I am sure countless gurus, life stories of people, your parents would have conveyed you the message to never give up. Let us take Sachin Tendulkar’s example. The cricketing legend, who is arguably the all time best batsman in the world, was at his epitome in 2004, when he suffered from a terrible case of tennis elbow. He couldn’t even lift his bat let alone play his signature cover drives and flicks. But he did not give up, he practised and strengthened his elbow until he became an even better batsman than he was before his injury. Great story, right? So does it make sense to never give up? Or should you know when to give up?
Learn from Robert Kearns
Let us discuss the case of Robert Kearns. He invented the intermittent windshield wipers. He took the idea to Ford but they weren’t interested. But a few years later, Ford came out with intermittent wipers on its cars. It turns out they were interested in the idea but not interested in paying Robert for it. But after Robert Kearns sued Ford and a few other car manufacturers he did win a few suits and was awarded millions of dollars.
However, he did not give up at this point and plowed all his earnings into other lawsuits. He became obsessed with winning each and every lawsuit and wanted to be the only person to have legal right to build those wipers. He fired all the law-firms and became his own lawyer. In the process, his marriage fell apart, he missed several filing deadlines and finally a federal judge dismissed all his standing lawsuits because his patents had expired.
Robert Kearns is a classic example of someone who should have given up. Had he given up, he would have had millions and a lovely family to spend it with. But isn’t this confusing? On one hand we have stories of people who never gave up. And on the other there are these people who should have given up. It all boils down to the fact that one should know when to give up.
How to know when to give up?
A lot of people who would have read Malcolm Gladwell’s books, would have heard about the idea that one has to put in 10,000 hours to become an expert. But do most of us really need to become experts? Or how do you know before putting in 10,000 hours if it is the right thing for you to become an expert at?
Here enters Josh Kaufman, bestselling author of “the first 20 hours”. He discovered it when he became a new dad. He was so sleep deprived all the time that he became frustrated that he did not have much time to learn any new skill – something he loved. So he tried to find out a way to learn new skills in as little time as possible. What he realized was that it took him about 20 hours to be good enough at a new skill. After 20 hours, he would get good enough to correct himself and keep improving. And when he says 20 hours, he means deliberate practice for 20 hours, not setting a clock timer for 20 hours and mindlessly practicing.
What do you mean deliberate practice?
I mean practice the specific skill in a structured setup. A setup where you can get coaching and feedback to improve over time. Plus once you master a part of the skill, increasing the difficulty, so that you can keep on improving. Just practicing mindlessly without feedback and correction isn’t deliberate practice.
If even after 20 hours of deliberate practice, you don’t seem to be getting any closer to your goal, it might make sense to re-evaluate if you should give up. Here are the steps summarised for you:
- Have you practiced the skill you want to learn for 20 hours (with feedback, focus and incremental improvements? If no, then first finish 20 hours of deliberate practice.
- After 20 hours of deliberate practice, check if you are getting results. If you aren’t then you might not be doing deliberate practice. Fix the process. If even after fixing the process, you don’t seem to be getting results, then you should evaluate if you should quit.
- In case you are getting results, you should also evaluate if it is taking you closer to your dream. Sometimes we set our goals and then set out to learn skills. In the midst of this we forget to evaluate why we were learning these skills in the first place. You might realize mid-way that your original goal itself is flawed.
The core idea is that of 80:20. With 20% effort you should cover 80% of the task. If you are not able to, then putting a lot more effort to get to 100% would probably lead to failure. The 20 hour rule is actually pretty effective to quickly figure out when to give up.
What do you think? How do you decide when to give up?