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

You know the stories of pianists or chess players or athletes that spend 10,000 + hours honing their skills and doing the same thing over and over again to attain a “mastery” of their craft? Turns out that’s all well and good, but maybe a pianist should play a sport, a chess player should try an instrument and an athlete should mix and match different sports from the one they think will take them to the next level. Diversity is good for you, your mental and physical health, and your future career because it gives you a perspective that you would otherwise lack if you were just doing the same thing over and over again. Backed by evidence, this book helped me understand that some people get a late start in life, you don’t need to feel like you are behind, and you shouldn’t compare yourself to people who aren’t you. Because they aren’t you! Sounds good to me.

  • Eventual elites typically devote less time early on to deliberate practice in the activity in which they will eventually become experts/they do a “sampling period”
  • Early sampling is key, as is diversity
  • Highly credentialed experts can become so narrow minded they actually get worse with experience, even while becoming more confident — a dangerous combination
  • The fastest growing start ups, the average age of a founder was 45 when the company was launched
  • Federer: Started broad and embraced a diverse experience and perspective while he advanced. Someone with Range. (Vs. Tiger … More Roger’s than Tiger’s)
  • Chess, Golf and Firefighting are exceptions, not the rule (areas where there is repetition, patterns repeat)
  • Kahneman and Klein — Whether or not experience inevitably led to expertise, they agreed, depended entirely on the domain in question
  • In golf or chess, a ball or piece is moved accordingly to rules and within defined boundaries, a consequence is quickly apparent and similar challenges occur repeatedly
  • Kahneman — In wicked domains, the rules of the game are often unclear or incomplete, there may or may not be repetitive, patterns and they may not be obvious, and feedback is delayed, inaccurate or both
  • Chunking — Grouping pieces into a smaller number of meaningful chunks based on familiar patterns (Chess players)
  • Brilliance relies on repetitive structures
  • The more a task shifts to an open world of big picture strategy, the more humans have to add (vs. machines)
  • The bigger the picture, the more unique the potential human contribution/our greatest strength is our ability to integrate broadly
  • In a truly open world problem devoid of rigid rules and reams of perfect historical data, AI has been disastrous
  • No savant has ever been known to be a Big C creator who changed their field
  • Nobel laureates are at least twenty two times more likely to partake as an amateur actor, dancer, magician or other type of performer
  • Those who made successful transitions had broader training and kept multiple career streams open even as they pursued a particular specialty/taking knowledge from one pursuit and applying it creatively to another, and at avoiding cognitive entrenchment
  • Flynn effect — increase in correct IQ answers with each new generation in the 20th century
  • child today who scores average on similarities would be in the 94th percentile of their grandparents generation
  • Raven’s Progressive Matrices — today’s children are far better at solving problems on the spot
  • More people move toward modernity, the more powerful their abstract thinking
  • Scientific Spectacles — make sense o reality through classification schemes, using layers of abstract concepts to understand how pieces of information relate to one another
  • Modern work demands knowledge transfer — the ability to apply knowledge to new situations and different domains
  • Correlation between the test of broad conceptual thinking and GPA was about zero
  • Econ majors did the best overall/broad field by nature, professors have been shown to apply the reasoning principles they’ve learned to problems in other areas
  • Students must be taught to think before being taught what to think about
  • Rapidly changing world demands conceptual reasoning skills that can connect new ideas and work across contexts
  • The sampling period is not incidental to the development of great performers (music) something to be excised in the interest of a head start is integral
  • Students classified as exceptional at a boarding school came from less musically active families compared to less accomplished students, did not start playing at a younger age, were less likely to have had an instrument in the home at a very young age, had taken fewer overall lessons prior to entering the school and had simply practiced less overall before arriving — a lot less
  • While improvising musicians do pretty much the opposite of consciously identifying errors and stopping to correct them
  • Adam Grant = Creativity may be difficult to nurture, but it is easy to thwart. He pointed to a study that found an average of six household rules for typical children compared to one in households with extremely creative children
  • Parents aren’t comfortable with bewildered kids — they want understanding to come quickly and easily. But for learning that is both durable and flexible fast and easy is precisely the problem
  • “Desirable Difficulties” — obstacles that make learning more challenging, slower and more frustrating the short term but better in the long term
  • “Generation Effect” — struggling to generate an answer on your own, even the wrong one, enhances subsequent learning (example of a desirable difficulty)
