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Annotated Ideas from insightful books

Have you been planning to learn a new skill? 

Are you looking to improve on a skill you already use? 

Then The First 20 Hours by Josh Kaufman has great news for you. Often, most of us don’t even get started on our brave resolutions to learn a new skill or work on improvements to existing skills. The imagined effort involved is daunting

Forget the stories about the 10,000 hours required to gain mastery in any skill. What if you are promised that all it takes to gain reasonable proficiency in any skill is 20 hours of committed effort? 

That is what The First 20 Hours sets out to do by introducing a tested approach to rapid skill acquisition 

Here is a curated set of actionable ideas from the book: 

 What is Rapid Skill Acquisition? 

“Rapid skill acquisition is a process that involves 

  1. Breaking down the skill into the smallest possible parts
  2. Identifying which of those parts are most important, 
  3. Deliberately practicing those elements first. 

Implement Rapid Skill Acquisition in 4 steps  

  1. Deconstruct the skill into the smallest possible subskills
  2. Learn enough about each subskill to be able to practise intelligently. Make sure you self-correct during practice
  3. Remove all physical, mental, and emotional barriers that get in the way of practice
  4. Practise the most important subskills for at least twenty hours. 

The critical element here is the practice. Says Kaufman: “You simply decide what to practice, figure out the best way to practice, make time to practice, then practice until you reach your target level of performance” 

Practice is what counts

Learning shouldn’t be confused with skill acquisition. Learning about a skill can at best help plan, edit and correct yourself when you practice. Ultimately what really helps you make progress in acquiring a skill is practising it in context. “If you want to get good at anything where real-life performance matters,” Kaufman reminds us, “you have to actually practice that skill in context. Study, by itself, is never enough”

Use the Three-stage model of skill acquisition to rapidly build skills 

The book refers to a Three-stage model of skill acquisition cited in academic literature. The model applies to both physical and mental skills. 

The 3 stages are 

  1. Cognitive (Early) Stage—"Understanding what you’re trying to do, researching, thinking about the process, and breaking the skill into manageable parts”  
  2. Associative (Intermediate) Stage—"Practicing the task, noticing environmental feedback, and adjusting your approach based on that feedback” 
  3. Autonomous (Late) Stage—"Performing the skill effectively and efficiently without thinking about it or paying unnecessary attention to the process” 

Understanding these stages helps us gauge our progress as we work towards a rapid acquisition or honing of skills 

Assemble all required tools

Kaufman advises that before you get started pause and check “What tools, components, and environments do you need to have access to before you can practice efficiently? How can you obtain the very best tools you can find and afford?” That way you can optimise your practice time 

Create fast feedback loops 

“Fast feedback” is defined as “getting accurate information about how well you’re performing as quickly as possible” We all like to be reassured that we are making progress and learning the skills right. We wish to be corrected in case we are making mistakes. “Experienced coaches and mentors can give you immediate feedback on how you’re performing and recommend necessary adjustments” says Kaufman. 

Emphasize quantity and speed

Trying to being perfect from the very beginning, is a recipe for frustration. Instead focusing on practising as much as possible as quickly as you can could pave the way for rapid acquisition of skill. 

How do these ideas apply to sales skills?

It is interesting to note that most of these ideas are true for acquisition or upgradation of sales skills as well. 

  • Deconstructing a larger skill into smallest sub skills actually involves creation of tools and frameworks that can be put to practise. This is the hallmark of effective sales capability building programs 
  • Acquiring sales skills calls for ‘adaptive action learning’ which can come only through ceaseless practice 
  • Quantity and volume of effort is a critical requisite for successful skill building in sales. Mercuri’s capability building philosophy emphasises quantity, direction and quality of effort 
  • Sales managers frequently make the best coaches for their sales teams provided the managers are trained in offering helpful and encouraging feedback after observing their salespeople in action 
  • Staying focused on quantity of effort is many times a surer way to reach the desired results than to obsess over results alone 

“Knowledge is not skill. Knowledge plus ten thousand times is skill.”

- Shinichi Suzuki

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