Identify Sub-skills | How to learn something new really fast

Identify Sub-skills | How to learn something new really fast

While shoveling the snow off my driveway a few weeks ago, I listened to Pat Flynn’s excellent interview with Tim Ferriss. Something in the interview caught my attention – so much so that I stopped shoveling to make a quick note of it.

Tim was talking about his recent book the Four Hour Chef, which, as he explained, is not so much about cooking as it is about how to quickly and effectively learn almost any skill. Cooking was the skill Tim chose to focus on because it was something he’d attempted to learn many times but failed. His goal was to crack the code of what it takes to really learn something difficult.

Sub-Skills
The thing that made me stop and take note as I was listening to Pat and Tim was how many sub-skills there were to being a good cook.

A few of the cooking sub-skills they mentioned were:

  • Shopping and ingredient selection
  • Kitchen preparation/organization
  • Food preparation
  • The actual act of assembling ingredients and “cooking” them
  • Serving
  • Cleanup

The foodies out there could probably list even more sub-skills and in better detail.

The Reason Tim Ferriss Failed
Tim identified that one of the reasons he had failed learning how to cook in the past was because he was focusing on the end objective before he focused on the necessary sub-skills. When Tim started breaking the goal of becoming a good cook down into its sub-skills and focusing on them one at a time, he started succeeding much more quickly.

Instead of attempting to make a fabulous meal at the outset, Tim chose to focus on shopping and ingredient selection and get really good at that. He found that if he could break things down into a small enough component, he could master it quickly and then move on to the next aspect.

The Big Shots Do It
High-performance people are good at this. They can take a complex problem and reverse-engineer it to its most basic elements. Most of us end up not pursuing new skills or not doing the things we dream about because we are intimidated by their enormity. If you are serious about setting an idea in motion, a great first step is to try to identify the smallest sub-facet of what you are trying to do and focus only on that.

Let’s do this!

4 Comments

  • Alex Alviar says:

    Great post, Grant. Just last night, I found myself going into a catatonic state exactly because of the intimidating “enormity” of the projects I have before me. In that state, it’s really really hard to break it down as each subset skill feels like the whole thing is unraveling. Best course of action: get some sleep, get some exercise, eat a good breakfast, and now this morning the whole thing seems manageable and easy to break into component parts and actionable steps.

    One of my favorite meta learning strategies that Ferriss uses in 4Hour Chef is to work backwards and often re-sequence learning stages. So for example, he mastered the female tango dancer role FIRST because that is what other notable male pro dancers did LAST. I’ve just finished a Coach’s training and I saw examples of this everywhere. Want to teach a little kid something new like how to run a fast break in basketball or lacrosse? Try starting with the last step or stage and build toward the first step. The kids get it, and even have a lot more fun.

    • Grant says:

      Alex – fantastic insight. Reverse-engineering is so incredibly powerful. The trick, at least for me, is to be conscious about it. It’s easy to just dive into something without thinking too much.

  • Alex Alviar says:

    Great post, Grant. Just last night, I found myself going into a catatonic state exactly because of the intimidating “enormity” of the projects I have before me. In that state, it’s really really hard to break it down as each subset skill feels like the whole thing is unraveling. Best course of action: get some sleep, get some exercise, eat a good breakfast, and now this morning the whole thing seems manageable and easy to break into component parts and actionable steps.

    One of my favorite meta learning strategies that Ferriss uses in 4Hour Chef is to work backwards and often re-sequence learning stages. So for example, he mastered the female tango dancer role FIRST because that is what other notable male pro dancers did LAST. I’ve just finished a Coach’s training and I saw examples of this everywhere. Want to teach a little kid something new like how to run a fast break in basketball or lacrosse? Try starting with the last step or stage and build toward the first step. The kids get it, and even have a lot more fun.

    • Grant says:

      Alex – fantastic insight. Reverse-engineering is so incredibly powerful. The trick, at least for me, is to be conscious about it. It’s easy to just dive into something without thinking too much.