Tim Ferriss has come a long way since we first interviewed him a year and a half ago. His book, The Four Hour Work Week, was released in the wild where it quickly rocketed to the top of all the Best Seller lists. So we weren’t too surprised when we learned of his new TV show, Trial by Fire, debuting tonight on the History Channel. I sat down with Tim for a quick chat about the show:
JUSTIN: Give me the quick run down on your new show: Trial by Fire.
TIM: The concept is simple: each week I attempt to master a complex skill — something that would usually take 10+ years — in one week. It debuts today, Thursday, December 4, at 11pm PT/ET on History Channel (check www.history.com/schedule to double-check local times).
I have access to the world’s best teachers to “hack” the learning curve with both traditional and experimental approaches. I then have a final “trial by fire”, when I risk life and limb to see the results of all the training in a real-world test. It’s a fun 60-minute show filmed in HD with some of the best TV folks out there; lots of humor and also hardcore training and accelerated learning techniques. People will be able to apply a lot of each show to mastering any skill in their own lives.
J: Did you personally select the skill to challenge in the pilot episode? If so, what made you want to try yabusame?
TIM: Among other things, I pitched the show concept, developed the name, and picked the first challenge: yabusame, or Japanese horseback archery. I lived in Japan for a year in high school, and once you see yabusame, you’re hooked. I’d always wanted to experience it, and this particular samurai sport is a winner-takes-all endeavor. Full gallop, no hands, no safety gear, and you land on poles and get trampled if you fall. If you’re going to film a pilot, you have to make it worth watching, right? There is no simulated danger — it’s the real deal and it’s obvious when you watch. Few non-Japanese have even seen it, and it’s a national event twice a year when riders run the gauntlet. Definitely worth checking out.
J: What are some other challenges you’d want to try if the show is picked up?
TIM: There are a ton, as this is basically what I spend my time doing anyway. Setting new landspeed world records, pulling off museum heists, free diving with Great White sharks, etc.. The list is huge, all of them will be ridiculously difficult, and I will definitely crash and burn more than once. That’s part of the thrill and challenge, I think. If I don’t fail on occasion, I’m obviously not pushing the envelope enough.
J: How does giving yourself a challenge like this help you learn more about a place and its people?
TIM: It forces you to be aware in the present tense. In other words, it’s impossible to do what we most often do: travel in body while our mind remains preoccupied with something back home. Training for an all-or-nothing test is beautifully simple: No e-mail, no internet cafes, no traveling around the world just to IM with friends back home — 100% training with natives 24/7 or you get hurt. I like that. It’s a return to basics. A week of full-time training is like a two-month vacation; you come back refreshed and will a better radar for minutiae. As in Fight Club: the volume on everything else gets turned down. This is true whether it’s a physical task like rock climbing or a mental task like learning to calculate like a human computer. The singular focus allows you to connect with people and culture without distraction.
J: Do you think the concept of your show can be practiced among regular travelers as a way to learn more about a place and its people?
TIM: Absolutely. Use pursuit of one skill as a vehicle for connecting with the people — or a sub-culture — of a foreign culture. Argentina? Try tango. Austria? Try chocolate making or music. It could be anything. There are world-class performers everywhere. Get curious again. Rediscover that childhood desire to explore and learn new things. People will help you, and it’s easily the fastest method for learning foreign languages. 3-4 months is all you need for conversational fluency non-tonal languages.
It’s possible to become world-class in many things in relatively short periods of time. It just requires a high density of practice over those short periods. Even 1-2 weeks can be enough to become better than 90% of the world’s population at a cool skill, a skill you can retain for the rest of your life. All it takes is mindful deconstruction and a brief but intense singular focus.
J: Thanks for your time, Tim!
Trial by Fire will air 11pm ET/PT this Thursday (tonight) on History Channel. For more show information, and a live video Q&A post-broadcast, visit www.fourhourblog.com.