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There's no speed limit (2009) (sivers.org)
699 points by tnorthcutt on March 27, 2012 | hide | past | favorite | 194 comments

Surprised to see a post of mine here on Hacker News. (First time in a long time. Thanks!)

Feel free to ask me absolutely anything here.

I guess this is a good opportunity to thank you. I read it a few years ago and it really changed the way I live.

My current startup only exists because of this post.

Whoo-hoo! That's awesome to hear. Thank you.

Sometimes I wonder why I take hours to write up and edit (and edit and edit) these blog posts on my site. Thanks for the reminder. I really appreciate it.

Great post Derek! What would be your best advice for someone with no technical skills (except html/css) who is going to start to learn how to code?

Since our interview in Singapore I've decided to devote myself 100% to learning to code (Rails to start with) during the second half of the year (I applied the 80/20 principal to my documentary re-interviews and travel).

When someone asks: "I really want to learn how to code, what should I do?" the answer is always the same: It's possible + you've just got to devote the time toward learning. If you are passionate about it you will stick with it. The answer has always been pretty clear for me: you just sit down and start learning how to code.

Basically, learning technical skills for me are kind of an inevitability rather than something I'm thinking about. I'm just looking for advice in regards to learning and efficiency. I really like your ideas + philosophy about self-learning, and remember you talking about learning methods in a Mixergy interview, e.g. spaced repetition software for language learning. Any similar advice about coding?

Basically, is there a way to increase the speed limit when learning to code?

Would you also recommend working on a web application while learning to code (since you started CD Baby in a similar way)?

Thanks in advance for the reply :)

The best approaches I've found are:




But I do think it's crucial to have some little project that's actually live and launched, that people are using, that you can add things to and constantly improve.

It helps you get immediate feedback, and remember why you're doing what you're doing: to make other people's lives better!

You don't want to just be learning in a vaccuum for months or years, not being of benefit to anyone except some maybe-future-self years from now.

Even if you start with some plain HTML site, and add nothing but a dumb "The time is now " + Time.now() -- then at least you've started, and you can improve from there.

As you go through Code School, or Eloquent JavaScript, or whatever other ways you learn, try to find a way to apply what you've learned to your site.

And lastly: learning by NECESSITY is the most effective way. If you HAVE to figure out how to make your site do some kind of function because you have people complaining to you that it's not, then you'll go figure out how to do it, and remember it with an intensity that you just don't get from, "OK, now it's time for Chapter 7."

> If you HAVE to figure out how to make your site do some kind of function because you have people complaining to you that it's not, then you'll go figure out how to do it [...]

That's very similar to advice from Patio11 that I just read over on Askolo¹:

> Rate of learning increases by an absolutely stupid amount by launching a product and having users [...]

1. http://askolo.com/patio11

There are so many resources out there for people who want to code. Start doing a project, search for specific problems, you should be able to build something so quickly

I had read this story the first time, and now I've remembered right away the question I couldn't ask then: without a Kimo near, is there any book that explain the same harmony knowledge and allows a no-speed-limit approach?

Closest book I've found on the "no speed limit" approach was Tony Robbins' “Awaken the Giant Within”. It could have just been the timing of when I read it. Tim Ferriss told me the book that changed the way he saw the world was “Maximum Achievement” by Brian Tracy, but when I read it, it seemed like conventional wisdom. So maybe it's just timing.

What I liked about Tony Robbins' message was this:

* - Change happens in an instant. People act like change takes years, but really it's almost always a key moment, an instant where you change the way you think about something, or make a promise to yourself to change the way you act (even though it feels strange at first). It may have taken years of procrastination to get to that pain point, but the change itself is instant.

* - You can change the way you think, so you can change the way you feel. People say, "I can't help the way I feel." or "This is just who I am." But you were an almost-blank slate when born, and most of what you think was just taught into you by someone, so you can un-do it, and replace it with any beliefs or even emotions that support your goal. He gives a great example of funerals in New Orleans: how they play sad music for a few minutes, then break into celebration. We think that death is universally sad, right? But this shows there's another way to think about it. So you can choose to feel happy about each person that rejects you ("one step closer!"), or choose to feel disgusted by the thought of procrastinating ("it's my mortal enemy!"), or whatever you choose to feel.

Actually there were probably 100 other things like this that changed the way I think, but just seem commonplace to me now because I've been thinking them so long.

Grab any of those classic self-help books like "Think and Grow Rich" or "Maximum Achievement" or "Awaken the Giant Within". When read at the right time in your life, it can really change everything.

(( Oh, just noticed you asked about harmony. All the stuff he taught be was very basic jazz harmony that almost any book on the subject will teach. The key was how fast he taught it. ))

Some great advice. I'd like to add:

- Change: change is a sequence of stages you move through according to well-defined processes: (1) pre-contemplation (where you haven't started considering change, or are even aware it's an option), (2) contemplation (where you're considering change but haven't decided), (3) preparation (where you've decided to change and start preparing for the consequences of change), (4) action (where you actually practice change) and (5) maintenance (where you maintain change - going to gym once is change, but doesn't really count :)

That 'instant' you refer to is familiar to me and IMO it is when your brain collects enough awareness of your push/pull factors to move you from preparation (3) to action (4). Many people underestimate how critical preparation is, and for most people steps 1, 2 and 3 are not conscious at all and you will go back and forth over them for years. If you're quitting smoking but smoking gives you a break from your annoying boss, or it's how you socialise, or gives you access to the cute guy/girl you're into, and you go unprepared (unaware) into action and quit smoking you are highly likely to relapse (i.e. go back to stage 1 or 2).

I highly recommend reading Prochaska et al.'s "Changing for Good" (http://www.amazon.com/Changing-Good-Revolutionary-Overcoming...) to understand about the stages of change, how to evaluate where you are w.r.t. a certain change and if you're ready to move forward to the next stage, and the processes that help you move from one stage to the next (taster: 'commitment' is only suitable from the 3rd stage onwards, and can actually hurt your chances of successfully changing if you commit when you're in an earlier stage!).

- Changing the way you think: David Burns' books, particularly the "Feeling Good Handbook" (http://www.amazon.com/Feeling-Good-Handbook-David-Burns/dp/0...), and Helmstetter's "What to say when you talk to yourself" (http://www.amazon.com/What-Say-When-Talk-Yourself/dp/0671708...)

- Awaken the Giant is a great book, and I get the timing thing you talk about. I read it first over ten years ago and it meant nothing to me. Having gained a bit of experience since then I listened to it recently about a month ago and suddenly I could relate to 90% of what was being said, and Robbins helped solidify a bunch of ideas that had previously just been floating around in my head.

I've read "Think and Grow Rich" 5+ times.. in print great book. I make sure to listen to an audio copy at least once every six months to keep it fresh in my mind.

What's that? You just started what would be a great blog post with this comment?

Related: thanks for your writing Derek, it's inspirational.

I've seen this post before, but I was glad to reread it. A bit off-topic, but could you tell us about your sleep schedule?

6 hours has always been enough for me.

At Berklee, I'd get a piano room every night at 10pm until midnight, when they closed. Then I'd sleep from 1am to 7am, practice some more, and go to class.

I was quite driven.

Kind of like someone who really feels if they just work their ass off they can be the next Zuckerberg, 20 years ago, being a successful musician felt more attainable. It felt like if I just practiced my ass off, wrote a lot of great songs, and put myself where the action is, I could be successful.

That kind of "I can almost taste it" feeling is the most amazing motivation, isn't it?

