The Tipping Point

What are the steps in learning a new skill?

First you hear about it. You think, hey, that’s something I could do! And you set about learning everything you can about the subject.

You’re limited by knowledge. You don’t know how to write an iPhone app/design a website/golf anywhere near par, so you watch others and read and try to learn as much as you can. The more you learn, the better you get.

This is the amateur period. You don’t quite know what you’re doing, and you’re not yet a force to be reckoned with in your new field of interest.

What happens at the end of this phase? When you’ve learned as much as you can from others, and the only way to improve from here on out is to practice and gain experience?

Well, you’ve reached the tipping point.

…and you’re not alone!

This happens to everyone, and applies to any new skill. There’s always a point where you make the transition from “reading about training for a marathon is helpful” to “now all I need to do is run!”

You probably knew that already. Here’s the useful bit:

The way you study and improve is very different before and after the tipping point. Here’s how you can maximize your gains — how good you get at this new skill! — before and after that point:

Before:

1. Breadth is more valuable than depth.

You should learn as widely as possible. The more topics you’re aware of in writing ActionScript/snowboarding/beekeeping, the better. Being informed helps you specialize post-tip, so you can focus on whatever you enjoy most.

2. Learn from as many resources as possible.

I’m sure your friend is fantastic at hacking perl/home decor/figure skating, but it’s always best to get a second (or third) opinion. You have to do your due diligence. Find another mentor, pick up a great book, subscribe to a few blogs (or magazines!) or take a course.

Diversification is key, because it ensures you’re getting the whole picture. The more sources you hear from, the less bias. You want a balanced opinion.

After:

1. Switch your focus to depth.

You know what you like about blogging/motorcycling/meditation, so focus on that. Become an expert. Your new goal is to be your friends’ and acquaintances’ go-to guy (or gal) about your new passion.

2. Share your knowledge.

Now that you’re one of the pros, it’s time to start paying back the web design/juggling/skydiving community. Help out on a few forums, start a blog, offer tutorials to close friends and family. Share your new love of your new favourite thing!

Regardless, I wish you well on your quest to learn something new. It’s an exciting time, and by keeping a few things in mind, you’ll be well on your way to becoming a maven in no time!

Tags: ,

2 Responses to “The Tipping Point”

  1. Simon MacDonald Says:

    I really like the Pragmatic Thinking and Learning book by Andy Hunt. There is a good chapter on using the Dreyfus Model of skill acquisition to become an expert. I can’t recommend this book highly enough.

  2. dan Says:

    That’s an interesting model. I can certainly see how it fits into pragmatic thinking. I have a few books on my to-read list, but I’ll jot that one down for sure; it sounds like my kind of thing.

    I based my tipping theory on watching students learn to program (I’ve volunteered at various high schools over the past few years). It’s a very primitive gauge of progress, but there’s a distinct point every semester where the students flip from constantly asking for help to constantly asking for more time :)

Leave a Reply