Note: This article is part of the #FirstTimeManager series, which aims to provide best practices and actionable insights for professionals embarking on a new venture. You can read the other article here.
When Pablo Casals, world renowned cellist and composer was asked why he continues to practice four to five hours a day, at age 81, he replied “Because I think I am making progress.”
A steady commitment to learning is what separates mediocrity from stellar performance. Research done by Peter Heslin and Lauren Keating at Australia Business School shows that people who embrace new challenges and learning opportunities develop stronger leadership skills.
Whenever you step into a new role, you face unknown territory that you need to master quickly. For example, by taking on a leadership position in your company, you will have to learn how to create and implement an effective department strategy or how to motivate and inspire your team members. As you progress in your role, time eventually becomes your biggest constraint.
As a manager, a lot of learning happens organically, by trial and error and emulating role models. But if you want to drive results and truly have an impact on your team’s performance and the bottom line, you need to become intentional in your learning efforts.
Moonstar’s Management Essentials program addresses the challenge of defining an effective learning plan for new managers. In our research, we looked in depth at Tim Ferriss’ accelerated learning method. Ferriss is the author of four best-sellers, including “The Four-Hour Work Week” and “Tools of Titans”. His podcast focuses on deconstructing the tools and habits of elite performers. Over the years, he has been searching for the holy grail of learning – a fast, highly effective and easily replicable process. He eventually refined an accelerated learning method called DSSS.
DSSS is an acronym that stands for Deconstruction, Selection, Sequencing and Stakes. Ferriss claims he used this methodology to learn many diverse skills: from Spanish to cooking to ballroom dancing. Let’s delve deeper into each step.
This is a stage of exploration and gathering information. You start with a broad and lofty goal (say “learn how to run productive meetings”) and break it into small, manageable pieces. Accelerated learning is all about having a very specific learning goal. By deconstructing, you strive to answer the question – What are the minimal learnable units? The building blocks I should start with? One of the best ways to discover that is by searching and asking questions. Here are a few examples of questions that you can use to deconstruct any skill:
Let’s return to your big goal – learn how to run productive meetings. Following deconstruction, you may discover many building blocks. These could be: create an effective agenda, assign key roles, keep participants engaged, have each person state their point of view. Now it’s time to select your specific goal and understand what you should be focusing on to achieve it.
In this stage, you perform a 80/20 analysis, following the Pareto Principle, in order to answer the question – Which 20% of the blocks should I focus on to get 80% of the outcomes I want? For example, considering your experience and current challenges, you might select to learn about keeping participants engaged during meetings. Then, perform the same analysis to choose how you will learn this skill. Which 20% of learning activities will produce 80% of results? Those activities might include reading top blog articles and researching a book, or gathering best practices from top executives at your company. During selection, you first choose the most relevant learning goal. With that in mind, you then identify the few critical ways of learning that will help you achieve it.
Ferriss calls this stage “the most neglected secret sauce”. The goal is to answer the question – Which is the most effective learning sequence? The aim is to take those 20% activities that you’ve previously identified and put them in a logical progression. In accelerated learning, each material and learning activity builds on the one before, so you develop your skill exponentially. For the example above, consider what you need to know before starting to practice. Perhaps you should first read about engagement techniques, then shadow your manager, then learn best practices from top executives. Once you define your learning sequence, you can move on to mastering the topics through sustained practice.
In this stage, you strive to answer the question – How do I create real consequences to guarantee that I follow through? Building incentives into your learning progress, whether rewards or punishments, is a highly effective technique. As Steven Levitt, economist and best-selling author notes: “An incentive is a bullet, a key – an often tiny object with astonishing power to change a situation.” Data from stickk.com, a commitment platform, proves this point. Their research shows that adding incentives and accountability improves goal achievement rates from 25% to over 70%. For the example above, ask your manager to be your accountability partner. Do weekly check-ins to talk about new techniques, include those you will practice each week in your meeting agenda and send it to her. Thus, you will have an extra incentive to follow through. But, as a bonus, you will also develop a stronger relationship with your manager.
Josh Kaufman, the best-selling author of “The Personal MBA”, has always dreamed of learning to play the ukulele. When he finally decided to take on the challenge, he used Ferriss’ accelerated learning approach. He turned to the Internet to deconstruct the skill and discovered the best instructional material to study. When looking through songbooks, he noticed that most songs could be played using only 4 basic chords.
He also understood that before practicing, he needed to make sure he fixed and tuned his strings properly. Through selection, he decided to focus on the basic chord combinations and his learning sequence was comprised of tuning his strings and then practicing the chords. What about his incentive? Aside from fulfilling an old dream, he also wanted to sing for his newborn daughter, Lela.
DSSS is a powerful learning method, designed to help you master any skill faster and more effectively. So give it a try! Set a specific learning goal and identify the few learning activities that will yield the most results. Then arrange them in the right order and choose an accountability partner or add incentives to keep your motivation high.
Accelerated learning is one of your biggest allies, but if you are keen to further elevate your learning process, check out Moonstar’s Fundamentals of Management program. This learning journey is comprised of six micro-modular digital courses that will accelerate your leadership development.
What is the one skill that you will start with?