hours of practice is about 40 to 45 minutes a day for about a month. If you can rearrange your schedule to really put some hard-focus time (half hour, 45 minutes a day), you can make a ton of improvement in a couple weeks to a month.
That’s something that I think is doable regardless of where you are in your life. No matter how busy your schedule is, you can probably find half an hour-ish every day.
Pete: Even with a crying baby.
Josh: Yeah. Funny story — while I was doing this — and part of the reason that I was doing this research in the first place is I run a business, my wife runs a business, and we had a baby. All of the sudden, I just had zero free time to dabble with things.
My general method for learning new things prior to that was just, oh, I’m interested, and I’ll dabble for a couple months and develop a certain level of skill. But it was really super inefficient, and I didn’t have time to dabble anymore. And so it became a challenge.
If I only have maybe an hour, if I’m lucky, every day to sit down and learn something new, how can I use that hour as effectively as possible? That’s where this whole method came from.
Pete: I think something about this too is that for people who are trying to learn a skill to better their lives, not just for enjoyment — what I mean by that is, let’s say learning to play the guitar or even play golf is an enjoyment side of things. You should be able to juggle your schedule for that enjoyment.
But if you’re trying to grow a business or you’re trying to master your personal finances, if you can’t get out of bed 45 minutes earlier every day for at least one month so you can become a better businessperson, so you can manage your family money a lot better.
Then there’s bigger questions to answer in your life almost, is that do you really want that outcome then if you’re not willing to give up 45 minutes of sleep? Now there’s some people who have a crying baby that are up three times a night and you need the extra 45 minutes because it’s been sucked away by the little one. I’ve got a five-month-old, I know exactly what that’s like.
Josh: Yeah, I totally feel for you right now.
Pete: I might ask about some skill acquisition about changing some nappies and getting them to self-settle and stuff like that that might be difficult. But the thing is, if it is really something in most people’s lives, they’re sleeping eight to nine hours a night, and yes, you need that amount of sleep long term.
But for the sake of 30 days to change your life, to really develop that strong skill that’s going to make an effect on the other 16 hours of your awake time, be it a better business, more peace with better finances, whatever it might be, get your ass out of bed 45 minutes earlier.
Pete: There’s no excuse around that.
Josh: And there are so many high-leverage skills that you could learn in a very short period of time that will change your business. I brought up programming earlier. Oh my gosh. Every business is just a system, right? It’s a system designed to create a very specific outcome, which is a happy customer and more money in your bank account so you can do it again.
If you think of your business as a system, programming is just a way of making that system very specific so it can run without you. So if there’s any repeatable thing that you find yourself paying attention to over and over and over again, if it can be handled by a person in a repetitive way, you can create a program that does that for you.
One of the most rewarding things that I’ve done from a business standpoint is learning to program, because now, I like to call it, I have my own little robot army that does my bidding. It’s great. And one of the idiosyncratic ways that I really prefer to run businesses is, it’s just me. I don’t have employees.
I don’t have contractors. It’s just me. So instead of spending all of my time doing these very repetitive things, I can invest maybe 10 or 20 hours creating a program that does it for me, and once it’s done, it’s done. Every single time that program runs, I save myself so much time. It’s crazy. And so programming is a high-leverage skill.
Learning things like persuasive writing for marketing and sales, and doing copywriting and creating offers and testing and public speaking skills, all of those things are things that you could learn how to do in a very short period of time, and they can change your business completely. It just takes some time and investment figuring out how they work.
Pete: I think the copywriting one is a brilliant example. If you have no skills in copywriting in that element in your business, if you can start developing this practice routine for an hour a day for this next 30 days or 45 minutes, and then once you develop that skill, rather than turning that practice time to something else, turn that scheduled habit that you’ve formed into actual action implementation.
So you start writing a blog post every day or a new sales letter every day, or tweaking the control in your marketing campaign every day. You turn that practice into routine, which I think you touch on in the book as well.
Josh: Yeah. So one of the nice things about the learning method I talk about in The First 20 Hours is that you don’t have to stop after 20 hours. That’s just the beginning. Sometimes within those first 20 hours, you reach the level of skill that you want to and so you just go out and use it, and yay for you.
But you can also, if you want to keep getting better at something that has a lot of value to either your business or your life, you just do it again. You reach a certain level of skill, you asses where you are, you figure out where you want to go next, and then you do this same thing again to keep leveling up, whatever that looks like for your particular skill.
