Range

Knowledge is a double-edged sword.

It allows you to do some things, but it also makes you blind to other things that you could do.

- David Epstein

INTRODUCTION

Written at the crossroads of multiple disciplines (education, sports, business, innovation) and schools of thought (specialize vs generalize); Range comes to the defense of both - while making a case for (and urging) society to place more value on deep generalism - in order to grapple with the challenges of the future.

A fantastic read that should be a standard for any professionals or entrepreneurs in the knowlegde industry - as well as new parents, highschoolers.

The key to a sucessful career - that is, one defined by the ability to solve the never before seen challenges of a rapidly evolving world with an ever changing rule set in an innovative and effective manner - is a great deal of sampling and original, seemingly disconnected pursuits at all stages of a career; WHILE maintaining a open-mindedness for how the lessons and ideas of these explorations could lend themselves to new solutions.

The key in practicing Range over Hyperspecialization is not only in maintaining vasts intersts and playful curiousities, but in recognizing what tools they build, as well as how and where to use them.


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TAKEAWAYS

I've reordered these takeaways. For a chronological ordering - see my original Thread here.

GENERAL

“We are often taught that the more competitive and complicated the world gets, the more specialized we all must become (and the earlier we must start) to navigate it.”

“I dove into work showing that highly credentialed experts can become so narrow-minded that they actually get worse with experience, even while becoming more confident - a dangerous combination.”

“The challenge we all face now is how to maintain the benefits of breadth, diverse experience, interdisciplinary thinking, and delayed concentration in a world that increasingly incentivizes, even demands, hyperspecialization.”

“‘Anything we can do, and we know how to do it, machines will do it better [...] If we can codify it, and pass it to computers, they will do it better’” - Garry Kasparov

“In playing computers, he [Garry Kasparov] recognized what artificial intelligence scholars call Moravec’s paradox: machines and humans frequently have opposite strengths and weaknesses.”

“One good tool is rarely enough in a complex, interconnected, rapidly changing world.”

“In middle age, adults grow more consistent and cautious and less curious, open-minded, and inventive.”

“Lateral thinking is a term coined in the 1960s for the reimagining of information in new contexts, including the drawing together of seemingly disparate concepts or domains that can give old ideas new uses.”

Do not be an engineer [...] be a producer. [...] The producer knows that there’s such a thing as a semiconductor, but doesn’t need to know its inner workings... that can be left to the experts.”

“If you’re working on well-defined and we’ll-understood problems, specialists work very, very well [...] as ambiguity and uncertainty increases, which is the norm with systems problems, breadth becomes increasingly important.”

“A mechanistic approach to hiring, while yielding highly reproducible results, in fact reduces the numbers of high potential [for innovation] candidates.”

“‘Congruence’ is a social science term for cultural ‘fit’ among an institution’s components - values, goals, vision, self-conceptions, and leadership styles.”

“‘Everyone acknowledges that great progress is made at the interface, but who is there to defend the interface?’ The interface between specialties, and between creators with disparate backgrounds, has been studied, and is worth defending.”

“A paradox of innovation and mastery is that breakthroughs often occur when you start down a road, but wander off for a ways and pretend as if you have just begun.”

“Seeing small pieces of a larger jigsaw puzzle in isolation, no matter how hi-def the picture, is insufficient to grapple with humanity’s greatest challenges.”

To recap: 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.

"It is an experiment, as all life is an experiment.” - Supreme Count Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes

RANGE vs HYPERSPECIALIZATION

“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 often delayed, inaccurate or both.”

“Kind learning environment experts choose a strategy and the evaluate; experts in less repetitive environments evaluate and then choose.”

Connolly’s primary finding was that early in their careers, those who later made successful transitions had broader training and kept multiple ‘career streams’ open even as they pursued a primary specialty.

“The successful adapters were excellent at taking knowledge from one pursuit and applying it creatively to another, and at avoiding cognitive entrenchment”

“Their skill was in avoiding the same old patterns. In the wicked world, with ill-defined challenges and few rigid rules, range can be a life hack.”

“Our most fundamental thought processes have changed to accommodate increasing complexity and the need to derive new patterns rather than rely only on familiar ones.”

“Psychologists have shown repeatedly that the more internal details an individual can be made to consider, the more extreme their judgment becomes.”

“A problem well put is half-solved” -John Dewey

“We fail tasks we don’t have the guts to quit” -Seth Godin

“[...] his concern was that as companies grew and technology progressed, vertical-thinking hyperspecialists would continue to be valued but lateral-thinking generalists would not”.

