Skills are tricky.

People want to learn how to do things, so they try to do it right away.

They jump on the bike and try to start pedaling.

This is a bad idea, and it is why you probably gave up learning skills you wanted to.

Imagine you wanted to teach your kid how to ride a bike.

What you shouldn’t do is just run straight into the endgame of riding a bike. Don’t put little Johnny on the bike and push him downhill.

That’s because there’s two kinds of skills: simple and compound.

When I mean simple, I don’t mean easy, I mean that it can’t be broken down into smaller skills.

Compound skills are built from simple skills.

Take the skill and break it down: are there multiple skills that have to be put together to do the final skill?

Riding a bike is a compound skill.  Here are the simple skills that combine to make the final skill.

  • Balancing on a moving bike
  • Pedaling on a moving bike without falling down
  • Braking correctly (don’t slam on the front brake!)

The hardest one is learning how to balance.

Most people try to teach this with training wheels.


That forces the kid to learn all three parts at the same time, which is 100x harder than learning one thing at once.

Also, when you use training wheels, it is stopping the kid from learning how to balance, and just postpones successfully learning how to ride a bike.

You wouldn’t teach a chef to cook by dropping him in a Friday rush  at a restaurant on day one, would you?

Get a bike where your kid can touch the ground with their flat foot and take the pedals off the bike.

Have the kid sit on the seat, holding the handlebars.

Have them start walking forward, slowly at first until they’re eventually running and going full speed. Run along side them so you can catch them if they fall.

Have them use their feet less and less until they understand how balance works.

Next, re-attach the pedals.

You’re going to teach them how to pedal, now that they know how to balance.

Repeat the same starting slow and pedaling, until they understand pedaling.

Teach them how to brake.

At the end of this, they’ll have taken the three separate simple skills and combined them into the compound skill of riding a bike.

But here you are, you’re not a kid learning to ride a bike.

You want to learn how to be a great writer. Or speak Spanish. Or start a business.

Starting a business is like riding a bike. Don’t ‘start a business’.

Find ways to create, deliver and capture value and the business will make itself.

Before you try to learn something, see if you can break the skill down into more bite-sized.

Until next time,