Following my review of The Four Hour Chef by Tim Ferriss, I’m posting my notes on the meta-learning content.
I haven’t followed the structure of the book in compiling these notes because perceptive thoughts pop up in unexpected places throughout its chapters and it was easier to collect them together in this way. I’m also biased towards areas that I think are more fundamental to learning.
Notes on their own are never a substitute for the source material. Often the job of a book is to sell you on a particular set of ideas and without that sales job the key points can seem pedestrian. ‘Choose the highest yield material’ is a good case in point. It seems innocuous but the author’s examples show it to be an exceptionally powerful principle, so it’s well worth reading the book itself.
Common failure points
- Overwhelm (breadth of material, high load on working memory)
- Unclear or inappropriate progression (some textbooks are formatted for the writers)
- Intimidation (complexity of material)
- Lack of motivation
- Expense (cost of entry and cost of practise)
Information gathering – people
- Extraordinary people (outliers) can be worth studying if there is proof that their results can be replicated by others. These are not necessarily the world’s most elite performers, but those who get results disproportionate to their efforts.
- Top performers do not necessarily know the causal factors of their success, nor make good teachers for beginners. To learn quickly, copy those who have also learned quickly.
- Look to emulate exceptional technique, rather than the naturally gifted or those with a brute force approach.
- Interview world class performers to identify key principles, common mistakes, outliers, training methods and resources. It is easier to contact world class practitioners who are no longer in the limelight, such as former Olympic athletes.
- Identify the rarely taught commonalities between top performers, including what they do but aren’t aware of.
Creating a syllabus
- Break material down to see common principles and simpler building blocks. In the case of cookery, this includes understanding how to combine flavours.
- Choose the highest yield material, for example, the most common one hundred English words make up fifty percent of all written material.
- Find auxiliary or ‘helper’ skills which allow you to practise a wider range of material. This means learning cookery techniques such as searing and braising, rather than memorising lots of individual recipes.
- Consider starting backwards, with practise drills that look at techniques from a different perspective.
- Ensure quick wins by increasing the margin of safety
- Identify the minimal effective dose: the least amount of work required to get the desired result
- Distil techniques to the fewest moving pieces
- Start by learning techniques that are less likely to fail, for example, braising requires less precise timing and temperature than grilling
- Target areas which leverage existing skills
Putting it into practise
- Write a prescriptive one-page summary (cheat sheet) of the key principles
- Write practical one page examples for practise which encompass the principles
- Conquer fears with low stakes practise, for example, using a plastic lettuce knife to gain confidence with basic cutting and chopping techniques
- Use simulation to practise without the need for elaborate setup, such as using dried beans to practise the motion for sautéing
- If possible, combine what you are learning with something of high interest. Tim Ferriss bought Japanese language books on Judo so that he’d be compelled to read them.
- Memorisation is helped by frequent breaks and the inclusion of odd material in the middle of a session
- Information that is hard to remember can often be encoded using mnemonics
- Once basic skills are internalised, short-hand instructions can be less stressful because you can read them at a glance
- Leverage the fear of loss and public humiliation by publicly betting on success.
- Make behavioural change small and temporary to lower initial resistance
- Focus on convenience to begin with – establishing habits is more critical than perfect performance
- It is possible to forecast setbacks and doing this helps lessen their effect on morale
- Make it measurable and a competitive game