My friends called me "the robot" because I never hung out, never partied, never sat around in the cafeteria eating with them. I'd just grab a peanut butter sandwich and get back to work. Couldn't waste a single minute on the road to success!

6 hours has always been enough for me.

Yep, that's at least one genetic advantage you have on most of us.

Yeah, that "I have no innate abilities" line didn't quite sit right with me -- there's one, at least. My first thought there was "attribution error".

> Yep, that's at least one genetic advantage you have on most of us.

I think I kind of have the same problem as you do: not enough/too much sleep that messes up my day. But is this "genetic" like you saying? I don't think so. Can you point to any directions where to read about this, or at least, how to get better on sleeping enough hours?



I am not sure how you can get better at something which is most likely genetic.

I work full time and have a not terrible commute, and if I want to eat healthy and get a bit of exercise and spend just a tiny amount of time with friends and family... well, it's hard to get the hours of sleep I genetically need to function 100%.

Now, I can go for a very long time sleeping no more than 6 hours a night, but I can feel it slowly killing me.

I remember a little hanging out. This ring a bell Derek?

"Don't give a f--k about roaches....tryin get em out of my mother f--kin head......can't get em out of my mother f--kin head"

hey Mark! You still remember our classic song! ☺

Were there times when you considered giving up 'being the robot?'

And looking back, do you feel that it was all worth it? Or would you make different decisions if you knew then what you know now?

I'd do it all again the same way. It was wonderful.

I was following my interests 100% without letting peer pressure convince me to do something I didn't want to do. (Hang out.)

I showed myself what I could do. Priceless.

I remember a little hanging out and/or partying. This ring a bell Derek...

"Don't give a f--k about roaches....tryin get em out of my mother f--kin head.....can't get em out of my mother f--kin head"

Yeah I was wondering how you balanced your personal life. Glad you had friends even though you were a robot haha

Hi Derek, I looked up your post when it first came out in 2009 and along with a bunch of other things, it pushed me to learn how to play guitar. Fast forward to 3+ years later, I'm now trying to move from simply drilling the different scale/modal patterns to really knowing how to improvise and solo. Was wondering what's your take on this? I've always been a very systematic person but I don't think drilling patterns are helping me very much. Let me know what you think.

Take the advice of Benny from http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Click around and read some of his stuff there.

Apply his language advice to playing.

One of his main points is to just throw yourself into conversation in a strange country. Even if you only know 3 words and aren't prepared. Be scared. Mess up. Be embarrassed, but keep going.

You can't just stay in the shed. You have to get out and play with others, be scared, mess up, get embarrassed, and keep going.

Thanks for the advice. I'll go to the guitar meetup in my area and try to solo during the jam sessions. Also, it's always very intriguing to see how people are learning my first language (Mandarin).

Here's a random guy on the internet's take... Start simply by limiting yourself to 4 notes. Wail, hammer-on, pull-off, and bend them until you can make them talk. Add extra notes out of the scale after you get better...

For ex., under a minor chord pick the IV-V-VII-I notes (For Amin that's D-E-G-A, play that A an octave above root.) Just sit there and play those 4 notes with bends, pull offs, slide ups and mix up the rhythm until it gets some soul. Whatever you do, don't be systematic. beer helps... and record yourself so you can review for what works and what doesn't.

How do you manage your time and track your productivity. If its not too personal can you give us a framework of your daily time table.

I was wondering that myself!

So I wrote my first Android app, to track every minute of every day. See https://github.com/50pop/NowNowNow if interested.

Most of my time these days is spent studying some new programming languages and techniques (Ruby, Rails, Sinatra, Sequel, JavaScript, jQuery, Backbone). Less time spent turning that learning into real creation. Soon... soon....

That app sounds interesting. Is it in the Android Market/Play Shop?

It's not in Android market. Just installed directly on to my phone. I should probably package it and put it up there.

In the meantime, feel free to fork it and use it yourself.

This is probably asking too much but for those of us who are not familiar do you have a link for this?

+1 for interest in this app. From what I can find it is a private app created for himself.

How to you focus? Do you also face issue with your focus some time in life?

See my other comment here about the drive to "be the next Zuckerberg".

Then look into the conditions of "flow" : http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flow_%28psychology%29

1. A clear set of goals : you know exactly what needs to be done next.

2. The task is not too easy, but not too hard. It's just at the edge of your ability.

3. The task gives you immediate feedback.

When you're engaged in that kind of work, you FOCUS! That's why video games are so addictive! They play up these 3 conditions so well. You have no problem focusing when playing a video game!

Also it's pretty crucial to have all this work be leading to a goal that you want so badly - whether it's to be a millionaire, to be famous, to be in Y Combinator, whatever.

Then it's also crucial to have this goal be so close that you know if you just keep working well that it's very likely you'll get there.

Get those situations lined up, and you'll have no problem focusing!

(( And yes, I'm embarrassed to admit I have a major problem with focus in my life right now. Apparently it's kind of common for recent mutli-millionaires who have surpassed all their previous goals. What's next? How can I top this? Do I want to? Do I just retire now? I have some new goals, but they're not burning goals. And I just realized they aren't matching steps #1, 2, 3, above. Hmmm.... ))

> Then look into the conditions of "flow"

Since I was a kid, I would have these rare moments of intense calmness. Certain things would set it off: the sound of paper brushing together when someone is reading a book. I've also had this happen when listening to certain people talk; their voice or mannerisms trigger it. Other strange things also trigger it, like the sound of secadas in the summer. The older I get the more rare I experience it, but I've yet to hear anyone else talk about it. When I've explained this feeling to people, they look at me like I am crazy. I started to wonder if this elated feeling is so extreme for me because I'm generally tense, and so, extreme relaxation is so absolute in my case. Flow sounds like a similar experience. Maybe it's the same?

Are you talking about strange tingling sensations at the back of your head. If you are check out: http://anti-valentine.hubpages.com/hub/ASMR.

I used to get it a lot when I was younger, normally when people were doing me a favour I wasn't expecting or they were going out of their way to help me. I've also had it when getting my hair cut.

Throwaway account, as I have also had the crazy look.

I believe this is also known as frisson. See /r/frisson for tons of media that can "induce" this. There was also an article in the WSJ that talks about what specific changed in music causes this.

The most interesting thing I found was that even by just reading the WSJ article explaining the music, I can feel the shivers.

http://www.reddit.com/r/Frisson http://online.wsj.com/article/SB1000142405297020364600457721...

Thanks for the links, I've tried to auto-induce the sensation with sound or images but it doesn't seem to work for me. It appears to just be a people thing.

Don't give up. It is something that can be practiced and expanded into. I've struggled with poetry, but made a recent breakthru in finding a specific author. You may need a specific "seed" to get you into that place.

Wow. Dude. Don't hide behind a throwaway account - this is an incredible find. You have no idea how long I wanted something in hand to explain to others. I genuinely appreciate that.

I know what you mean. It's good to try and explain it to others, but unless it happens to you it's a bit tough to explain the sensation. I'm glad i was able to help.

Also, see frission or "cold chill"[1].

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cold_chill

I always figured the head-tingling sensation while getting a hair cut was a hold over from our ancestral primates who needed to be groomed by one another and thus needed some pleasant sensory feedback to encourage seeking it out.

For me, it's more than just head tingling, it's a flood of utter joy and elation. It's an awesome experience when it happens. Quite where it originates from no one appears to know, and because it appears to be a good experience, no research is going into figuring out why it occurs (which is reasonable).

Fascinating sub-discussion! I didn't realize other people experienced this same thing.

