We should all be generalists instead of specialists, according to David Epstein

In Range, it is generalists that rise to the top.

David Epstein’s Range makes the argument that even though our world appears ever more specialized, it is generalists that rise to the top of it.

While deliberate practice might work in narrow games, it doesn’t elsewhere, where pattern recognition hinders as much as helps.We need to unlearn our obsession with speed: the best learning looks inefficient; older founders are more likely to find success. And with deep expertise: average experts are terrible forecasters, scientifically literate adults are more politically dogmatic about science.

We need to learn how to use deep analogies from different domains to think about hard problems. And when to drop our familiar tools.

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This weeks video:

Illustrations and Quotes


Most of our world is a wicked learning environment, full of irregularities and patterns that worked for a while until they catastrophically don’t. In Range, David Epstein discusses how keeping a broader purview on what you do will help prepare you for a future of success.
What I’ll talk about in this video is the distinctions between things that require deliberate practice to excell and, and the wicked world, the rest of the world. Secondly, two things to unlearn speed and abroad, reliance on expertise. And thirdly, two things to pick up how to use deep analogies and when to drop your tools.
(Section 1 – Deliberate practice vs Range)
Epstein starts his book with a comparison of Tiger Woods and Roger Federer . So tiger woods had a putter in his hand when he was two years old and was basically guided along the path to his sporting greatness by his pushy encouraging Tigerish father.
Roger Federer on the other hand, played any sport with a ball. When he was a child, he dabbled in more or less everything. And over time he gravitated towards tennis. And that approach of sampling and trying various sports before settling on one is much less commonly discussed in literature about how to develop skills.
So many people will be familiar with the idea of 10,000 hours of practice. The idea that if you want to be wonderful at something, or if you want your children to be wonderful at something, what they need to do is drill.
They need to hone their skills by repetition, by practice, by doing the same thing over and over again, in a very focused manner to make sure that they learn the skills as deeply as they can. And what Epstein is has shown in Range really is that that doesn’t apply to most of the people at the top of most professions and including kind of the athletic world like Roger Federer.
So he questions, whether deliberate practice and focus is a good idea in our modern world. And he explains that for many things, it’s not actually. Range is an approach that will lead people along a path to greater success, he’s using examples throughout of people at the top of professions.
So if you’re looking to adapt yourself for the future and thinking about your own skill development or your children’s learning, Range is a more useful approach than deliberate practice Epstein is entirely right here.
(Section – Two things to unlearn)
The first thing to unlearn here is speed. The idea that quick progress, whether in learning or a career is a good thing. And that allows us to get a head start and get ahead of the competition.
This is demonstrable nonsense. So learning quickly, learning by fast repeatable processes and plenty of hints from your teacher is demonstratively worse for your long-term learning than finding things hard and allowing your thoughts to develop and as you go along.
So the only studies I’ve seen, for instance, that compare the performance of students who were taught by different professors in Clearly relational courses. So calculus warning the first year in calculus two in the second year, if you look at the professors from year one whose students over-performed.
Those students do worse in year two. And that’s because they found it too easy. It’s because they’ve been guided or had too many hints along the way.
By giving hints, you get them to get the answer right. Which is taken as the learning. But the problem is that by giving the hints and guiding them along the way in that sense , what you’re doing is you’re taking away the difficulty that helps them to remember.
And that applies to your own skill development as well. And so I’ll just to talk more broadly. I don’t think Epstein talks about this. If what you’re doing is being entertained and thinking you’re learning and that’s unlikely to be the most effective path to learning for you. The same thing applies really, and it goes for careers as well.
And so most people at the top think that they were the dark horse. This is the results of a huge amount of research that Epstein doesn’t talk about but. So most of the people he studies didn’t have a direct path to where they were at the top of their profession.
so if you look at the number of Nobel prize winners who also do art or drama , Or singing or something creative and, and very, very different from their day to day profession. And it’s a much higher proportion of Nobel prize winners than it is of the rest of everybody else. The people at the top nearly always have some range and they often take time to decide on their career .
