“Do as little as needed, not as much as possible.”
– Henk Kraaijenhof, Coach of Olympic and World Champion Merlene Joyce Ottey
I pulled that quote out of the new Tim Ferriss book, “The 4-Hour Chef”. If you are not familiar with Tim Ferriss, he is the author of two New York Times’ best sellers, “The 4-Hour Workweek” and “The 4-Hour Body”. Tim is one of a few biohacker-types that I follow on a regular basis. He is always experimenting and trying to improve processes in all facets of his life. He explains this book as being the third part of a trilogy of books that cover how to be healthy, wealthy and wise. This book being the latter of those three principles.
I was, immediately, drawn to this book for two reasons.
First, I like to cook and aspire to be more sophisticated in my culinary skills. This book provides just the right amount of knowledge on that topic. Tim has a way of boiling things down to the most important parts and giving you the information that will provide the best bang for the buck. That leads me to my second reason for getting this book.
The main purpose of the book is to explain Tim’s process that he uses to learn things quickly. He calls it Meta-Learning.
Before writing this book, Tim probably couldn’t boil an egg. He chose the topic of cooking, because he was as far from being a chef as you could get. As he taught himself how to be a high-level chef, he painstakingly detailed every part of his journey (there are over a thousand pictures and illustrations in this book). Throughout the book, he breaks down his whole system of how he starts from ground-zero on a new skill and takes it to a world-class level (he defines world-class as being in the top 5 percent).
After listening to several interviews with him, prior to the book launch, I was hooked. I had to get the book, because it aligned so closely to what I’m trying to do with my pool game. I’m trying to create the shortest possible path to becoming a pro-level pool player. I’m not suggesting that this is an easy task or a task that anyone can do, but I believe that there are processes that can help shorten that path. What I discovered is that I’m already doing some of the things that Tim talks about, but there are other things that he talks about that I can use to take it to the next level.
In the next section, below, I’m going to give you a brief overview of Tim’s process and how it might be applied to becoming world-class in competitive pool playing. So, please, keep reading below this video.
However, if you want to hear Tim explain this in more detail, you can watch his interview with David Siteman Garland of TheRiseToTheTop.com…here is the video.
So, how do we apply this “Meta-Learning” process to learning how to play pool at a world-class level or what I would consider to be a professional level. Here is a high-level overview of the process that Tim uses.
He uses an acronym to describe his process for learning anything in 6 months or less. It is called DiSSS.
I’m going to attempt to explain this and give my own views on how it can be applied to playing competitive pool.
Di – Deconstruction: This is the process of taking the desired skill and breaking it down into the essential parts. The trick, here, is to find the correct list of “essential” parts. On the path to mastery, many people fail to recognize the need to master these essential skills, which keeps them from maximizing their potential. I believe this is a common mis-step in pool. To utilize this technique to move a pool player to be pro-level, quickly, it is critical that we determine what pieces of the puzzle must be mastered. How do we find these pieces of the puzzle? Here are 3 techniques/steps that Tim uses to deconstruct a process…
1. Reducing: This is simply looking at the daunting task of learning a complex subject and reducing it down into small pieces. So, let’s break-down the sport of playing pool. When you watch someone play at a really high level, you realize how far you have to go to get to that point. On the surface, it seems to be an insurmountable mountain to climb. So many skills to master. Perhaps, it requires some innate ability that we don’t have…right? Well, lets break this sucker down into smaller bite-size pieces. If I were to list them out, the list would look something like this…
Position Play/Cue Ball Control
The Break Shot
The Jump Shot
Playing Under Pressure
I’m sure I missed something important in there, but you get the idea. Now, we have to continue to break this down further to find out what we need to really focus on. That leads me to the next concept…
2. Interviewing: This is were we look for anomalies. By this I mean, we look for unusual successes. Look for players that have succeeded against the odds. Look for players that use unusual techniques to master certain skill sets. Look for players that excel in specific areas and find out how they got there.
Freddy Bentivegna is a good example of such a player. If you were going to master the skill of banking, you would get his book, “Banking With The Beard” and find out any other information about how he mastered that skill, perhaps get some one-on-one time with him to develop this skill further.
C.J. Wiley would be an example of someone that you could model to master the skill of fundamental stance, stroke, alignment with his new DVD at CJWiley.com. Again, look at how C.J. developed those fundamental skills. I’m not an expert on CJ, but I believe his martial arts skills helped give him a good foundation. You can see how we can start to discover ways to compound our efforts in developing certain skill sets.
Max Eberle could be a good example of someone to discover inside secrets of how to play solid position and/or game strategy. Through his Pro Pool Academy, he becomes more easily accessible.
My point here is not to specifically endorse anyone for each of these skill sets. Rather, it is to explain the process of finding someone that has had unusual success in certain areas and ask them questions like…
“What are the biggest mistakes players make in their stance?”
“If you had 4 weeks to train me for a bank pool match and had a million dollars on the line, what would the training look like?”
“What are the biggest myths about aiming systems?”
“What are the biggest time-wasters that you see players doing during practice time?”
Actually, this process has given me a lot of ideas about how I’m going to proceed with my podcast and any future interviews that I do. This is a really good approach to learning specific skills and eliminating wasteful practices.
3. Reversal: This is a process to get you thinking “out of the box” on different parts of the game. Sometimes, doing things totally backwards, compared to conventional wisdom, can yield superior results. Opposite-handed training might be a good example of this concept. The concept of learning to play with your non-dominant hand, can increase the improvement in your dominant hand. This is a technique that could accelerate improvement, but is not a “normal” path to high-level play.