I get this when I watch someone who is intensely focused on something slow and repetitive. The best example I remember from my childhood is being mesmerized watching someone sort a deck of cards.

I still get this, and have learned to set up situations that can trigger it (good adult example is having someone slowly "write" text on my back with their finger).

I originally thought everyone had the sensation, it was only when i mentioned it to my wife that i realised that wasn't the case.

Similarly. I then thought it was because I was so wound up all the time that maybe this relaxation was what other people experienced as a normal attribute of their life. Turns out this is not the case.

I'm only just now learning it's not the case. I never really discussed it with anyone but I pretty much figured it was a common occurance for everyone. Wow.

Surely there must be more "cool stuff" to do? Also, how satisfying is helping others achieve their goals, and how much does it motivate you? Trying to "top" yourself doesn't sound right, but trying to find the things that match #1, 2, 3 sounds more like it.

Yeah, honestly I'm learning Rails, Sinatra, Sequel, Nginx, JavaScript, jQuery, and Backbone, all back-to-back from books and test projects, quite intensely, and not really matching those 1,2,3 steps, because I'm often in too deep over my head without a clear vision of what I need to do next. It's discouraging.

But I am quite driven to turn my next app/business ideas into reality : http://50pop.com/code

Definitely not trying to "top" CD Baby. Just following what fascinates me. Just not quite as intensely as when I was so driven to be a rock star. ☺

Derek in a strange twist I find myself here for the first time. I don't even know what "hacker news is" but in my "go with the flow" state of mind I thought I'd click through a link. I've read the comments below and in reference to your not wanting to "top cdbaby" I would say that you exude such carefree joy, such an "anything is possible" vibe that I'm sure any business venture you embark on will succeed! I remember meeting you years ago at a music conference in New York. You had such a likeable, warm magnetism, it was YOU that I bought into and not CDBABY per se, because I instantly felt that you were an honest, trustworthy "positive energy". So I thank you deeply! I have a challenge I would love your perspective on. In the area of financial flow, I've come to believe I somehow have a block that is impeding it. I have read insane amount of books on the subject and through alot of intropection, believe this may be the case. HOWEVER...when I see someone who has been successful in this area such as yourself, I wonder, did you always feel finanically abundant, or worthy of it or somehow knew that it would all fall into place? Can you offer any thoughts on getting oneself to a place where you believe it is possible for yourself as you ARE creating something worthy and beautiful? Continued blessings, Leila

It's really hard for me to know what was just dumb luck and what was great strategy.

For example, I'm tempted to give this bit of advice:

Think small. Don't think about getting rich. Just think what you can do for someone right now that they'll be happy to pay you for. Then when you've found it, think of how to do it for as many people as possible.

... but is that actually good advice? Or do I just think that's the strategy that made me rich, when actually it's something else entirely, and I somehow got successful despite my stupid approach?

That said, here's something that I know is quite solid:

The biggest change in my attitude towards money came from my girlfriend's hippie parents. She grew up on a commune in Vermont. No TV, no nothing. Her parents just did random odd jobs - like photography and sewing - but kept their cost of living so low that it was enough to sustain them to this day. Then they put their daughter through fancy ivy-league universities on scholarships and such.

By lowering your cost of living so low that you can do just a few hours of work per month to pay your expenses, then it frees you up to turn your attention to doing things that make you happy, or perhaps building things that will make you much more money in the long run. Things that most people don't have the time to do because they're too busy on the rat-race, doing some job they hate, because they need to support their expensive cost of living.

Point being: once you realize how cheaply you can live, you get a real secure feeling of financial abundance.

Then keep improving your hustle, and doing whatever it takes to make money doing what you love, and the security/abundance mixes with fun, for a damn good combination.

(I hope this helps.)

Do you have any recommended books/resources on the last 4? Particularly Nginx though.

I like that you have everything planned out to be multi-lingual from the start on your projects. I remember reading your uses.this interview a while back and you talked about using wendlin/learning chinese. Are you still doing that, if so, how's that going?

The best resources I've found so far are:

Nginx: http://wiki.nginx.org/Main

JavaScript: http://www.wrox.com/WileyCDA/WroxTitle/Professional-JavaScri... and http://eloquentjavascript.net/

jQuery: http://www.sitepoint.com/books/jquery2/ and http://www.headfirstlabs.com/books/hfjquery/

Backbone: https://peepcode.com/products/backbone-js and http://backbonetutorials.com/ ... but I've barely started.

And yeah I'm still learning Chinese, but I've scaled it back, because I realized that the programming is more important to me now, and I wasn't getting all the programming done that I wanted to because I was taking 2 hours a day on my Chinese.

I just set up nginx for the first time yesterday and I found the wiki to be really useful. http://wiki.nginx.org/Main

It looks like they also sell a book, but it was published July 2010, so I'm not sure how much has changed since.

How do you handle stress and burnout? Even playing video games leads me to burnout. Thanks in advance. :)

Power through it. Bitch and scream, but then do what needs to be done.

Read “The Power of Full Engagement” : http://sivers.org/book/PowerOfFullEngagement

The authors worked with the best athletes and executives for years, and found that the best ones knew how to push themselves, then recuperate, push, recuperate. Take this same approach to your emotional, mental, physical, and even spiritual life, and it's a powerful metaphor. Think of sprints, not marathons. Be fully in whatever you're in, then give time to recuperate. But push futher each time, past your comfort zone, like a good exercise plan.

That book looks... reasonably promising, I guess; however...

"How do you handle stress and burnout?" "Power through it."

I'm sorry, but that's terrible advice. You might as well tell someone with depression to "just get over it already".

I wasn't saying "stop being stressed and burned-out".

I mean that any time any of us get to that point, there are a few approaches we could take.

(1) - Go take a long vacation.

(2) - Quit and change your approach.

(3) - Don't change a thing. Sleep tonight, but tomorrow just keep pushing the same direction as you've been doing. It'll be painful, you'll scream and complain, but just keep working anyway.

I've tried all three. When I do (1) or (2), it throws me so far off course that I never come back.

But powering through it is also the advice that ultra-marathon runners advise. They say you feel the pain, but just ignore it and go anyway. You don't take a break. You just keep running.

When I've taken this approach to the work I'm doing, I tend to find joy and an easier road ahead, past the painful burnt-out feeling I felt the day/week before. I'm glad I didn't take a vacation or change course.

I guess the thing to bear in mind for this sort of lifestyle advice is: your mileage may vary. While one person experiencing "burn-out" may respond well to powering through it, as in your case, another person feeling "burned out" may follow the same suggestion only to run themselves into the ground doing so.

A close family member of mine tried to power through her feelings of being burnt out, and wound up spending the next two years debilitated by chronic fatigue -- needing lifts to her various therapists because even just walking to the bus stop caused her physical pain, never mind the sensory overload she suffered in noise & crowds.

As such, I just felt it was important to emphasise that "powering through" doesn't work for everyone or every situation. I wouldn't wish that on anyone.

I think that, like many disagreements, this is just a question of semantics. If your definition of "burnout" is "feeling unmotivated after playing video games for a while," that's a bit different from and calls for a different response than the kind of burnout that requires a shrink.

Yeah, I hear what you're saying. Some people will say they feel burned out when they're tired after a long day at work, some people won't say they're burned out 'til they have a nervous breakdown.

Are you still studying foreign languages? Do you have any tips for how to uncap the speed limit?

Still learning Chinese.

The best tips for beating the language-learning speed limit are from Benny : http://www.fluentin3months.com/about/

Wow, Benny's Chinese is impressive for 10 weeks. I have seen students that studied for 2-3 years that are less comfortable speaking.

