To Acquire a New Skill Faster, Learn About It

During one of my learning survey conversations, a founder friend mentioned he’d read The First 20 Hours: How to Learn Anything . . . Fast! by Josh Kauffman. He described the book as an approach to learning any skill quickly. It sounded interesting, so I ordered it. I just finished reading it.

The book highlighted that skill acquisition and learning are different. Acquiring a skill requires practicing the skill until you become proficient at it. Learning, though, is about understanding the skill. Learning about a skill doesn’t mean you’ll acquire the skill—it means you’ll know more about it. The book uses the example of learning about a foreign language. You can understand all the nuances and history of the language without being able to speak the language. Speaking it results from practicing by speaking it with others.

Kauffman goes on to say that to acquire a skill, learning about it isn’t necessary, but it is helpful because it’s important to acquire the skill rapidly. Learning about the skill helps you focus on the most important subskills, understand the key concepts related to the skill, avoid practice pitfalls, etc., all of which make your practice more efficient. And you’ll acquire the skill sooner if you improve more rapidly.

Kauffman’s distinction is helpful. I now think about learning as the prework I do that will make practicing a new skill more efficient.