And so yeah, it’s things like really learning how copywriting works can change your business overnight. And it doesn’t take very long to reach a really good level of skill, and then you can spend your time using it, and that can change your business.
Pete: Absolutely. Well, Josh, really do appreciate your time. The First 20 Hours is a fantastic book. You cover a whole bunch of stuff in the same light as what we have spoken about today, but you also cover a whole bunch of your actual case studies, for want of a better term, around you going about learning everything from yoga to touch-typing. What was the craziest thing you learned along the journey, and what’s the craziest story you’ve got?
Josh: Probably the craziest thing was, one of the things I learned how to do for the book was windsurfing, which I had never done before, and I am not, as you’d call it, a very coordinated individual. I didn’t think about this before I started, but I have zero experience balancing on a moving surface. Like no skateboarding, no anything.
Pete: Surfing, snowboarding,
Josh: Yeah. I drank so much lake water that month, really crazy, but also a really good example of being demonstrably, extremely bad at something, having zero experience, and understanding and being able to see just how far I came in practicing in a smart way.
It’s super fun now. And so I think that’s the real hopeful message here is you could believe, in the back of your mind there’s probably something you’ve always wanted to learn how to do, I’m willing to wager. So just take a moment and think for yourself, what is that thing that would be super cool for you to learn, for whatever reason?
And no matter how bad you’re afraid you might be at it, this process works, and it works well. And so you can take that thing you’ve wanted to learn for a long time, and a month from now, you could be doing it and getting value from it and having fun with it. The general message is don’t wait. Start now, because that thing you’ve always wanted to do is well within your reach.
Pete: And it’s not 10,000 hours. It’s only 20, and 20 is achievable.
Josh: No, it’s nowhere close, yeah.
Pete: So let me ask you the final question that I ask every single guest we have on the show, Josh. And that question is, what is the one question I didn’t ask you that I should’ve?
Josh: This has been a pretty comprehensive interview, actually. I think the biggest thing is, what do you want to learn and why, probably? And I would ask that to you first. We’ve been talking about this method of learning new things. How are you going to use this?
Pete: Me, personally?
Pete: Great question. I think for me, it’s the baby stuff, that’s a forced learning, it’s not really a choice so to speak, now that he’s here and giving us beautiful smiles. That’s a very good question. What is on my hit list of learning? What is it at the moment that I’m trying to learn more?
I touched on it before, actually, just more of a personal financing. It’s quite funny. I’ve been very, very successful over the years with business, but I want to get better at personal finance. Not necessarily trading stocks and [things like that], but just really increase the actual personal side of stuff.
I’ve been very, very good at turning the tap on to increase the income into the business and into the personal life. And now just about setting some stuff up for the family, a bit more than I have before, than having just a whole bunch of cash sitting in the bank account. The skill around that, I guess, is probably a good way to put it.
Josh: Excellent. It’s so fun. I’ve been doing so many podcasts and radio interviews, and having a good time doing that. This is something that I’m practicing, trying to get better at. So that’s been super fun. And the fun thing about this particular project is that the method itself may seem like incredible common sense.
It is in a lot of ways. It’s really sitting down and systematically doing it. That’s where you get the value. But the fun that I’ve been having with this particular project is starting to hear stories from people who are using it to learn cool things. And I’ll share three of my favorites so far.
The website for the book, if you’re interested, First20Hours.com. Ton of information. You can see everything about the book. I’m doing interviews with people who are using this method to do cool things. And the first one, which just went up a few days ago, was a guy by the name of Jon Hart, and he learned how to fly an airplane in 16 and a half hours.
Josh: Yeah. Going from knowing absolutely nothing about aviation to his first solo flight, 16 and a half hours. Super cool. I heard there was a 90-year-old woman who sat down and is learning how to play the piano because she’s always wanted to. So it doesn’t matter how old you are, the stuff works really, really well.
And then my last, probably my favorite, unexpected skill, which I’m looking forward to hearing more about, there’s a gentleman who is in the process of using this method to learn sumo wrestling.
Josh: No joke. So I think that’s the really fun part about this particular project for me, is you really can use it to learn anything, either business or personal. So I’m looking forward to hearing way more stories about people going out into the world and using this to do something cool.
Pete: Awesome. So someone’s got to learn how to raise alpacas or hot air balloon pilot. Just First20Hours.com, and hit you up there? Is that the best place?
Josh: Yeah, it’s the best place.
Pete: Awesome. Josh, thank you so much for your time. The book, The First 20 Hours, is available where all good books are sold. Primarily Amazon. So thank you much for your time, buddy.