If you are looking to mix up you studies, you should checkout my site. http://chinese.yabla.com/ It is not free, but if you are interested, shoot me an email, and I'll send you an account.

How do I find my Kimo Williams?

It's sad we don't generally have this master-apprentice system anymore.

Be the change you want to see, right? So maybe just start by being a Kimo yourself?

I don't know. Any ideas, anyone?

This is one of my favourite things to do. I love connecting with strangers to pick their brains - and sometimes it becomes a friendship or mentorship. I've learned and experienced a lot as a result of this habit, so I want to outline how insanely simple this approach is.

For Mentorship:

1. Figure out what you want to do. 2. Find people who have achieved this. 3. Contact them (rules in a moment). 4. Create a good back and forth dynamic.

For Interest: 1. Identify something interesting about the person you want to learn more about 2. Contact them to ask a simple, non-overwhelming question 3. Keep the conversation going if relevant, or let it die naturally. Don't force shit.


The following is a hierarchy for contacting people with respect to effectiveness and long term benefit.

1. WITH AN INTRODUCTION - Face to face by third party - Face to face with third party introduction prior - Phone by third party - Phone with third party introduction prior - Email by third party - Email with third party introduction prior

2. WITHOUT AN INTRODUCTION - Non face to face, with an easy (and, hopefully unexpected yet interesting) question. This is actually how I contacted Derek the first time. Email is good if you can write well (do a copywriting course), and a phone is good if you can wrestle past gatekeepers (not that hard). - Face to face

That's it. This stuff is not hard - in fact, it's easy. Don't stalk, be cool, pay it forward wherever you can.

- R

P.S. Can't get people to respond? They're busy, or you aren't interesting enough. Adjust your tact. P.P.S. Contact details are easily found with Google - old blogs, personal blogs, deep enough on the website, whatever.

Find driven people. Go to conferences and other such events where the really passionate people are. Now? Just copy them!

It might not be a one on one coaching, but seeing how much others do while slacking of on the couch and reading about all their doings on Twitter should make you more productive.

And once you find one, ASK.

I've known people who are perfectly willing and capable mentors, but never got asked. Ironically, they were surrounded by people who were looking for mentors, but were afraid to ask. I happened to know both sides and made the connection, but I'm sure many others fall through the cracks just because they didn't ask someone to be their mentor.

Note: Not everyone has the time, willingness, or ability to be a mentor. But I still don't think it hurts to ask. The worst you can get is no mentor, which is what you started out with anyways.

For jazz guitar I find teachers with online videos that resonate. Then I manage to contact them and pay for direct Skype chats/lessons. It doesn't have to be a formal college setting IMO.

Columbia College has some good teachers.


Good to find this article again. I'm very autodidactic, and found universities so far disappointing for the lack of speed.

After you where taught everything, fast, why did you still go to Berklee? How was your time there?

College hardly taught me anything.

There were only a few good teachers. Most were half-assing it.

But once I realized that they weren't going to teach me anything, I got inspired. I realized that I was in an amazing place that held all the knowledge I want. I just had to go get it!

I treated it like a library. I pulled information out of people, recordings, books.

More than anything, it was a great environment for learning. It kept me 100% focused, every minute of every day, on getting better at music. No job or real-world stuff to distract me.

But that was also before the internet!

Now, I imagine that since the environment is the most important thing, you could find your killer environment in many places that don't charge tuition. Whether it's moving to Silicon Valley to be surrounded by your peers, or moving to India to study with a teacher.

Same reason some people go to a health spa retreat to get healthy. They could have just stayed at home to do it, but going to a dedicated place can really help.

> I realized that I was in an amazing place that held all the knowledge I want. I just had to go get it! > I treated it like a library. I pulled information out of people, recordings, books.

As a note, this is the way to get the most out of University. Put a vacuum up against the U and turn it on... get everything you can. University should not just happen to you: you need to create the happening.

Hi Derek, I can't describe how much motivated I feel everytime I read something similar to this. But I just can't convert this motivation into actual practice/habits. Any advice ?

A young man went to Socrates and asked how he could gain wisdom.

Socrates walked the young man into a nearby lake. When the water was a few feet deep, Socrates suddly grabbed the young man and pushed his head under water and held it there.

At first the young man thought it was a joke, but as he was held under longer and longer, he became frantic. He struggled desperately to get free and his lungs burned for lack of oxygen.

Finally Socrates let him up, coughing and gasping for air.

Socrates then said, "When you desire wisdom with the same intensity that you desired to breathe, nothing will stop you from getting it."

It's the same with your motivation/practice/habits.

>It's the same with your motivation/practice/habits.

First of all. Excellent blog post. Just reading it made me want to leave behind the things capping the speed limit on my life.

However, I see that story used in a lot of contexts. (And the characters involved change often.) And what I always find myself asking every time I read it (Or rather skim it as the case may be.) is "Well yes, I knew that much already, but how do you desire something that's not air as much as the ability to breathe itself.". It would seem that therein lies the rub. Getting that excited about anything is tough.

In a way it's a non-answer. Which is always disappointing to receive.

Hi Derek,

Do you have any experiences with or knowledge of speed learning being used to learn the physical skills of playing an instrument?

No, but my buddy Josh Kaufman, author of the great “Personal MBA” book, is doing a new project (and book) about exactly that!

He's using speed-learning techniques to learn 6 different skills fast, and one of them is learning a new instrument.

Contact him here - http://joshkaufman.net/about/ - to see if he could give you some starter points for now, until his book comes out much later.

Thanks, Derek!

Great post - two questions:

1) What occupies your time these days Derek ?

2) Possibly related - what unfulfilled dreams do you still have ?

(1) : I'm spending most of my time learning Rails, Sinatra, Sequel, Nginx, JavaScript, jQuery, and Backbone, all back-to-back from books and test projects, quite intensely.

... because ...

(2) : If I die before turning these projects into reality, I'm going to be pissed-off! http://50pop.com/code

It's really my main drive these days, to finally launch these ideas I've had spec'd out for a long time.

I know I could just hire someone else to make them, but the joy (to me) is in the process, not the goal. I want to learn these programming techniques so well that I can quickly create all my future ideas, too.

I know I could just hire someone else to make them, but the joy (to me) is in the process, not the goal. I want to learn these programming techniques so well that I can quickly create all my future ideas, too.

Very interesting for me to read this now. My wife is pushing me to outsource the development of an idea that I've been talking about raising from a demo to a real site, because I'm taking my sweet time (learning Python, Flask et al). I'm not making efforts to find someone to outsource it, but instead I'm still trying to learn what I need to to get it up the ground. (just don't tell my wife)

"the joy is in the process, not the goal"… I'll have to keep that in mind.

Well... there is a "best of both worlds" approach that I'm considering, and might be right for you:

Hire someone to do it for you, but on the condition that you can watch over their shoulder and ask questions as they go.

That way, you can get it done and get it launched, while at the same time you get to watch an expert, learn enough to maintain and improve this project - and learn how to do it yourself next time.

I did this for my first Android app - https://github.com/50pop/NowNowNow

I started slogging through some Android books and realized it'd take me forever. So I learned just enough to understand the context, then hired a guy that let me watch. I learned more by watching and talking with him than if I would have just continued slogging through the books. And it got done in 2 days!

How (practically) did you do the watching? Did you hire someone local, and just go watch them work, and ask questions as they went along? Was it hard to find someone willing to let you do that? Did it cost significantly more than if you'd paid someone to do it without the condition of letting you watch?