So this is shown, particularly in studies of CEOs. Who often jumped between different industries and gain experience and learn to think in different ways and across different contexts . And that’s how they rise to the top of their profession. So really the sum of unlearning speed is the best learning looks very inefficient and remember facts like older founders are more likely to succeed than younger ones.
(unlearn expertise)
The second thing to unlearn is expertise. So I talked about this a little bit in a video on Superforecasting as wel l. Experts who have a lot of knowledge about their field are often worse forecasters than amateurs are. And that’s because of a range of cognitive biases that leads their intense knowledge of an area to an elevated level of confidence in their own knowledge. So what should be, I think this will happen becomes this will happen, definitely.
The more, you know, about a single politician or an investment or a race horse, the more likely you are to think that they will win. Your knowledge is directly related to how confident you are in something. All of this is, is fairly well proven that there is as a general trend across society.
We need to realize that people speaking with confidence and certainty in their own fields are more likely to be overestimating their real knowledge than they are to be accurately reflecting it.
So even if they do know more than you, tone down their confidence when you’re considering what they’re saying, that goes for me as well. Of course.
(Section 3 – Two things to learn)
(deep analogies)
There are many problems in the world that people face particularly within their own field their own expertise that they can solve by surface analogy. So they can solve by comparing one project to another project , you know, a direct comparison like that. But for really difficult problems, it’s often helpful to bring in an analogy from a different domain entirely what an Ghent , calls a deep analogy.
And the reason for this is that it brings to light deeper comparisons, particularly in your own thinking. And it helps to overcome all of the cognitive biases and all of the overconfidence that comes into play when you’re dealing with something that you think that, you know. So these deeper analogies help to highlight that and help a team discussion in particular, they’re wonderful for team discussion and for Expanding on your own point of view, it’s something I’m trying to improve myself over time.
Here’s a well-known problem that can be used to illustrate the value of deep analogies. It’s based around early treatment of a cancerous patient with a tumor deep in their tissue. And this tumor can be destroyed. The doctor is confident, if a certain amount of x-ray energy is brought to bear on it.
But the problem is that x-ray energy will kill all of the surrounding tissue as well because of the intensity. So it would destroy anything in its path. What’s the solution. That’s the problem. So one in 10 of the people watching this have the answer in their head, they know what they’re doing, and then they’re wondering why it’s a problem, probably because the way that they think this is easy and the way that nine in 10 of you think this will be helped by a deep analogy.
And particularly by the fact I’m telling you this, the deep analogy that makes it even easier. So if you have a fire that you’re trying to put out. A huge fire and you have, and a hose that only allows a certain amount of water to come out, but you have plenty of these hoses around, and there’s a solution to putting that fire out.
You bring multiple hoses to bear on the fire. And each of them individually, wouldn’t be able to put the fire out, but together they can.
The solution is to use multiple weak x-rays that don’t suit don’t destroy the tissue on their way through, but together when they converge are powerful enough to destroyed the cancerous tissue with it.
Just giving people that analogy, raises the response rates to about 50% correct. And when, as I’ve done and you’re given a hint that the analogy helps, it goes up to about 80%. So the still two in 10 of you, who might not believe me, but the rest of you will.
So analogies have to be from outside of the domain of play to have that effect. That’s, that’s proven in the research too. They have to be from a deeper level from elsewhere and from as far away as possible, ideally from a different place.
(drop your tools)
Lastly learn when to drop your tools. So this comes from, a psychologist called Paul White, who, noted that many firefighters in wilderness situations in the US died with their tools in their hands. And in many cases they’d been instructed to drop those tools and run. And, and what Epstein is doing is showing that this applies in plenty of other fields, too.
So two scientists sticking to a tried and trusted method because it has worked in the past, but when the situation changes and things become more complex for whatever reason it doesn’t anymore.
And what Epstein is saying really is that whether you’re an engineer , an inventor or just yourself in your everyday life. You need to be aware that when the situation changes, your old tools might not be useful.