Review: The Tim Ferriss Experiment

As an avid reader of The Four Hour Workweek, The Four Hour Body, and The Four Hour Chef, I have to admit that I was extremely excited about The Tim Ferriss Experiment, a new TV show in which Ferriss uses himself as a human guinea pig to choose new skills and learn them at an incredibly accelerated rate. In the pilot episode, Tim has just five days to learn how to play the drums. At the end of five days, he’ll be playing onstage with Foreigner in front of a live audience. Along the way, he has assistance from Chris Frazier (the band’s drummer) and Stewart Copeland (percussionist from “The Police”).

The first thing that I noticed was that the visuals were very well done. As Ferriss was learning a couple of basic drum lines toward the beginning of the show, a Rock Band-style scrolling indicator appeared on the side of the screen showing what drums were being played at a given time. As a musician myself, this didn’t help me very much, but I feel that it would have been very informative to somebody that’s never been in front of a drum set before. There were also points at which Tim was explaining what he was having trouble with, and there were a couple of very subtle visuals to go along with it. It wasn’t over-the-top (as these things tend to be in new TV shows), and it wasn’t underdone either.

I also noticed consistent application of the rules that Ferriss presents in his book. For instance, learning 20% of the material to get 80% of the results, as part of his D.S.S.S. method:

  • Deconstruct: break down the problem into smaller pieces for easy approachability.
  • Selection: judicious application of the Pareto principle
  • Sequencing: figure out what order to learn things in; and
  • Stakes: some kind of personal accountability to keep the pressure on (in this case, a live show in front of nearly 2000 people).

Staying consistent across all of his productions is, in my opinion, a very good move. The information in his books has been useful to me, and it’s nice to see how this information can be extended into other situations.

Despite my enjoyment of the show, I feel that there are a couple of critical missteps.

The first is that the show is extremely focused on Tim. Maybe it was a false expectation, but I figured that a show like this would really focus on the problem at hand (learning how to play the drums), rather than Tim. For instance, at one point during the episode, Tim said something to the effect of “I learned the anatomy of the drum set”, but didn’t really explain that to the viewer. I know the show is pretty short, so maybe that was something that was left out in the interest of time, but I feel that this information is kind of critical if you’re trying to break down how to learn to play the drums. This, however, is not the biggest problem with the show.

My biggest problem with this show is that there’s an overwhelming feeling of privilege. In the show, Tim said something to the effect of, “If I can do it, so can you”, and while I don’t disagree with that, Tim has a number of resources that the everyday person certainly doesn’t have. This could be due to his famous four-hour workweek - I know that I certainly don’t have five consecutive days to spend on something like this. I also don’t have access to Tim’s connections - I don’t have the first clue about how to call up Foreigner and ask to play on stage with them. I also don’t have access to Stewart Copeland as a drumming instructor, and we don’t have any School of Rock locations in Boise. Maybe there’s a way to do what Tim did without his connections and resources, but I think it would be substantially more difficult (if not impossible).

What I’d really like to see out of the show is to really latch onto the phrase “If I can do it, so can you”. Structure the episodes and content in a way that you could go find any random person on the street and teach them something new. I like how Ferriss learned to play the drums, but it’s not something that I could duplicate for myself or for anyone else, and that, in my opinion, is where this show truly fails.

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