I was watching a Ted talk this week as I was looking for additional background material for a talk I am giving soon, and I discovered a talk on the most important 20 hours of learning. The speaker was delving into the misconceptions we have about learning and some of the misinformation out there, most notably, that it takes 10,000 hours to learn a new skill. He dove into the research behind the 10,000 hour number and discovered that the 10,000 hour number was really rooted in how many hours of practice it took an athlete to attain their peak performance in their given field. Some researchers took that study further and applied it to others at the top of their field and it soon became the standard yardstick for learning something so well as to be an expert in a chosen field.
The problem is that the understanding morphed along the way and the idea of “becoming an expert” became, over time, acquiring a proficiency in a new field, and the data just does not support that hypothesis. There really is a learning curve and the time to become proficient at something actually works out to about 20 hours, or 4 hours a day, Monday through Friday for 1 week, or 1 hour a day for 4 weeks. In any event, it is much, much less than 10,000 hours.
The speaker pointed out 4 steps to acquiring a new skill or learning something new. Of these, the 4th was the one that had the most impact. Sure, steps 1-3 are good guidance, but step 4 is where the “magic” happens. Step 4 is simply practice the skill for 20 hours. All too often, we will find books to read, videos to watch and checklists to follow, but we won’t actually do the 20 hours of practice required to become proficient. We have the ability to obtain the knowledge at our fingertips, but we don’t actually acquire the proficiency until we practice and experience it.
I have battled with that a little this week prepping for my presentation. While I know quite a bit about what I am presenting, some of the skills that should be natural for the demonstration aspects are not as proficient as I would like, and it shows in my comfort level with the presentation. Granted, I have a strong base of experience to draw from, but the actual mechanics are more than a little rusty. So, I have been putting the 20 hour premise to the test, and I am finding it to hold true. My proficiency and comfort have grown exponentially since practicing in earnest, and I am much more ready today than I was a week ago. So, take out your “I wish” lists and pick something you want to become proficient in. Give it an hour a day for a month and you will be amazed at how much you will learn.