Found a guy halfway across the world, but we did Skype screen-sharing so we could talk and I could watch his screen.

Didn't cost much. The key was how I asked. I just made it a criteria of the job when I posted/announced it. "Looking for someone to program while I watch and ask questions."

I know he really enjoyed it. Said it was much more rewarding than the usual coding in solitude, not knowing if the client is really appreciating the effort.

That's great to hear! I was hoping your answer would be something like this (easy for me to replicate).

Did you use a large freelance-finding site (oDesk, elance, etc.)? If some other method, do you mind sharing?

In this last case, I just asked on my Twitter account.

But for future, I'd try odesk, elance, and also asking around my network of programmers I already know.

Thanks for answering, looks like you have some interesting projects on the go.

My favourite was http://50pop.com/karmalist if only because someone needs to kill Yelp !

An open source, non company-controlled business review service is a killer proposition. The challenges will be how to incentivise users to submit reviews to the service (what's their motivation ?) and how to successfully moderate extreme or unhelpful reviews in a scalable manner.

Interesting. I took karmalist as a response to closed-off data sources like 'celebrity access [.com]' where you have to pay just to read it. It is a collection of venue managers, promoters, talent agents, and musicians. At least Yelp let's you lurk for free.

This is a great article. My problem is, however, that I take it to the extreme: I set unrealistic goals for myself seeing as there are about 50 different things I want to learn outside of school. I almost always never meet my goals, and I become really discouraged.

It also seems like most successful people can point to an event, person, etc, in their past that served as a great turning point in putting them on the path to success. I just can't seem to put myself in a position for that to happen.

Derek, any tips?

First: Don't be a donkey. http://sivers.org/donkey

Also, ask yourself of those 50 different goals, which is something you HATE NOT doing? http://sivers.org/hatenot

Focus on that goal, and let go of the rest.

See my other reply here about the conditions of "flow". One is that you need to be getting immediate positive feedback on your actions. Maybe your 50 different goals aren't giving you any progress feedback, because they never get enough of your time to make progress?

Imagine kind of like some people take a 10-day meditation retreat, or a 7-day fast, maybe what you need is like a 10-day "ONLY ONE GOAL" retreat.

Pick the one thing that matters most, and only work towards that one thing. It's almost physically painful to ignore the other 49 at first, but soon the rewards from that one will be worth it. Then it feeds on itself, and perhaps could be your turning point.

Is it possible to be a semi-donkey? I have, if I were to try to count, 4 major 'things' going on in my life right now. One is keeping fit, one is keeping up with free online learning resources like Udacity, one is my job, and one is learning to play guitar.

Are you suggesting that if I don't drop three of those, I won't succeed in any of them? That worries me a bit, because the job part takes up LOTS and LOTS of time, far more than the other three combined.

I think this comes down to timeboxing everything.

1. Goal: Keeping fit. Invest 30 minutes each morning to that goal, which leaves 3.

2. Goal: Your job. Again, this is timeboxed until 5 pm, so do whatever it takes. Which leaves 2.

3. Goal: Play guitar. Not it gets tricky, because you could do both. But I think, again, timebox them. Monday through Friday you concentrate on your guitar, which leaves only 1.

4. Goal: Udacity. Now that you can do on the weekend. You will probably still play some guitar (I know I do), but thats not "learning", but playing (which is also important).

I think if everything is timeboxed and planned, I at least don't have problems keeping up, because I don't feel overwhelmed.

Here is a good site for guitar try do a lesson a day.. justinguitar.com

We all have multiple goals. (Be healthy. Be a great programmer. Be a great dad. Etc.)

You'll know if you have so many that it's holding you back, and paralyzing you.

If it's not a problem, if you're able to progress on all of them, then congrats! No need to change anything because of a silly blog post. ☺

Thanks for the quick response. I'm a bit more at ease now. And the post was anything but silly. It makes a really powerful point!

That describes me perfectly. I'm paralysed, but working hard not to be.

Awesome. The One Goal Retreat sounds like a great idea. I'll give it a shot - thanks!

Just pick one thing and finish it. This does take discipline, but it is the obvious way forward.

My favorite nugget:

" I run across kids all the time who say they want to be a great musician. I tell them I can help, and tell them to show up at my studio at 9am if they're serious. Almost nobody ever does."

I've learned this after so many years. Everyone talks about wanting to be successful. No one ever means it. Having someone just show up is a miracle.

As goes the famous Woody Allen quote that a large portion of life is just showing up. If a hacker gave me an offer like that I'd feel incredibly foolish not showing up. But then I guess you can discount that as talk until such a situation were to actually present itself.

But yeah, the disconnect between peoples words and their actions is laughably ridiculous.

Actions speak louder than words.

A lot of people say a lot things, but few act. Showing up and doing something puts a person ahead of many.

Awesome thread.

I had two massively influential mentors like this in middle and high school.

Both were teachers who cleared the path for me. Instead of the curriculum other students did I was given one that challenged me. 95% if I got the new computer lab setup over the weekend. I was pushed to help integrate technology into all the schools clubs, which in turn required me to join a whack of clubs I never would have, nor made diversely interested friends.

While I was in school, much of this did happen outside the classroom. By saving my school 50 to 80,000/year in network administration costs. By creating (or saving) this much value I was supported with my own office, phone number, expense account to buy books or things for learning, attend conferences, and generally have my run of the school, including a pre-signed pad of late slips to use when I ran late from my commitments.

There was so much that got built as a byproduct of my time because I was going so fast. The difference 10 or 15 years later? I had far fewer responsibilities to other areas of my life (and others) back then.

Age inevitably eats up more time and it's a reality, if you want a balanced life with more than just work in it. This might be a kiss of death to some startup types, but it presented a new challenge to me and I ended up pursuing a consulting business to forever float me while chasing startup ideas.

Hi Derek, thanks for an awesome thread and your many enlightening blog posts. (I'm surprised you're surprised to see a post of yours here :P)

What advice do you have for a generalist? I feel I can learn things quickly, but I don't get great at anything -- maybe due to a lack of motivation and a surplus of procrastination.

I'm a back-end programmer who likes front-end development, only because I'm not a great UI designer (but would love to be). I also love playing the piano and singing, but I haven't had a lesson in 12 years. (People tell me I have a nice voice.) I'm bilingual and fluent in a third language, and I could easily learn more if I had more time.

The path I'm currently on is to keep working and practicing front-end development, and possibly learn how to design. As I hone those skills I plan to start building software to one day quit corporate America. On the other hand, I love the music as a hobby thing, but feel that I'm not great. (I'm surrounded by very talented musicians from my wife's side of the family.)

I'm not even sure what my question is, but any advice would be s/kind of cool/greatly appreciated/.

Edit: I think my problem is not knowing what to focus on, and whether or not I should specialize in something or keep learning new things. (And if so, how to choose that something.)

Felipe: Sorry I didn't see your question until hours later.

See http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=3761474

It's not your exact question, but similar, and led to some other comments in that thread.

I hope that helps.

No worries, I figured you had taken off. Thanks for responding and bringing your other comment to my attention — I glossed over it too quickly to make the connection.

Cheers, best of luck on your new projects.

It's definitely helpful to understand that there is no real speed limit.

Conversely, I think it's also useful to think that there's no rush.

I sometimes get in my head that "if I don't have X millions by the time I'm 30, I'll be a failure."

I realized it's too stressful to think that way.

It's probably more important to think there are no speed requirements at all. Move as slow or as fast as you need/want.

Great post!

