Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World - Deepstash
Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World


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Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World

by David Epstein

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‘Kind’ vs ‘wicked’ learning environments

Learning environments can be split into two:

  • The kind ones, where patterns repeat and specialists get better with experiences, such as in chess.
  • The wicked ones, where there is a lot of spontaneity and unpredictability involved and experience doesn’t necessarily correlate with success, such as when researching.


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Modern work demands knowledge transfer and abstract thinking, things which are not being actively taught in our highly-specialized academic curriculums.

It’s harder to be creative in a field the longer you have been studying it. It is best to insist on ’having one foot outside your world', to try to have broad interests and not focus on solely one thing in your learning path.


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Children who try their hand at playing multiple instruments have a higher chance of becoming elites in one (even if they specialize later in life) than those who have been presented with a particular instrument from a very early age.

The figlie of the Ospedale della Pietà in Venice are good example of that.


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  • Fast and easy is a no-go when it comes to learning. Painful and uncompetitive as it may sound, slow and difficult is the proper approach to learning.
  • We want knowledge that is durable (it sticks) and flexible (it can be applied broadly).
  • “Spacing” (leaving enough time between learning sessions around the same material) and “interleaving” (switching learning contexts frequently) are two key concepts of meaningful learning.
  • When learning, one should aim for a “desirable level of difficulty”, i.e. having obstacles that make learning difficult in the short term, but much more beneficial in the long term; make mistakes, think, conceptualize.


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  • Relying on experience from a single domain is limiting. Going from the “inside view” to the “outside view”, i.e. switching the mindset from narrow to broad, is the practice of looking outside of the surface features of a project for structurally-similar analogies.
  • The power of making a multitude of analogies from varied domains is what leads to coming up with solutions, and successful problem solvers are more able to determine the deep structure of a problem before matching it with a strategy.
  • The process of finding solutions should involve looking far outside the focused domain of the problem, combatting the Einstellung effect (when people tend to employ familiar solutions even if better ones are available).
  • Diverse backgrounds - not alike individuals - make for a great team.


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  • Winners quit fast and often when a plan is not a good fit. The sunken cost fallacy might try to sway our decisions, but the “willingess to jetisson” (quit and switch paths when they are no longer a quality match for us) is a key trait for late specialization and success.
  • We can only maximize our “match quality” - a measure of how much a job fits our aptitudes and desires - through actual sampling, not just introspection.
  • People have a “end of history illusion”, thinking that they have changed a lot in the past but will no longer change much, which makes them more rigid in their career path choices, being inclined to aim for early specialization to get a head start. However, this “plan-and-implement” versus “test-and-learn” approach doesn’t always lead to our most successful, or happiest, life.


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  • The best forecasters view their ideas as hypothesis that need testing; they want help from others through debate to falsify their notions.
  • Science curiosity is important, as is being engaged in active open-mindedness. Good judges are good belief updaters, always open to change and ambiguity.


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All the information we need is already out in the wild, we just need to integrate it.

A successful company culture is reached when an informal chain of communication - which facilitates access to meaningful information - meets a formal chain of command - which ensures structure and cohesion. In professional networks of successful groups, individuals move easily among teams and cross disciplinary boundaries, looking for new collaborators. In the end, human creativity is an import/export business of ideas.


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🔥 Building @deepstash 🧬 Interested in tech, science, philosophy, marketing, business, health. Lifelong learner.