D.S.S.S. rapid learning method

Tim Ferriss uses the D.S.S.S method when he sets off to learn a new skill. Why? It's simple. This method frontloads the bulk of the learning (hello 80/20 principle), lowers the barrier to entry, tightens the feedback loop, and creates accountability.

The principle essentially breaks down learning into these four steps:

  1. Deconstruct: identify the key characteristics
  2. Selection: select the characteristics that will provide 80% of the benefit for 20% of the effort
  3. Sequence: run small trials of learning to figure the best ordering of these characteristics
  4. Stakes: add in an element of accountability to entice yourself to endure

Let's take this rubric for a spin on a passion of mine: surfing.


  • Non-surfboard gear (wetsuit, roof rack, wax)
  • Surfboard
  • Understanding the tides
  • Paddling out
  • Catching the wave
  • Riding the wave
  • Turning


In this step, it's important to identify (a) what you can achieve quickly with your current skillset (b) what might cause you to quit if not overcome shortly after starting. For me and surfing:

  • Get the right gear
  • Get the right surfboard
  • Paddle out frequently
  • Catch waves, no matter how small


The one mistake I made during this phase was going out with a cheapo board. Did the board really matter? No. Was I ready, skillwise, for a better board? No. However, my cheap foam Costco special made me feel like I didn't belong out there.

I upgraded, to a mid-level board and instantly leveled up by paddling out much more frequently. Win.


I never actually applied any "stakes", but I am considering making myself accountable in the following ways.

  • If I don't go out more than once a week, donate to anti-charity
  • If I don't go out more than once a week, surf foam surfboard the following week