  • “Hypercorrection Effect” — The more confident a learner is of their wrong answer, the better the information sticks when they subsequently learn the right answer
  • In the non sports world, repeated wrong answers can set up learning so long as the right answer is provided eventually
  • Training with hints did not produce any lasting learning
  • Struggling to retrieve information primes the brain for subsequent learning even when the retrieval itself is unsuccessful
  • Spacing — distributed practice — leaving time between practice sessions for the same material
  • Struggling to hold on to information and then recall it had helped the group distracted by math problems transfer the information from short to long term memory
  • Frustration is not a sign you are learning, but ease is
  • Economists suggested that professors who caused short term struggle but long term gains were facilitating deep learning by making connections
  • Most basic message is that teachers and students must avoid interpreting current performance as learning
  • Interleaving — Learned under varied conditions — improves the ability to match the right strategy to a problem
  • Evaluate and then choose
  • Desirable difficulties like testing and spacing make knowledge stick — it becomes durable
  • Coach/athlete interactions may have a longer life than the fleeting advantage of a head start in closed skills
  • When a knowledge structure is so flexible that it can be applied effectively even in a new domain or extremely novel situations, it is called ‘far transfer’
  • “If you need a large force to accomplish some purpose, but are prevented from applying such a force directly, many smaller forces applied simultaneously from different directions may work just as well”
  • Relying upon experience from a single domain is not only limiting, it can be disastrous
  • “Inside” view — Kahneman and Tversky, we take the inside view when we make judgements based narrowly on the details of a particular project that are right in front of us
  • “outside” view — probes for deep structural similarities to the current problem in different ones
  • Netlix — instead of examining what we might like, they examined WHO you are like in the complexity of their algorithm/reference class of analogies, our outside view to be more accurate
  • Students reminded to analogize widely made the business students more creative/wide ranging analogical thinking/Kepler was really good at this
  • “variety of base domains’ — which foster analogical thinking and conceptual connections that can help students categorize the type of problem they are facing
  • Successful problem solvers are more likely to be able to determine deep structure of a problem before they proceed to match a strategy to it
  • Science labs most likely to turn unexpected into new knowledge for humanity made a lot of analogies, and made them from a variety of base domains
  • Gauguin, Rowling, Van Gogh — Late starts were integral to their eventual success
  • “Match Quality” — a term economists use to describe the degree of fit between the work someone does and who they are — their abilities and proclivities
  • Benefits to increased match quality outweigh the greater loss in skills — learning stuff was less important than learning about oneself. Exploration is not just a whimsical luxury of education, it is a central benefit
  • Switchers are winners, contrary to Angela Duckworth (Grit) — work ethic and resilience, consistency of interests — direction, knowing what one wants
  • Knowing when to quit is such a big strategic advantage that every single person, before undertaking an endeavor, should enumerate conditions under which they should quit.
  • Important to know whether switching is simply a failure of perseverance or astute recognition the better matches are available
  • Army — missed out on match quality markets/no talent matching market mechanisms
  • While the private sector adjusted to the burgeoning need for high match quality, the army just threw money at people
  • Van Gogh was an example of match quality optimization — he tested opinions with maniacal intensity and got the maximum information signal about his fit as quickly as possible, and them moved to something else and repeated, until he had zigzagged his way to a place no one else had ever been, and where he alone excelle
  • Short term planning is important; long term goals are good but only after a period after discovery
  • Our work preferences and life preferences do not stay the same, because we do not stay the same
  • End of history illusion — works in progress claiming to be finished (us)
  • Adults tend to become more agreeable, more conscientious, more emotionally stable, less neurotic with age, but less open to experience. In middle age, adults grow more consistent and cautious and less curious, open minded and inventive.
  • The most mementos personality changes occur between age 18 and late 20’s, so specializing early is a task of predicting match quality for a person who does not yet exist
  • Context principle = child who is aggressive at home may be less agressive than most at school
  • Replication of the marshmallow test found that predictive power for later behavior was less than in the original study
  • Instead of asking if someone is gritty, we should ask when they are
  • We learn who we are only by living, and not beore
  • Ibarra — we maximize match quality throughout life by sampling activities, social groups, contexts, jobs, careers, and then reflecting and adjusting our personal narratives, and repeat.
  • First act, and then think
  • Which among my various possible selves should I start to explore now? How can I do that?
