How to Begin a New Skill

Of all the key moments in talent development, the most important and mysterious is the first ten seconds. The first few swings, the first notes, the first stumbly tries. It’s a tenuous time, because it’s a psychological fork in the road. Either you get the Good Feeling (“Hey, this is kinda fun!”), or the Bad Feeling (“Awww, I’ll never be any good”). In short, it’s either an on-ramp or a stop sign.

The deeper question here has to do with design. Namely, how do you create an environment that creates more on-ramps and avoids stop signs?

As it happens, I just came across some videos that do a nice job of teaching how to do just that. They feature Diddy, a two-year-old kid in Yorkshire, England. His father, a PE teacher named Stuart Owen, has videotaped his experiences coaching Diddy in number of sports. (And it’s working — the little dude is pretty amazing. Click here to check out the full set.)

While the videos are useful for parents, I think they also provide a nice blueprint for anybody who wants to start out on the right foot.


  • 1) Keep it small. Don’t be ambitious. Focus on one simple core action, not a whole complicated series of them.
  • 2) Have a clearly defined, do-able target. Don’t aim vaguely or abstractly — this is about creating a small game, with clear feedback so the person can instantly see for themselves where they’re at — how they can get closer next time.
  • 3) Make it fun. Create an environment free of judgement, and where successes are celebrated like crazy.

The payoff of this design is evident: you can see how much Diddy loves it. Not because he’s being praised (which is nice), but rather because he’s in an environment tilted to help him discover an immensely powerful fact: trying new skills, while it feels strange at first, isn’t that hard after all.