How to learn a new skill within 20 hours!

When was the last time you learned something new? Started something new, briefly pushed yourself, or stepped outside your comfort zone? Some people do this more than others, of course. But if you finally want to learn to play guitar, paint, learn to sell, or start a business Then I challenge you to read on. You will learn how to learn a new skill within 20 hours. This method of learning is also called “rapid learning. 'Rapid learning' will increasingly become a necessary skill within business. Because with the rapid pace of change, companies can only survive with employees who can learn new skills in a very short time.  

But how do you do that? Learn something new quickly? The words of Aristotle: “What one must learn to do, one learns by doing” have lost none of their force. Learning is all about doing! When we talk about learning skills, the work of American cognitive psychologist Ericsson cannot go unmentioned. It is Ericsson who spent his life studying how experts acquire their excellent skills. You may have heard that you need ten thousand hours of practice, equivalent to ten years, to become very good at something. Then you have had a very brief summary of Ericsson's work. It is precisely this summary that deters many people from learning anything new. But rest assured this conclusion is far too brief and does injustice to his work. 

The real story is that Ericsson observed a constant among nationally known experts (sports, musicians,). He saw that their skills increased rapidly in the first years and as they gained more skills the improvement of their skills became slower and slower. This is also called the learning curve and is shaped like an inverted field hockey stick (at the handle you go up style and on top is the curve where you hit the ball). But Ericsson's real crucial insight was that experts did not so much practice more as they practiced differently. What these top experts did differently was that they broke down their skills into smaller tasks and then specifically improved them. By analyzing these smaller tasks each time, they can see where the improvement potential lies. What was striking was that all of these experts used a coach to provide them with appropriate feedback. Making all these small improvements allowed them to improve tremendously. 

Is there a good approach to this? American writer Josh Kaufman has translated Ericsson's work into concrete actions. It is Josh Kaufman who claims that you can learn a new basic-level skill in 20 hours. Having read his book, I was perplexed. Imagine! If you spent every 20 hours developing a new skill! How many skills could that have been? It seemed like a worthwhile challenge to take on and so I started developing a new skill: writing!

In his book, Josh Kaufman talks about the learning curve and how it works. When you start learning a new skill, you don't know anything yet. As a result, you learn an awful lot for the first 20 hours and then you make considerably less progress. To learn new skills quickly, he has established ten principles:

  1. Choose a project you are interested in
  2. Focus on learning one skill at a time
  3. Define a goal you want to achieve
  4. Break the skill down into smaller parts
  5. Prepare yourself, making sure everything you need is available
  6. Remove barriers that interfere with practicing
  7. Schedule blocks of time to practice
  8. Create feedback moments
  9. Practice in short intensive blocks
  10. Keep hammering at yourself for sufficient practice and speed

Using his method, I started writing but I also built this website myself. And honestly that was easier than I thought. Learning new skills provides daily routine work with new impetus. This fact alone leads to more meaningful and enjoyable work. Learning something new makes people recalibrate their compass. 

Ruud Olijve

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