Friday, December 05, 2014

The Juice

I got through the wobbly bits for my first 100 hours of piano playing. I am still very very much a beginner, but I can tell that I really enjoy it when the music is able to just come. I had to start from the beginning again after a long gap from playing. When I was a little chap, I did some choral singing before my voice went through the turmoils of puberty, but I never played a musical instrument. I learnt where Middle C was when I worked as an assistant teacher in between school and university and did the first two grades of piano. I tried to keep it up at university. I bought a full size keyboard that took up most of my dorm room. My first ever trip to from Durban to Cape Town was on the train with my keyboard. So I always knew I wanted to give music a go, but never had a proper chance where opportunity met priority. After a year or two at university, studies took priority and the piano fell away. So as a first 100 hour project, it doesn't get to the heart of what I am wanting to do with this blog. I knew I wanted to play, it was just a case of finding time.

The truth is it is one thing to think about something on the side, and another to actually do it in reality. So I have tried to be patient and plot in the first few months of this project. I know that I will carry on with piano, but next year I will get into the meat of new 100 hour projects. I think we are too quick to define who we are and what we are good at. I love the idea of Malcolm Gladwell's 10,000 hours from Outliers. At its core he tries to dispel or at least diminish the idea that success comes from pure luck or innate talent. Inspired by this book, Dan McLaughlin (who happens to be roughly my age) decided to start golf having never played a full round and dedicate 10,000 hours of purposeful practice to it. Watching his story is fascinating. One issue with dedicating 10,000 hours is deciding what that should be to? If your goal isn't to become world class, but rather just to get to the point you are good enough to really get pleasure out of it, how much time do you need? Also, giving up your job to dedicate 10,000 hours to something is likely something most people just can't do. Rather than deciding what we are good at and not good at, I like the idea of coming at it with an open mind. What skills do you need to develop to be able to get over the initial hump till you can find out if there is enough love to power you on?

Josh Kaufman and Tim Ferriss are two lifestyle designers  who probably get closer to what I am aiming at. What worries me with goals of being world class is that whether you succeed or not is defined by something external. How well are others doing? It is one of the biggest risks in investment management. People are very happy with 10% returns when everyone else has lost 10%, but upset with the same 10% when everyone else gets 20%. They do silly things because they get upset when they underperform and so keep switching.  Josh and Tim focus on the early stages. How do you get competent and how do you cut out the noise and do the stuff that matters first? This is more focused on your own performance than being world class. How do you get to the juice?

I thought I had come up with a cunning idea with 'The First 100 hours' then discovered Josh's book. He does have a slightly different focus. 100 hours is chunky. It is about the length I spent studying some of the key subjects in my degree. My approach to studying was rather structured so I knew how long I had spent. 100 hours is enough to do something reasonably significant. It took me about 100 hours to feel comfortable touch typing, for example. It is also short enough that someone who is doing a full time job can play too. You could commit to doing 5 hours a week (say three nights a week and two hours on one of the weekend days) for 5 months. You can also power through something in a focussed week of holiday. In my dream world, you will take up your own 100 hour projects and write to me about it. That way, we can find out about the obstacles various people have in taking up new things that could be a source of tremendous pleasure.

The actual timing (100 hours) is less important to me than the art of trying new things. What are the barriers? Is there something you say you can't do that you haven't actually tried to do? If the relatively small commitment of 100 hours could get you there, would you do it?

Come on. Let's have some fun. Write to me at 

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