“The answer [...] Where length of experience did not differentiate creators, breadth of experience did. Broad genre experience made creators better on average and more likely to innovate.”

‪[1/2] Beneath complexity, hedgehogs tend to see simple, deterministic rules of cause and effect framed by their area of expertise, like repeating patterns on a chessboard.‬

‪[2/2] Foxes see complexity in what others mistake for simple cause and effect. They understand that most cause-and-effect relationships are probabilistic, not deterministic. There are unknowns, and luck, and even when history apparently repeats it does not do so precisely.”‬

ON EDUCATION & MINDSET

“They aren’t giving students the tools to analyze the modern world, except in their area of specialization. Their education is too narrow.”

“They would rather rush them to specialization than equip them with ideas from [...] a ‘variety of base domains’, which foster analogical thinking and conceptual connections that can help students categorize the type of problem they are facing.”

The psychologists highlighted the variety of paths to excellence, but the most common was a sampling period, often lightly structured with some lessons and a breadth of instruments and activities, followed only later by a narrowing of focus and an explosion of practice volume.

[1/2] “[...] breadth of training predicts breadth of transfer. That is, the more contexts in which something is learned, the more the learner creates abstract models, and the less they rely on any particular example.

[2/2] “Learners become better at applying their knowledge to a situation they’ve never seen before, which is the essence of creativity.”

“[...] I get a lot of students from schools that are teaching jazz, and they all sound the same. They don’t seem to find their own voice. I think when you’re self-taught you experiment more, trying to find the same sound in different places, you learn how to solve problems.”

“For a given amount of material, learning is most efficient in the long run when it is inefficient in the short run.”

“Knowledge increasingly needs not merely to be durable, but also flexible - both sticky and capable of broad application.”

“‘We discover the possibilities by doing, by trying new activities, building new networks, finding new role models.’ We learn who we are in practice, not in theory.”

“‘[...] but somehow someone’s solution was always cleverer than the others. I was paying attention, and I noticed that the most clever solution always came from a piece of knowledge that was not part of the normal curriculum.”

“I realized there was always going to be this somewhat serendipitous outside thinking that was going to make a solution more clever, cost-effective, efficacious, more on the money than anyone else’s.”

Knowledge is a double-edged sword. It allows you to do some things, but it also makes you blind to other things that you could do.”

ON INNOVATION & INNOVATIVE CULTURES

“Be careful not to be too careful, Delbrück warned, or you will unconsciously limit your exploration.”

[young and foolish] [...] the tendency of young adults to gravitate to risky jobs, but it is not foolish at all. They have less experience than older workers, and so the first avenues they should try are those with high risk and reward, and that have high informational value.

“The knowledge economy created ‘overwhelming demand for ... employees with talents for conceptualization and knowledge creation’. Broad conceptual skills now helped in an array of jobs, and suddenly control over career trajectory shifted from the employer [...]”

“[Van Gogh] He tested options with maniacal intensity and got maximum information signal about his fit as quickly as possible, and then 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 excelled.”

“When seeking innovation in knowledge-based industries [...] it is best to find one ‘super’ individual. If no individual with the necessary combination of diverse knowledge is available, one should form a ‘fantastic’ team.”

[1/2] Serial innovators > i) high tolerance for ambiguity; ii) systems thinkers; iii) additional technical knowledge from peripheral domains; iv) repurposing what is already available; v) adept at using analogous domains for finding inputs to the invention process;

[2/2] > vi) ability to connect disparate pieces of information in new ways; vii) synthesizing information from many different sources; viii) they appear to flirt amount ideas; ix) broad range of interests; x) read more (and more broadly) than other technologists

“There are no tools that cannot be dropped, reimagined, or repurposed in order to navigate an unfamiliar challenge. Even the most sacred tools. Even the tools so taken for granted they become invisible.”

‪“Dropping one’s tools is a proxy for unlearning, for adaptation, for flexibility [...] It is the very unwillingness of people to drop their tools that turns some of these dramas into tragedies.”‬

“Rather than wielding a single tool, they have managed to collect and protect an entire toolshed, and they show the power of range in a hyper-specialized world.”

‪“The experiments show that an effective problem-solving culture was one that balanced standard practice- whatever that happened to be - with forces that pushed in the opposite direction.”

[1/2] “In professional networks that acted as fertile soil for successful groups, individuals moved easily among teams, crossing organizational and disciplinary boundaries and finding new collaborations.”

[2/2] “Networks that spawned unsuccessful teams, conversely, were broken into small isolated clusters in which the same people collaborated over and over. Efficient and comfortable, perhaps, but apparently not a creative engine.”

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