I would say that maybe you should refine your metrics? What significance is x millions? Is that how success is defined? Or do you define success by doing something great? Typically when you do something great, in the world of products and business, the money follows. If you can turn out a great product in x months that gains hundreds of thousands or millions of users, would that be a better metric? I'm not saying your metric is wrong, I'm just challenging you to consider what the proper metric of success is for you.

The author didn't use $ as his measuring stick, he used a skill or status. So do you want to make $, or do you want to make awesome stuff, or do awesome things? Figure it out, then use it to define your metrics and drive your success. I can't see how, "there's no rush", can be remotely true. You only get x days, if day x is = tomorrow then you only have 1 more day. You never know when day x = tomorrow, so I would say there is always a rush.

It's more the mindset I'm concerned with. An extrinsic outcome oriented mindset leads to a lot of stress. Whenever I've set demanding performance goals for myself within a short time frame like write 10 blog posts a month or something similar, I don't enjoy the process and I usually don't end up writing all 10.

On the other hand, if I say my goal is to get in the habit of writing one sentence everyday, the end result is much better and I'm less stressed about it.

I think process oriented goals can actually end up being more productive than outcome oriented goals.

Derek, ended up reading the followup article about advice you gave to an incoming Berklee class where you mention:

Focus. Disconnect. Do not be distracted. This is your #1 most important challenge. If you master focus, you will be in control of your world. If you don't, it will control you.

Seems like focusing nowadays is almost impossible. There are so many time sucks, so close at hand.

Yes! I agree! This is one of our biggest current challenges!

Actually, Paul Graham has written two of the best essays about it:




“Focus” by Leo Babauta is quite good, too: http://sivers.org/book/Focus

I think there are a whole load of kids out there that could benefit from a "no speed limit" policy. I think the larger problem is that there aren't enough teachers that can set the pace. I remember, as a kid, reading an article in the paper about how two 10 year old kids had completed a computing A level course (i'm from the UK). I was 11 myself at the time and so much wanted to do that course. My parents looked in many places and couldnt find a way for me to be able to take that course any sooner than what the national curriculum had prescribed. After a few years, i got distracted and lost my enthusiasm and determination.

I'm having the same problem learning Node. js right now. I had been trying to teach myself, but my progress was going rather slowly. Then along came a mentor that help me achieve in just a few hours what i wasn't able to achieve in over a month. And then he disappeared, and im stuck at snails pace again.

Maybe that's just the story of my life, or maybe that the story, period.

Have you tried hanging out in the node.js IRC channel? Help is just a step away! The node mailing lists are also pretty helpful.

You can also feel free to email me (email in profile) - I have been working on node for more than a year now on a decent sized project.

I tried the IRC channel about a year ago, but at that time i was so new to Node that i felt a little out of place. It seems you had to be at least intermediate level with node to really start chatting to people. You have to remember that i'm new to programming itself as well as Node. That said, i should repay the place a visit.

I was always worried about IRC etiquette. What i mean to say is - is it considered poor etiquette to just dive in and start asking for help?

Anyway - i think the larger problem for me hasnt been just getting stuck with Node - it's been more about knowing what is the next step to take in terms of the project since im new to development too. That's where having a mentor was very useful.

What are your thoughts?

Yes, people just drop into the IRC channel and ask questions. The worst thing that can possibly happen is you hear no answer (mostly because no one might be around).

The node mailing list is a good place for asking questions too. Often, the more focussed your question is, the better it is. So, instead of asking something vague - ask about specific areas you are facing problems with. Also, when asking a question, explaining what you tried to do to solve the problem yourselves helps people better understand your problem and offer constructive help.

great advice - Thank you.

Great point! Finding an outstanding teacher is HARD! It's never clear where to look.

Great performers are usually not great teachers. And great teachers aren't always great performers themselves.

Any advice, anyone?

I think this will become a more and more common problem, especially in our field. Things move so fast that if you're just trying to keep up, you'll soon find yourself the most knowledgeable on the subject in your local area. This is great if you want to sound impressive, but not so great if you're trying to learn.

The best option is of course to find a Kimo. Failing that, getting really good at interacting with people online might be the best option; if you're learning something independently, you're probably learning it online, and if you're learning it online, then other learners(however few) are only a click away.

Its a good point actually, and i guess i just lost sight of things on the way. You are right, hanging around online is where i'm likely to find the most Kimo's

Derek, this thread really resonates with me. I've been at a crossroads between 2 distinct paths for several years. Path A is a road I've been on for almost 14 yrs, and I've grown weary of it. W/o going into explanation, things have slowed on that road, and won't move forward w/o considerable effort. But I know exactly what needs to be done, there's little risk, it's very practical, and I will have company in the process, which I've come to realize is very important to me. On the other hand, I've always wondered about this Path B, w/o ever having taken any significant steps towards it. So I'd be starting from scratch, and yet it seems much less complex than Path A. I wouldn't have any company for probably a few years on Path B, so it's sure to be a lonely road at first. In the end it would be quite rewarding I'm sure, but I'd be letting down a lot of people by abondoning Path A. And I'm fairly certain that there's not enough time to pursue both Paths and do either one of them justice. Your thoughts on this??? Many thanks...


Life is f'ing short! When you're old and looking back on your life, you'll mostly remember the changes, the big events. These big changes are the hooks you hang your memories on.

You'll always remember that 2012 is the year you chose Plan B. You'll remember this big change in your life, and all the other new experiences it's going to create.

This is part of living a full life! This is crucial!

14 years is plenty of time on Path A. You got the benefits out of it. You learned your lessons. You've been there, done that. Time to go!

I can't emphasize this enough. I think it's SO important.

Every time I've made a major change in my life, it's always turned out for the better. Sometimes I even thought they were failures, in the moment - (divorce, selling my company, etc) - but they always turned out wonderful.

I was afraid you'd say that.

Opting for Path B would actually make life a lot easier than you realize. An endless list of very time-consuming tasks disappear if I finally get off Path A, and a huge weight would be lifted from my shoulders.

Of course Path B seems the obvious choice. But previous attempts on that path have several times ground to a halt, admittedly because I get in my own way. I can't help but wonder: why am I not pysched? Shouldn't my desire be enough to push me forward? If I knew I wanted it badly enough, would I even need to have this conversation with you?

Btw, you and I are acquainted - we went to Berklee together. It'll be something if this exchange ends up being the turning point. Thanks again for taking the time!

> "Why am I not psyched?"

Because it's f'ing terrifying!

See http://sivers.org/book/WarOfArt

He calls it "resistance". We'll make any excuse not to do the thing that we know is our highest calling.

Wow, now THAT resonates with me. Big Time.

You're right, and I know it, scary though it may be. It shall be Path B.

Thanks, Derek!

I teach English Honors composition, and on the last day of each semester I send this as part of my "Last E-mail:"

Now for the small message that's really big. This is the post that could but probably won't change your life: "There’s no speed limit. (The lessons that changed my life)": http://sivers.org/kimo . I say "could," because most of you probably won't click the link; of those of you who do, most of you won't read the whole thing; of those of you who do, most of you won't get it; of those of you who do, most of you won't implement it. On the off chance that one out of 50 of you let this change your life, however, I'm sending it. The writer of "There's no speed limit" also wrote a book called Anything You Want, and reading it is probably one of the best ways you can spend an hour.

(This is after I tell them about the not clicking the link, not reading it, etc.) in class.

Wow! Thanks Jake! I really appreciate it.

Thanks for writing Anything You Want. I've written about it on my blog (http://jseliger.com) and elsewhere; I'm actually working on an essay about how to think about science and becoming a scientist that mentions a section from "There Is No Speed Limit."