  • Test and learn, not plan and implement
  • Frame a challenge so that it attracts a diverse array of solvers
  • Outside in thinking = finding solutions in experiences far outside of focused training for the problem itself
  • Einstellung effect — psych term for the tendency of problem solvers to employ only familiar methods even if better ones are availalbe
  • A curious outsider is truly the only one that can see the solution
  • The larger and more accessible the library of human knowledge, the more changes for inquisitive patrons to make connections at the cutting edge
  • The world is both broad and deep — we need birds and frogs working together to explore it
  • Polymaths — inventors that are broad with at least one area of depth — they learned about “adjacent” stuff in the path to invention
  • Narrowly focused specialists in technical fields are still critical, it’s just that their work is widely accessible, so fewer suffice
  • No statistically signifiant relationship between R and D spending and performance
  • If you are working on well defined and well understood problems, specialists work well. As ambiguity and uncertainty increases, which is the norm with systems problems, breadth becomes increasingly important
  • In high uncertainty domains teams that included individuals who had worked on a variety of technologies were more likely to make a splash. The higher the domain uncertainty, the more important it was to have a high breadth team member.
  • What helped creators make better comics? How many of 22 different genres a creator had worked in, from comedy and crime to fantasy, adult, non fiction and sci if. Breadth of experience mattered. Broad genre experience made creators better on average and more likely to innovate.
  • Diverse experience was impactful when created by platoon in teams, and even more impactful when contained within an individual.
  • Darwin = Lateral thinking integrator.
  • Wide ranging interests, multiple hobbies and advocations when hiring
  • Hedgehogs — Narrowness/Foxes = Ranged outside a single discipline or theory and embodied breadth
  • Superforecasters = best forecasters foxy as individuals, they had qualities that made them particularly effective collaborators — partners in sharing information and discussing predictions
  • If you are too much of an insider, its hard to get good perspective
  • Forecasters = genuinely curious about everything
  • In contrast to politicians, the most adept predictors flip flop like crazy
  • Active open mindedness — best forecasters view their own ideas as hypotheses in need of testing. Encourage their teammates o help them falsify their own notions.
  • High in science curiosity is helpful, best forecasters are high in active open mindedness
  • They see complexity in what others mistake for simple cause and effect. They understand the most cause relationships are probabilistic, not deterministic
  • when an outcome took them by surprise, however, foxes were more likely to adjust their ideas. Hedgehogs barely budged.
  • Challenger decision (NASA) — relied on quantitative analysis too much in decision
  • Demanding more data became the problem itself
  • Reason without numbers was not accepted. In the face of an unfamiliar challenge, NASA managers failed to drop their familiar tools.
  • Experienced groups become rigid under pressure and regress to what they know best.
  • Overlearned behavior — done the same thing in response to the same challenges over and over until the behavior has become so automatic that they no longer even recognize it as a situation specific tool.
  • Congruence — social science term for cultural fit among an institutions components — values, goals, vision, self concepts, and leadership styles. Since the 1980’s congruence has been a pillar of organizational theory.
  • Researchers who studied congruence at 334 institutions of higher learning found that it had no influence on any measure of organizational success.
  • Most effective leaders and organizations had range — paradoxical
  • Managers began to see (in a study) when the standard evaluation process needed to be modified or discarded. They were learning with experience, and their predictions became more accurate. Benefitting from incongruence.
  • Expanding organizational range by identifying the dominant culture and then diversifying it by pushing it in the opposite direction.
  • NASA process was so rigid it spurned evidence that didn’t conform to the usual rules.
  • Challenger and Columbia disasters were similar — NASA was not functioning as a learning organization.
  • Differentiated chain of command and chain of communication produced incongruence, and thus a healthy tension.
  • Patients of heart failure or cardiac arrest were less likely to die if they were admitted during a national cardiology conference, when thousands of cardiologists were away
  • No standard relationship between experience and contribution — an individuals most impactful paper was as likely to be their fist as their second, tenth or last (science nobel winners)
  • Specialization played a critical role in the 2008 global financial crisis
  • Thriving ecosystems had porous boundaries between teams
  • In professional networks that acted as fertile soil for successful groups, individuals moved easily among teams, crossing organizational and disciplinary boundaries and finding new collaborators
  • Scientists who have worked abroad are more likely to make a greater scientific impact than those who have not
  • Work that builds bridges between disparate pieces of knowledge is less likely to be funded, less likely to appear in famous journals, more likely to be ignored upon publication, and then more likely in the long run to be a smash hit in the library of human knowledge
  • Don’t feel behind (This is really good advice for me)
  • Compare yourself to yourself yesterday, not to younger people who aren’t you
  • You probably don’t even know exactly where you’re going, so feeling behind doesn’t help
  • Start planning experiments

I love books, I have a ton of them, and I take notes on all of them. I wanted to share all that I have learned and will continue to learn. I hope you enjoy.