Hopefully, this makes sense, how he uses those techniques to assemble a list of critical areas that need to be mastered. Also, through this process, he will often see trends or commonalities when talking to different experts. He will start to be able to spot the things that are most critical to becoming world-class in a particular discipline.
That leads me to the next letter of the DiSSS acronym.
S – Selection: This is the application of the 80/20 rule. If you are not familiar with Pareto’s Law, it is the idea that 80% of your gains will come from 20% of your efforts. Tim also introduced me to the concept of MED (Minimum Effective Dose). Simply put, this is the concept of applying the smallest change possible or the lowest volume of work to achieve the desired results. Getting the biggest “bang-for-the-buck” from minimal effort.
With these two concepts, we want to find out what skills that we can improve to get the biggest results. From my aforementioned list of skills, we need to find the 20% that we need to focus on to get us to the next level. Even if you think you know what these 20% are, you would be smart to use the interviewing process to see “patterns” in what skills got players to a high level of play. You may find that you have been focusing on the wrong areas of your game. You may find that the amount of time that you spend on one aspect of your game, may not be proportional to the amount of gains you are seeing in your overall performance.
Of course, I have my own opinions on what these 20% of activities are for my personal game to get me to the next level. Depending on your skill level, this might be slightly different for you. Though, I believe that fundamentals make up most of this 20% and give you 80% of your success on the table. Those fundamentals would be stance, alignment and stroke. These are what need to be mastered.
Many players think they have the fundamentals mastered, but they actually don’t. Most players don’t understand that these are the skills that correlate to 80% of their success on the table, IMHO, and don’t give those skills the appropriate attention and development that they deserve. That is why applying this process helps to speed up the learning process. It helps you to focus on what really matters and stop wasting too much time developing skills that are of lesser importance.
One last thought on this concept of “selection”…
I have to chuckle when I hear the statement that a 9-ball or 10-ball match really just comes down to who can break better. Then I watch the match and each guy is missing shots, getting out of position, missing a safety, etc. These are the things that cause a player to lose in the vast majority of matches that I watch. Even with world-class players. Yes, with very high-level players (The likes of Shane Van Boening), the break is a big part of the game, but too many players use that as an excuse to put their head in the sand and not see that 20% that could help them avoid the mistakes that cost them the match.
No matter what level of play that you achieve, you should always continue to use this 80/20 rule to evaluate what you need to work on to get to the next level. I encourage you to continue to seek the opinion of another, whether it be a coach or another player to help validate that you are focusing your energy on that 20% that will give you the most gains.
S – Sequencing: This is the concept that you must find the proper order in which to do things. Many players are struggling, because they are trying to do the “right” things, but in the wrong order. You may be oblivious to this fact. Also, there may be a sequence to doing things, contrary to conventional wisdom, that will provide superior results. These things you can discover through the interviewing process and discovery during the learning process. Just keep in mind that there is an optimal sequence to performing each task around the pool table. The challenge is to find that optimal sequence.
The sequence for the pre-shot routine comes to mind. I have been guilty of doing things out of order in my approach to the table and getting down into my stance. I’ve learned some tips, through Max Eberle’s Pro Pool Academy, that helped me define the correct sequence of “moves” to get my alignment more consistent when getting into my stance. This was a huge discovery for me. It is one more step towards my personal mastery of this game. Every part of the game has an optimal sequence…the stroke, sighting the shot, standing up after the shot is complete, etc. Finding these ideal sequences is another way to short-cut the learning time and help you learn this game faster.
Of course, you will want to find these optimal sequences for the 20% of skills that will give you the 80% gains. You can see how these concepts all tie together to compound learning.
S – Stakes: This one will be pretty familiar to most pool players. This is the concept of using some sort of motivation to drive your development and your success, giving you a reason to want to make these changes to your game. This is why so many high-level players learned by gambling and/or playing on the road. They used “stakes” to force them to figure out what they needed to change to SURVIVE. In many cases, if they didn’t win, they didn’t eat or put gas in their tank. This idea of using stakes, should not be underestimated. After all, you have to be willing and motivated to do what it takes or it just won’t get done.
I think this is why it is so common to play pool for money. It is the most common/easiest way to apply pressure to yourself to perform. However, remember, applying these stakes won’t compensate for a deficit in the other areas we already talked about. We have all seen people try to get better at pool by playing for money, but they still fail. It can be a hard thing to watch someone struggle with that approach.
It can drive players to quit playing altogether.
This is because they haven’t looked at the other parts of their game and apply the principles mentioned above. They are relying on pressure, alone. They think that they just need to bet-bigger. Sadly, many players are destroyed with this line of progression (err…regression).
The ones that end up excelling, ultimately, have figured out the “secret code” through self-applying this monetary pressure. It is simple, they figured out the code, but…could they have figured it out in a shorter amount of time? Possibly. Maybe if they had used this approach and really focused on what gives the biggest advantage.
Breaking down the game in this fashion could shorten the path to being a great pool player, if you are willing to go into it with that open-mind, willingness to think differently and search for those anomalies in the pool world that can help you unlock those secrets much faster. I wish I had taken this approach 20 years, ago.
Like a lot of people that love pool, I spent a lot of time learning every aspect of this game. Some I’ve mastered better than others. I’ve dedicated the so-called 10,000 hours that are needed to be an expert. Yet, I’m still not at the level that I want.
However, I now realize that the 20% that yields the 80% of performance that I desire…I have not mastered, yet. If I would have focused on that 20% over the last 2 decades, I truly believe that I would be much further along than I am today. I believe that I would have done it in less than the “required” 10,000 hours.
Oh well. At least, I’m more clear on what I need to do. Now I need to really focus and apply these concepts to what I’m doing and see what happens.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on these ideas. Do you think this could help your pool game?