Good writing is good writing.

Honestly, I don't believe it. I know nothing about music, but at least in my field of study (computer science) I doubt this can apply.

There is a limit and it is very plain: time. You can only soak in so much knowledge at a time, and knowing in theory is very different from knowing in practice (but you definitely need both). Practice takes time, especially if you practice to understand theory. You have to make mistakes, they are the single most important thing to understand something in my experience. You need the "haha" moment when you understand why something doesn't work and how it has driven theory/research in the field.

You can go maybe go faster than the computer science program at X. Maybe twice or thrice as fast, if you're gifted. But you cannot go as fast as you want, that is just wishful thinking.

I have found that this is very true. Right now, I'm studying physics at the undergraduate level. It's hard, but at the same time it doesn't feel challenging. I don't feel like I get very much out of my lessons. However, I did manage to get myself a job in one of the space science labs here on campus. I have learned so much from that work, simply because it is expected that I be as capable as the graduate students I work with. I have learned much, much more advanced physics and internalized it than I could ever do in my basic physics class. It's the challenge that educates you.

Wow, great story! I have understood similar thing just recently a year ago but I am already "old" (28 years). Nevertheless I totally agree - there is no speed limit! Funny thing that lately I have made a second approach to the piano from the scratch and... it worked! After just 4 weeks I am far better that during the first attempt few years ago and few months of learning. This time I simply have found the right teacher which is constantly challenging me.

Hope that finally I will also manage to make it happen business wise with Y-Combinator! ;-)

I skipped the second part of my degree (I have an Associates) instead I went and got a job, I moved from the junior designer to the manager within less than a year (Managing people who had been there for 15+ years) and Art Director within two years where I ended up hiring an employee who had spent those two years in "The same program" that I would have been had I not ignored the "speed limit" to this day that employee is still just "a designer".

Remember, you make your own rules in life. Walls only exist in your head.

I work so hard and am always just getting by. Never ahead of the game. This effects my happiness because I feel a lack of freedom when money is always such an issue. I'm looking for a way to accept what is and find happiness in other ways, than say, my dream of going to Europe. Meditation seems to calm me but I feel a sense of disgust in myself because I am not making a good living, even though I should be proud of myself for working so hard and being good at what I do. Thanks for any thoughts.

It seems to me that one of the reasons CDBaby was/is so successful is because its primary customers are musicians, rather than consumers of music.

Strictly speaking CDBaby sells to both categories (it sells a service to musicians, and CDs to customers).

But to me, as a professional musician, it seems that people buy less music in product form now. Therefore the real customers for music-based products are...the musicians themselves.

There are more musicians than ever before. All are competing against one another. As a result, they are willing to spend their disposable income on promotions, marketing.

Providing a service like CDBaby's was a brilliant way of tapping into that emerging market.

What made it disruptive was: the price-point, the musician-friendly ethos, the dependability and speed of the customer service.

As a musician/entrepreneur, it seems to me that very few startups realize that they may be more successful asking musicians to pay for something than finding 'customers' for their 'products' in the old fashioned (read: recording industry) mold.

Of course spinning the story to sound musician friendly is delicate...and essential.

Do you see other opportunities for charging the growing contingent of musicians for a service that is worthwhile?

Where are you? What are you doing now? What is your next big project?

Love Awaken the Giant Within. I've been trying to sell online guitar courses for many years, but now I've settled on doing well-paying remote IT contracts and taking months off in between to practice jazz guitar improvisation. I love sharing what I've learned but I guess it doesn't have to be a money maker, just something we all instinctively love to do.

Living in Singapore : http://sivers.org/singapore

Learning Rails, JavaScript, jQuery, Backbone.js

Programming these things: http://50pop.com/code

That's all. :-)

I wonder if the most important advice from this is to believe you can succeed rather than the idea of keeping a break-neck schedule. In my experience, success in learning something new starts with a sustainable daily practice; if you actually spend a half hour a day at something, you will see results in a couple of months. For instance, you could have made your way through the ml-class.org lectures and absorbed all of the material, or made your way through all the beginner lessons from justinguitar.com.

That's not to say someone couldn't spend 5 hours a day blazing through the ml-class.org lectures, but if spending 30 minutes a day means you can actually stick with it, that's a whole lot better than spending 5 hours a day for a week and then burning out. Same goes for fitness - 30 minutes a day of walking for the rest of your life is sooo much better than doing 2 weeks of p90x and burning out. If you can do p90x ever day for the rest of your life, kudos to you, but I've witness at least 2 friends buy and then burn out on p90x before getting any meaningful results.


One thing I have noticed about many of your blogs/talks is that you have an innate sense of optimism. Is this a learned trait of yours or was this something you picked up as you made your way through life and found success? While I dont feel that I am a pessimist, I do wish I could improve my sense of optimism/anything is possible with work/focus. Any tips?

Thanks and I always enjoy your posts.

My optimism is a little bit innate, but mostly learned.

It was something I got from Tony Robbins : that you can choose how you want to feel about anything. (We usually act like we can't help the way we feel. But we can consciously choose and change how we feel.)

No matter what happens, you can choose to ask, "What's great about this?" Even if you're not in the mood. Even if cranky or pissed-off, you can still force yourself to ask that, out of habit. Then the pessimism slowly dissolves, and you start to get optimistic again.

Then it feeds off itself. Somehow when you're optimistic, things go your way more often. Then that encourages you further, etc.

Actually these days I'm SO optimistic that it can work against me! I optimistically over-estimate my ability to do things. I optimistically think I'll just get fit and healthy through good intentions. Etc.

Sometimes a dose of painful pessimism can achieve more. (Though I guess if you realize that's the attitude that would be more helpful for you, you can choose to be pessimistic, too. As long as you know it's an intentional choice.)

The book Succeed covers the topic of what kinds of optimism and pessimism help you achieve your goals pretty thoroughly (http://www.amazon.com/Succeed-How-Can-Reach-Goals/dp/0452297...). Two big takeaways:

1. Be optimistic when setting high level, year-long goals. But be pessimistic when drawing out all the implementation details of what you'll actually have to do to achieve those goals.

2. Be pessimistic about the difficulty of anything you want to achieve, but optimistic about your ability to conquer those difficulties.

Darn it.. Sometimes i wish i had found a teacher like this. i.e: someone who could teach at my pace and not the class' average pace.

I think you have to go outside the school to find those kind of teachers. They've got an intrinsic motivation to prove they can teach better than the school's standard pace.

In schools as they're currently structured, there's virtually no incentive to do this kind of thing, and quite strong disincentives to: taking special interest in a particular student is often viewed with sexually-tinged suspicion.

Most students, including the smarter ones, don't really understand this, which is also part of the problem; I wrote "How to get your professors' attention, along with coaching and mentoring" (http://jseliger.com/2010/10/02/how-to-get-your-professors%E2...) in part to remedy this knowledge deficit.

I had two massively influential mentors like this in middle and high school.

Both were teachers who cleared the path for me. Instead of the curriculum other students did I was given one that challenged me.

Sivers, just wanted to thank you for sharing your wisdom and experience. I know it has had an effect on me. Everyone, I highly recommend you check out Derek's "Uncommon Sense" videos, available free here: http://www.appsumo.com/sivers/

Thanks Jon! I really appreciate it. That's really nice to hear.

Uhhhh...ok, so you learned music theory quickly. Take a shot at any algebra (ring theory, algebraic topology) and you'll quickly discover there is a very concrete speed limit. (This also holds true for all fields of pure mathematics, its just more pronounced in algebra).