Josh: Thanks, Pete.
[Pete’s conversation with Josh ends]
Dom: So there you go, folks. Pete and Josh there, covering again, as always, such a wide range of stuff, but all completely relevant to you. Not only in personal development, but in actual business skills. Pete, you drilled down there with Josh quite a lot into how this rapid skill acquisition applies to people in business rather than just these hobby skills like golf or drawing, or whatever. I thought that was some good stuff that Josh put across there.
Pete: Very, very intelligent guy, clearly. Very good at articulating his message. And clearly good at learning skills, because he’s proven it in a number of different areas inside the book. So I highly recommend it. It’s definitely worth checking out and having a bit of a read. Particularly, I think, the part of the book where he talks about the theory and the strategy for learning.
When he starts talking about his journey, I enjoyed it but it wasn’t really the meat of the book that I loved. It was more the theory and the strategy and the technology that he talks about of skill acquisition, which I think is the real take-away from what he shares.
Dom: Absolutely. When I was listening to it through, I remember thinking the way that he showed, because he talks about breaking down what you’re trying to learn into its component parts, and when he talked about business, it was very interesting. He took his experience from his book The Personal MBA.
But it was very interesting to see how his breakdown of business and this idea of focusing on a particular part of your business was pretty much parallel to our own 7 Levers in terms of identifying subareas of your business to focus on and then develop skills in that area.
So if nothing else, folks, everything that Josh was talking about today really is applicable in those areas. If you don’t know much about traffic generation, the first of the 7 Levers, then focusing on one part, one skill, one tactic in traffic generation is the thing for you to learn, is going to make that huge difference and that 10% increase that we talk about all the time.
I’m inclined to agree with you Pete. You know that I’m a great student of — it sounds silly — I’m a student of learning. I’m always fascinated about ways of acquiring skills. I know I was attracted to this book because it almost seemed a bit like that scene from the Matrix, where the guy leans back and then he says, “I know kung fu.”
Pete: That would be awesome, wouldn’t it, just to be able to go like — I always had this dream when I was younger that I could go and shake someone’s hand and just like get all their knowledge out of a handshake. That would be really cool.
Dom: He opened with the important perspective, which is those first 20 hours will get you to a level of proficiency, and maybe that’s all you need. We could go on this topic for a very long time. I think he’s got a good perspective. And I think it’s a great way, as you say, the meat of that was the breaking down the thing you want to learn, identifying and breaking it down.
So it’s a great thing. Folks, as always, a lot of the books that we talk about on PreneurCast are available as audiobooks. I think this is a great one to have as an audiobook because it is story-based. You can pick up a lot from it just by you walking around doing your daily chores, as I do with a lot of material.
We recommend, one of our sponsors is Audible books. If you go over to AudibleTrial.com/PreneurCast, if you’re not already a member, then you can start a free trial. The free trial allows you to download your first book for free. So you could download Josh’s book if you’re not already a member of Audible.
If you are, dive on there and check out The First 20 Hours from Josh Kaufman. Cool. As always, we try and keep things to time, and I think after last week, most people have heard quite enough of me, Pete.
Pete: Let’s just remind people to stay part of the community. PreneurMarketing.com is the home of the show. You can get transcripts of all of the episodes. You can get all the show notes and the links and a whole bunch more great regular content over at PreneurMarketing.com.
And if you happened to be on iTunes buying Miley Cyrus’s new single for some crazy reason, make sure you jump over to the Podcast page and leave a comment. Because that is a huge benefit for us as well. It’s a great way of saying thanks, and we do appreciate every single comment that we do get on iTunes, so please do us a solid and leave one.
Dom: Absolutely. And as I pointed out last week, we’re now on SoundCloud as well, another place you can listen to us, get hold of the latest versions of all the shows. And folks, we are, now that Preneur Marketing is fully up and running, or as they say, fully operational, we have our little audio voicemail button on the right-hand side of the site over at PreneurMarketing.com.
So you can pop on there and just very quickly click that button and record us a little message with your microphone, and you never know. We might contact you and ask you if you don’t mind being featured on the show.
Pete: Absolutely. Talk to you all next week.
Dom: Bye, folks.
The First 20 Hours – Josh’s latest book
The Personal MBA – Josh’s Book on Business Success
You can try out a lot of the books we recommend in audio format with Audible:
http://audibletrial.com/preneurcast – Free trial with a free audio book download for PreneurCast listeners
http://first20hours.com/ – The site that accompanies Josh’s Book