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Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World by David Epstein

Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World by David Epstein

by David Epstein


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‘Kind’ vs ‘wicked’ learning environments

‘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.




Cognitive entrenchment and abstract thinking

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.



Breadth of training predicts breadth of transfer

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.



Slow learning and the power of mistakes

  • 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.



The power of analogies

  • 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.



Grit and the power to adapt

  • 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.



Ambiguity and doubt

  • 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.



Information integration

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.




The modern polymath

... is someone who becomes competent in at least 3 diverse domains and integrates them into a top 1-percent skill set.

In another words, they bring the best of what humanity has discov...

Creating an atypical combination of 2+ skills

Even if you're merely competent in these skills, combining them can lead to a world-class skill set.

Example: Scott Adams, the creator of Dilbert, one of the most popular comic strips of all time, was not the funniest person,  not the best cartoonist, and not the most experienced employee. But by combining his humor and illustration skills while focusing on business culture, he became the best in the world in his niche.

Creative breakthroughs

Most creative breakthroughs come via making atypical combinations of skills.

Researcher Brian Uzzi, a professor at the Northwestern University Kellogg School of Management, analyzed more than 26 million scientific papers going back hundreds of years and found that the most impactful papers often have teams with atypical combinations of backgrounds.

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Sports Fans

Sports Fans

Sports is a big deal across the world, with die-hard fans who are extremely emotional towards their home teams. It is hard to pinpoint the motivations of a sports fan, and why a win or a loss of a ...

Why We Love Sports

Sports psychologists have a list of why people love sports:

  • Sports carry self-esteem benefits.
  • Commercial reasons (money bets etc.).
  • Peer pressure of being part of their group.
  • Sports are exciting.
  • Sports is an aesthetically pleasing activity.
  • A venue for emotional expression.
  • Sports is an escape from real-world problems.
  • Sports provide a sense of connectedness and belonging.

Explaining Sports Appeal

  • Talent-Luck Theory: Sports appeals to a lot of people due to its ability to balance skill with randomness.
  • Mirror Neurons: Many fans are able to feel what the player is feeling, and experience the excitement first-hand in his mind, with no barrier between the self and the outside world.

Automation Is Here

Automation has a huge potential to change the nature of work, freeing up workers from tedious, repetitive, and precision work. Automation is a transformational change for owners, employees and...

Aim High

A thorough reassessment is required of how the company operates and how best to capture the impact of automation.

Companies who have just automated on the surface have had small and limited results that don't last. Companies that have understood and deployed the high-risk, high-reward proposition have completely transformed it's business offerings and have become market leaders. They have also redeployed the freed up workforce and provided additional services, even turning their competitors into customers.

Commit and Communicate

A joint effort of commitment and communication is essential for a thorough approach to automation and has to be led by top management.

Apart from IT, all stakeholder groups like HR, Operations, Business Units have to be engaged, and communicate consistently.