The First 20 Hours by Josh Kaufman – Rapid Skill Acquisition

By Brom Sulaiman on June 25, 2014 | Books
The First 20 Hours - Josh Kaufman

The ability to learn new skills can be an important indicator of how successful you will be in both your career and life in general. It’s probably a solid indication of how happy you’ll be too. Acquiring new skills has fascinated me for the majority of my life, but I find I want to do too many things and get frustrated when I don’t master them in the first week.  Ok, maybe the first day…

I stumbled across a book recently called The First 20 Hours by Josh Kaufman.  The premise of the book is that you can attain competency in any skill within 20 Hours.  Note competency, not mastery.  Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers is a good book to read if you’re interested in mastery, but be aware, you’ll need about 10,000 hours to reach that level!  So at the moment competency suits me fine. I figure that if I can acquire competency in a range of skills that interest me, then I can decide if I want to pursue mastery at a later date.  You know, when I’ve got a spare 9,980 hours…

Learn a skill quickly!

In the book, Kaufman chooses a selection of skills he wants to learn.  The caveat being that these skills must hold some interest or passion with you. It’s probably hard to follow the program if you’re not interested in the skill you want to develop! Once you’ve chosen your field of endeavour you should focus solely on that.  Try not to get distracted by any other skills you want to learn. Focus twenty hours into that one skill.

You should then decide on a target performance level. What level of competency do you want to be at at the end of the 20 hours? If you’re learning an instrument, maestro is probably not realistic (in 20 hours that is). So maybe to be able to perform one of your favourite songs would be a better start.


The book itself is ok. The major problem I had was with the small amount of theory on the subject.  Maybe 15 or so pages at the beginning of the book describe the learning process. The rest of the 250 page book details how Kaufman himself used the method to learn skills ranging from wind surfing to playing the ukulele. I assume that Kaufman wanted to use his experiences of his method as a way to illustrate the effectiveness of the theory. And to a degree, it works. I found I didn’t want to read the entire book though. I wanted to skip through parts.

Having said that, I did enjoy the book. It’s one that I will go back to eventually to refresh my memory on skill acquisition. Kaufman’s writing style is easy to get along with and he’s great and dissecting complex ideas and presenting them in bitesize chunks.  Something my brain appreciates.

Here’s a video of Josh Kaufman explaining the principles behind the book at a TEDTalk he gave.