Author, learning expert, venture capitalist, human guinea pig, and poster boy for the “lifehacker” culture: Tim Ferriss is all this and more. In May 2013 he was the keynote speaker and most sought-after mentor at Mastermind Talks, a high-priced Toronto event that brought together Canadian and U.S. entrepreneurs with top-rank experts for two days of conversation, confessions and one-to-one networking.
Ferriss devoted most of his talk to learning how to learn, a personal journey he chronicled in his most recent book, The 4-Hour Chef: The Simple Path to Cooking Like a Pro, Learning Anything, and Living the Good Life. A brick-thick how-to tome overflowing with unconventional cooking advice, The 4-Hour Chef is really about how anyone can become an expert at anything, if they wish to do so. Ferriss calls it “accelerated learning for accelerated growth.” It’s a “must” skill for any entrepreneur who wants to overcome the challenges of today’s fast-changing markets.
At 36, Ferriss is a young man in a hurry. He has mastered the arts of kickboxing, the tango, and Japanese horse archery. He has experimented with “smart drugs” to improve his brain power and memory, and founded (and later sold) his own online nutritional supplements company, BrainQuicken. His previous books, The 4-Hour Workweek and The 4-Hour Body, were both No. 1 best-sellers on the New York Times list.
Are there skills you would like to learn, such as financial analysis, or technical knowhow, or Mandarin, or even swimming? Ferriss believes anyone can master these subjects, in less time than you’d expect.
“Think about a skill or experience you would like to get better at,” he says. “This Saturday, take a device-free day, and pursue one of these activities.”
He has worked with “smart drugs” to improve his memory, and studied true savants to learn how they master new subject matter. He noted that Daniel Tammet, a UK-based math genius, memorized the value of “pi” to more than 22,000 decimal places, and learned to speak Icelandic in a week. “His method is to ask very good questions,” Ferriss says. “People like him question the obvious; they question best practices.” When Ferriss wanted to learn the tango, for instance, he learned the woman’s part first—a clever role reversal that propelled him to the national semifinals of an Argentine tango competition.
Ferriss says his guiding tenet from success is this: “Do the opposite of what everyone else is saying, doing or selling.” He noted that in writing The 4-Hour Chef, he visited a Chicago restaurant that has changed the rules of the restaurant game. “They got rid of reservations,” he says. “They sold seats like a season of the opera, and they sold out in 10 second.” The result: “No more empty seats.”