D.S.S.S – Timothy Ferriss’s Model for Rapid Learning

in Action Learning, Process Improvement, Quantified Self

I’ve been a fan of Timothy Ferriss for a number of years. Ferriss is best known for his popular blog and first book –  The 4-Hour Work Week – about hacking your life. He has since written The 4-hour Body and The 4-Hour Chef where he applies similar concepts to health and fitness and to cooking. Ferris intrigues me because of his fascination with researching interests, testing theories, and use of data to inform his learning. While he never directly mentions the science of improvement, he incorporates many of the concepts into his approach.

In The 4-Hour Chef, Ferriss introduces a model he uses for rapid learning with the acronym D.S.S.S: Deconstruct, Selection, Sequencing, and Stakes. He claims to have successfully applied this approach to rapidly learning ballroom dancing, spanish, swimming and a host of other activities. Here is a brief description of each of the steps.

Deconstruct. The first step aims to identify the key quality characteristics of the process to master. Ferriss does this by studying best practices and trying to figure out what elements appear essential to producing the results. This includes focusing on the outcome you are trying to achieve and how you will measure it. Ferris does not include process mapping specifically in this step.

Selection. Ferriss is familiar with the Pareto Principle and in the second step, he attempts to identify the quality characteristics that will produce the greatest result. What’s the 20% of activities that will produce 80% of the results.

Sequencing. Once Ferriss identifies the 20% he believes will achieve the greatest result, he focuses on the optimal order or sequencing of the process steps. He uses small testing pilots and measurement to build knowledge quickly. Ferriss does not describe rapid cycle PDSA testing, but instead uses two week blocks of time to generate comparison data; changing the sequence each time.

Stakes. Finally, Ferriss is well aware of human psychology and the role it plays in change. To address this, he adds an element of accountability. This may be a wager with himself to donate a predetermined amount to a charity if he doesn’t accomplish the results or maybe he’ll very publically share his efforts hoping people watching will motivate him. He believes this accountability is important to motivating success.

Ferriss has had great success applying this method to his rapid learning efforts over the years and has written fun books describing what he has discovered. Outside of the Pareto Principle, mention of improvement science is never explicit. Process mapping, rapid cycle PDSA testing, and statistical process control do not appear in any of Ferriss’s writings and it would be interesting to learn how his existing approach compares and how he could enhance his efforts through the application of improvement methods. To learn more about Timothy Ferriss and his 4-Hour Series, click here.