The First 20 Hours – Josh Kaufman

“In my experience, it takes around twenty hours of practice to break through the frustration barrier: to go from knowing absolutely nothing about what you’re trying to do to performing noticeably well.”

Would you like to play an instrument? Do yoga? Play Go? Parasail? Decide what you want to be able to do; deconstruct it into the smallest possible sub-skills; learn enough about each sub-skill to practice intelligently and self-correct; remove the physical and mental barriers that prevent practice; and practice for at least 20 hours.

Anders Ericsson was the source for Malcolm Gladwell’s claim that it takes 10,000 hours to master an activity, whether chess, piano, or otherwise. The actual research is a little more nuanced, and focused on deliberate practice, but never mind. Kaufman’s argument is not that you can get world-class in 20 hours, but that by spending twenty focused, intentional hours on something, you can get to a reasonable standard, such that you can at least enjoy doing it.

The key, he says, is that when you try to learn something new you’re not competing against others. Instead, you’re competing against your own previous lack of ability, and any improvement is a win. In that respect, it speaks very much to Carol Dweck’s growth mindset; the idea that the key to success is to realize and appreciate that you can improve, and are not fixed the way you are.

Josh Kaufman wrote the Personal MBA, an excellent introduction to business concepts. This book is less successful; most of it is case studies of his attempts to learn yoga, programming, touch typing, go, ukulele, and windsurfing. Some of them are definitely interesting, particularly if you’re considering taking up the skill yourself, but having only 20 hours experience, he also doesn’t always understand the activities that well. I can’t claim expertise either, but there were several observations that didn’t sound correct to me. Still, an easy beach read, if not as strong as his first.

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