"The First 20 Hours" by Josh Kaufman

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 AUTHOR: Josh Kaufman

AUTHOR: Josh Kaufman

Learning is not something we do when we are just at school. Learning is constant and forever. It doesn’t matter how old you are or how far along you are in your career. There is always something new to learn and it is never too late to start. Instead of regretting missed opportunities or reflecting back on time, re-frame your mind and ask yourself what you want to learn right now.

What goals would you like to achieve and how do you do this? What key skills are missing from your toolkit and how can you ensure that you have those skills ready? Perhaps it is important for you to learn how to swim. It may help you learn to cope in an island environment. Perhaps learning to fly a helicopter will help you in more technical fields. How about learning to drive. It is a basic skill that you still haven’t conquered and may help you expand your horizons.

That is why we are recommending the book “The First 20 Hours” by Josh Kaufman to support Chapter 1 “Skills for a Changing World” of the Diplomatic Planner. Chapter 1 of the Diplomatic Planner is all about examining your strengths and weakness to help you put together a development plan for future training and learning. This is a good opportunity to review your answers listed under the weakness list and examine how some of those weaknesses may become future threats or risks. Is there anything on your weakness list you can eliminate or strengthen? Is there anything on your development plan that is causing you to procrastinate because taking on the training may not have come at a right time? Kaufman’s book teaches us how we can master the basics of our desired skill, from scheduling practice time to acquiring all the tools we need to succeed.

One of the strategies Kaufman shares with us in his book is the rapid skill acquisition technique. This technique encourages us to learn the very basics of the skill we are trying to conquer, by choosing to put in just 20 hours of practice rather than a lifetime's worth. Of course, with this technique, we aren’t likely to become experts but it will enable us to converse with local people, tread water without drowning, know what all the buttons on the engine means, be able to introduce yourself in a foreign language etc. Let’s break it down a bit.

If you practice for 20 hours, that’s only 60-90 minutes per day. Imagine how much information you can pick up in this short amount of time. Once you have completed the initial 20 hours of practice, it will become easier to continue developing the skill if you choose to do so. If you are trying to learn something new, then these first critical hours will give you a good indication whether it is something you want to pursue further. Very often, the first few hours of practice are the hardest but the key is to persist. So, how do we persist?

Kaufman states: “There’s no magic to it - just smart, strategic effort invested in something you care about.” To be smart, we have to focus all of our energy concentrating on learning one skill exclusively. The development plan from the Diplomatic Planner should give you a good indication on the kinds of new skills you want to acquire. You need to decide which option will provide you with the most motivation to practice and stick with just one skill to learn. This will ensure that you use your time wisely. Multitasking will slow you down and eventually demotivate you.

Next, Kaufman asks us to determine the skill level we want to attain and break this down into smaller parts. Saying that you want to learn French is counterproductive. Be specific. Do you want the ability to understand basic French when travelling or do you want to operate at C1 level where your expertise will be tested at a more intense level? Next, divide this skill into sub-skills which will help you progress faster.

Kaufman encourages us to acquire the right tools to limit distraction. It is important to figure out which components, environments and tools you need in order to practice and learn. To learn how to fly a helicopter, you will need access to one, even a decent simulator before you can ride the real thing. You must also identify barriers that might interfere with acquiring your new skill and this includes any emotional roadblocks like fear or self-doubt. We cover more of these issues in Chapter 3 and 4 of the Diplomatic Planner. Similarly, Kaufman explains how important it is to get feedback on your new skill, another exercise that can be found in the Diplomatic Planner. You will never know if you are progressing in the right direction without the help of an expert who is fully trained in your new skill. Pacing is also important when picking up a new skill. Spending a full 20-hour day on your new skill will be less productive than spreading it out. Your brain needs time to process and develop its memory muscle.

The final part of Kaufman’s 10-step methodology is to remember that perfection isn’t everything. Experts naturally make skills look easy but you will be shocked to learn how many hours they have put to mastering their skill. You can’t compare as a beginner or even as an expert. Don’t set yourself up for failure by attaining for perfection. Instead, focus on getting as much practice in as possible. By keeping to Kaufman’s 10 principles of rapid skill acquisition, you can successfully undertake a new skill from your development plan in no time.

“The First 20 Hours” is recommended for the purposes of the Diplomatic Planner. The Diplomatic Planner is a 12-month career development toolkit for diplomacy and internationals for professionals looking to explore or grow their expertise in the field. Both books are available for purchase via Amazon. For further recommendations, insights, case studies and practicable worksheets, please join the Grassroot Diplomat Online Academy via: www.grassrootdiplomat.org/register