Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Hyperspecialized World by David Epstein
Interesting view on how generalists can thrive in a moment in history where hyperspecialization is highly valued and rewarded. This is a book I would recommend to curious minds who are interested in the most diverse topics.
Athletes and performers spend most of their time on deliberate practice to achieve incredible results. Deliberate practice is the constant repetition of the same or similar tasks but, before performing it, the performer is given clear instructions about the method they should use and immediate feedback at the end. Such a practice is not common in fields outside the sports and creative industries, but it is what makes the result stand out. After all, the saying “practice makes perfect” is based on truth.
Olympic athletes though, once they retire, have a harsh clash with reality. The rules of life are different from the rules of sports. “Yes, striving to accomplish a single overarching goal every day means you have grit, determination and resilience. But the ability to pull yourself together mentally and physically in the competition is different from the new challenges that await you” highlights Sasha Cohen.
Interestingly, those who specialize early in their career enjoyed higher earnings just after receiving their degree but late specializers, according to study, found a job that best fit their skills and personalities.
Narrow experience is an advantage for chess players, poker players and firefighters, but the same will not work to improve predictions in financial or political trends. Today, where the world concentrates on hyperspecialization, it is difficult for all to maintain the benefits of diverse experience and interdisciplinary thinking. Having broad interests seem to be much more common for creative achievers than other professionals.
Interestingly, as humans, our greatest strength is our ability to integrate broadly, which is the complete opposite of narrow specialization which is, on the other hand, one of the strengths of machines.
Narrow thinking is being adopted in the education systems as well. Students are often given the tools to analyze their particular area of specialization, but not the tools to analyze the modern world. This leads to not developing critical intelligence.
Moreover, education systems around the globe tend to make students learn the rule and then apply the rule in a set of given exercises. This method of learning is very different from the one we are naturally inclined to use. When we start walking we are not given a manual on “Walking - the principals”, but we do so by trial and error and imitating what we observe around us. This same method of learning is the one used by improv masters, they dive in and improvise firs, only after they learn the formal rules.
Because life is a long-term game and our personality changes with time, experience and outside elements, hyperspecialization ill-equips us to play this game. Therefore, it doesn’t make much sense for us to plan ahead for our future and pursue goals with the grit and determination of an Olympic athlete. It is much more convenient for us to adopt a “test-and-learn” approach, where we try a variety of experiences and learn from them. Even better if some of what we learn in one experiment can then be applied to a completely different sphere of our life or to a future experiment.
T and I shaped people
A T shaped person is someone who has breadth, is interested in many different things and delves into topics according to both need and interests. On the other hand, I shaped people go deep into a topic and are experts on it, they know the ins and outs of it incredibly well.
Trying several things and getting knowledgeable on various topics has the advantage of giving people a deep understanding of what they would like to focus on. Two individuals who tried and excelled in this methodology are Charles Darwin (who could be considered a professional outsider as he was not a university faculty member and he was networked into the scientific community as he was not a professional scientist) and Shonda Rhimes. Rhimes, who created the popular TV series Grey’s Anatomy and Scandal decided to oppose her introversion which pushed her to turn down unexpected invitations and decided to say yes to everything for an entire year. This Year of Yes allowed her to have a profound understanding of herself, what she liked and what she wanted to focus on.
Innovation and Predictions
Less science-curious adults are resistant to contrary evidence and, according to research, more inclined to be politically polarized, science-curious people on the other hand are more open to new evidence. Consuming omnivorously can actually make you a better forecaster as this ability requires active open-mindedness in order for you to notice different aspects that can affect or have consequences in other spheres.
The 2008 global financial crisis was rooted in deep specialization which started a vicious regulation circle where each discipline (insurance, banks, securities regulators..) each regulated itself without looking at what other players in the system were doing across the market.
Innovation happens when you start down one road and then wander off in different paths. If you read outside your field your world becomes much wider and at some point, you will be able to make connections between apparently unrelated areas.
Progress happens differently for everyone. For some, it happens earlier, for others later. Therefore there is no reason to compare yourself to others or even to younger people who aren’t you. Don’t feel behind. Most likely you don’t know where you are going so there is no point in feeling behind.