This panel really should’ve been called “Acquiring the Skill of Being Awesome,” because if being awesome were a definable skill, Tim Ferriss would learn the basic principles in eight 2-minute sessions and master it in 2 weeks.
Ferriss is the author of “The 4-Hour Workweek,” which hit shelves in April 2007 and has been a top-selling business book ever since. The book blends self help motivation with professional advice, and he built on those principles for his new book “The 4-Hour Chef.”
“The 4-Hour Chef” was the subject of his panel, called “Acquiring the Skill of Meta-Learning.” During his talk, he breaks down how to rapidly master any skill. Ferriss tested his approach by using the theories to master languages, cooking, and even learning to swim as an adult.
The deconstructive, simplistic approach is called DiSSS, and stands for the following:
Ferriss said people set overwhelming goals that they can’t achieve because they are not focusing on “the next action.” When people say they want to learn Spanish, they shouldn’t say they want to learn Spanish. They should break it down into pieces.
For Ferriss, it was too overwhelming to simply say he wanted to learn how to swim. He deconstructed his goal into its individual parts: kicking, breathing, arm movements. Then he asked himself why he has failed in the past. The Long Island native said he couldn’t ever figure out how to breathe and swim at the same time, so he deconstructed it.
“Break things down for a couple weeks in the deconstruction phase,” he said. “If you know you want to learn something, you should learn why people fail at those things and avoid them for a week or two.”
It can be applied to almost anything, he said. Want to cook? You need to learn how to shop, prep, sautee, and other things. Break the goal into individual parts and tackle them that way.
Ferriss said 20 percent of your activities will result in 80 percent of your total results. His example was the Axis of Awesome:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oOlDewpCfZQ these guys proved that almost every pop song you’ve ever heard in your life can be reproduced from the same four guitar chords. The video has almost 12 million views.
“Aim for the minimum effective dose to give you a huge repertoire, it does not have to be intimidating,” Ferriss said.
The principle stands in learning languages. When Ferriss sits next to someone speaking a different language on the plane, he gets them to construct the same 13 sentences in that language:
The apple is red.
It is John’s apple.
I give John the Apple.
We give him the apple.
These simple sentences deconstruct the critical grammatical structures of any language. So what happened when Ferriss sat next to an Arabic speaker on a plane one time?
“It took me about an hour to get a pretty good grasp of Arabic,” Ferriss said.
Ferriss told the story of one of the world-class chess players, Joshua Waitzkin. When he started learning chess, he did not start with the full chess set: he was taught with a king and a pawn versus a king on the opposite side. He learned in reverse.
He recommended people ask themselves, “What if I did the opposite? What if I did the reverse?”
When Ferriss was learning how to tango in 2005, he learned the part of the female first so that he could be a better male lead once he got to that part. He went from a novice to competing in the semi-finals for world championships.
He also said the worst time to learn a skill is when you need it. People wanting to make awesome scrambled eggs should probably practice sautéing with dry beans just to master the movements before they ever introduce an egg to the equation.
Finally, what’s at stake if someone should fail to learn this skill? Many people trying to learn or master something don’t actually have anything at stake to incentivize learning.
He recommended signing a $1,000 check to a charity “you would rather nuke than give money to” and give that check to a friend with instructions to send the check if you don’t succeed.
“Currently, the George W. Bush Congressional library gets a lot of people to quit smoking or lose weight,” Ferriss said.
-Beth Brown, editor-in-chief