Great blog entry and often quoted on HN: https://www.google.fr/search?sourceid=chrome&ie=UTF-8...

I'm almost jealous that you had a teacher as great as you did! We need more Kinos!!!

I'm jealous of my past self, too.

I wish I had a new Kimo in my life, that could help me deeply grok programming as intensely as he did.

I guess I'm even more pissed with myself then jealous, because the only time I actually had Kimo in my life I myself weren't ready for that. Now I think I would be, but the opportunity is gone...

So, let's hope you meet more than one Kimo in your life time!

Hear, hear. When I tested into an advanced math class in 7th grade, I was able to learn the prerequisite semester of pre-algebra in less than an hour by sitting down with a great teacher and plowing through the material. But in my scholastic life, this experience was the exception, not the rule.

I understand the desire to teach to the slowest students; no one should ever be left behind, and faster does not inherently equal better. But we are doing both young people and society a disservice when we don't find ways for the quick learners to hit escape velocity so they can get to things that genuinely challenge them.

Hi Derek, Loved your book, two quick questions, (1) Up to today, how far did you get in using RoR for your new projects and (2) what is your "Kimo's advise" on speed learning it ? (coming from the Microsoft world).

(1) I'm torn on Rails. It's so so so SO much ecosystem to learn just to make a basic web app. I find that I'm much more attracted to Sinatra. Also I prefer Sequel to ActiveRecord. Also, I really want to try playing with the architecture of a JSON REST API back-end and a JavaScript front-end (like Backbone.js). So for that, it seems Sinatra + Sequel suits me better. I'm trying this way for now, and if it doesn't work out, I'll commit a few hundred hours to learning Rails whole ecosystem. (Then I guess keeping up with it constantly.)

(2) Oooh. Good question. It wasn't advice that made the difference. It was a style of teaching. Standing above me, pushing me further than I knew, but somehow still on the edge of my abilities. Making me figure things out for myself instead of giving me the answer.

The closest I've seen someone come to systemizing it is Code School : http://www.codeschool.com/

I love that style of "here's a little info, now figure out this problem."

You have no idea how valuable your responses are to me, I consider it a priviledge that you took the time to answer my questions, thank you very much! I like the idea also of going Sinatra, use Rails functionality if needed but otherwise keeping it simpler, there is always the chance to go with the full-blown version (Rails). Thanks again for sharing and taking the time!

I remembered having seen it here before (it's a classic and worth revisiting)

Previous discussion:


I really appreciate your writing, TED talks, ideas, and the humble and positive way in which you present your work.

I think one of the problems I struggled with the most with this type of thinking is feeling like I'm being conceited or thinking that "I'm special" when I try to remove speed limits. I've always learned a lot of things fairly fast but I think I limited myself by subconsciously not wanting to feel better than other people.

Yes! Absolutely! It takes a strong ego to say, "Hell I'm better than all these other mofos. Get out of my way, slow-pokes!"

It's got a competitive edge to it. You'd need that same attitude if competing in sports.

And, like sports, it doesn't mean you're a jerk for wanting to achieve as much as you can, or more than everyone else. It's just a relative-comparison thing that gives you an extra boost.

You need to feel you're special, that the rules don't apply to you, Neo. ☺

Wow, what a great thread!

Just another thing that makes Hacker News so good: read something written by an expert and then engage in a discussion with that expert.

Derek, please go to www.askolo.com and register today. This is a brand new Hacker News inspired site built specifically for this purpose. These guys are trying to build and reach critical mass and your presence there would be greatly appreciated by me and many others, I'm sure.

When I go on to hacker news, I really don't expect the top comment to be a blatant advertisement for some site for the most part irrelevant to the article. Why are people upvoting this?

This is the second time today that I hear about Askolo, seems more then a quincidence (heavy PR going on?). How are they different from Quora?

I believe the difference is you ask a question to a specific person. And all these questions and answers are laid out on a single page in a nice interview style. And considering that most of the guys being asked and those doing the asking are all pretty smart guys, it makes for super interesting reading. Not that you would get any of that from their landing page though. Read the page for Patio11 to get an idea of how great it is.

I can only imagine they're a YC startup, based on the people I see active there after I registered. (PG, JL, other YC partners) With Demo Day today, things are picking up PR-wise. :)

On a side note regarding askolo:

I'm not so sure if the name is perfectly chosen. You know that olo is ASCII art for a penis and balls?


This reminds me of the story when VW advertised their Golf GTI with "Turbo Cojones". Somehow, the marketing department (in Germany?) obviously didn't realize the meaning of "cojones".

edit: typo

Visit Kimo's website (http://www.kimowilliams.com) and listen to the music. It's really nice.

In most universities there is a speed limit: you can't "test out" of classes unless you've had them somewhere else, and pre-requisites, minimum optional credits and required internships prevent you from speeding through.

I really wish most courses would be 2 years long. Plenty of time to get the university experience and learn all you need, everyone's head is already far out after the 8th semester.

An interesting place to compare comments at.


Great article, loved it. I also liked the booklist (http://sivers.org/book).

I don't buy this, I spent the first two years of my degree working as this guy suggests and completely burnt myself out. Now I take things easy, I'm still getting good grades and I'm a lot more relaxed. The other things I want to learn (not covered in my degree) can wait.

But... maybe I'm just a chump...

Is this a way of saying one should always live on the edge of incompetence? Edit: I ask this, because I have difficulties applying your ideas on fields where I don't have any good teachers around (e.g., lets say I want to become a better cook).

Sorry your question got a little lost & downvoted.

See another reply, above, about the difficulty in finding a great teacher.

Absolutely love this. When you're really interested, find a teacher that will teach at your own rate. Too often the answer is "Don't worry about that, you'll learn it next semester". A phrase that you should never hear from a teacher!

People who think "going to college is for chumps" (and there are a lot of you on HN) should do this instead. It's not that hard to graduate college in 2-3 years.

It's called the Pygmalion effect


Derek, wow you were a driven kid! What lead you to be in such a hurry to get through school?

I was in a hurry to get famous!

I wanted to be a rock star. Ain't no fun waiting 'round to be a millionaire! Gotta hurry.

I am very jealous you found someone to guide and challenge you like that.

The speed of light (c) is the cosmic speed limit.

Derek, What is the relationship of cell behavior to, 1. tribalism & 2. music (answer may be rendered in form of improvisation dance/one man silent opera)

I just did an interpretive dance to explain my answer.

Man, you shoulda seen it. I'm exhausted now, but it was awesome.

I sensed something.. and channeled it into the omelet of another, a someone, somewhere..

Just a GREAT post. Thanks.



I don't see how it is useful.

a) The first instance of Berklee shows the full name, which isn't "University of California, Berk(lee|eley)".

b) It consistently says Berklee in the article, never Berkeley, so there's no confusion caused by inconsistency.

c) Your comment implies that the author is an idiot who can't even spell the name of the college he attended; which is impolite at best.

It's OK. It's a common confusion.

My senior year (at Berklee) the company that prints up our report cards sent them to Berkeley California.

Kind of an ongoing joke. ("Where did you go to school?" - "Berklee" - "Oh wow, that's really prestigious!" - "... College of Music." ".... oh.")

Conversely, I was speaking with someone overseas and mentioned I used to live in Berkeley, California and his response was, "oh, so you play music?"

Isn't Berklee, in music, just as prestigious as Berkley in the rest of academia?

Arguably. ☺

It's famous. It's quite good these days. Back in 1987 when I was there many of the teachers were phoning it in. I wouldn't call it a great school back then.

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