Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World

Author(s):
David Epstein

Finished Reading:
Oct 7, 2019

Edition Publisher:
Riverhead Books

Edition Release:
May 28, 2019

Purchase Search via DuckDuckGo:
ISBN Riverhead Books

Highlights & Annotations

August 20, 2019 INTRODUCTION: Roger vs. Tiger, p. 11

And I was stunned when cognitive psychologists I spoke with led me to an enormous and too often ignored body of work demonstrating that learning itself is best done slowly to accumulate lasting knowledge, even when that means performing poorly on tests of immediate progress. That is, the most effective learning looks inefficient; it looks like falling behind.

August 23, 2019 INTRODUCTION: Roger vs. Tiger, p. 12

Overspecialization can lead to collective tragedy even when every individual separately takes the most reasonable course of action.

August 23, 2019 INTRODUCTION: Roger vs. Tiger, p. 13

Everyone is digging deeper into their own trench and rarely standing up to look in the next trench over, even though the solution to their problem happens to reside there

August 23, 2019 CHAPTER 1: The Cult of the Head Start, p. 22

Moravec’s paradox: machines and humans frequently have opposite strengths and weaknesses.

August 23, 2019 CHAPTER 1: The Cult of the Head Start, p. 23

humans empowered to do what they do best without the prerequisite of years of specialized pattern recognition.

August 23, 2019 CHAPTER 1: The Cult of the Head Start, p. 24

He was like an executive with a team of mega-grandmaster tactical advisers, deciding whose advice to probe more deeply and ultimately whose to heed

August 23, 2019 CHAPTER 1: The Cult of the Head Start, p. 24

outsourcing tactics, the part of human expertise that is most easily replaced

August 23, 2019 CHAPTER 1: The Cult of the Head Start, p. 28

the more a task shifts to an open world of big-picture strategy, the more humans have to add

August 23, 2019 CHAPTER 1: The Cult of the Head Start, p. 29

Our greatest strength is the exact opposite of narrow specialization. It is the ability to integrate broadly

August 23, 2019 CHAPTER 1: The Cult of the Head Start, p. 30

AI systems are like savants.” They need stable structures and narrow worlds.

August 23, 2019 CHAPTER 1: The Cult of the Head Start, p. 30

He studied high-powered consultants from top business schools for fifteen years, and saw that they did really well on business school problems that were well defined and quickly assessed. But they employed what Argyris called single-loop learning, the kind that favors the first familiar solution that comes to mind. Whenever those solutions went wrong, the consultant usually got defensive. Argyris found their “brittle personalities” particularly surprising given that “the essence of their job is to teach others how to do things differently.”

August 23, 2019 CHAPTER 1: The Cult of the Head Start, p. 30

with an unkind domain, the human tendency to rely on experience of familiar patterns can backfire horribly

August 23, 2019 CHAPTER 1: The Cult of the Head Start, p. 30

learned inflexibility

August 23, 2019 CHAPTER 1: The Cult of the Head Start, p. 31

find ways to learn beyond practice, and to assimilate lessons that might even contradict their direct experience.

August 23, 2019 CHAPTER 1: The Cult of the Head Start, p. 32

experts had a more difficult time adapting to new rules than did nonexperts.

August 23, 2019 CHAPTER 1: The Cult of the Head Start, p. 32

cognitive entrenchment

August 23, 2019 CHAPTER 1: The Cult of the Head Start, p. 32

vary challenges within a domain drastically, and, as a fellow researcher put it, insist on “having one foot outside your world.”

August 23, 2019 CHAPTER 1: The Cult of the Head Start, p. 32

Scientists and members of the general public are about equally likely to have artistic hobbies, but scientists inducted into the highest national academies are much more likely to have avocations outside of their vocation. And those who have won the Nobel Prize are more likely still. Compared to other scientists, Nobel laureates are at least twenty-two times more likely to partake as an amateur actor, dancer, magician, or other type of performer. Nationally recognized scientists are much more likely than other scientists to be musicians, sculptors, painters, printmakers, woodworkers, mechanics, electronics tinkerers, glassblowers, poets, or writers, of both fiction and nonfiction. And, again, Nobel laureates are far more likely still. The most successful experts also belong to the wider world

August 23, 2019 CHAPTER 1: The Cult of the Head Start, p. 33

“it appears as though they are scattering and dissipating their energies, while in reality they are channeling and strengthening them

August 29, 2019 CHAPTER 1: The Cult of the Head Start, p. 34

They “traveled on an eight-lane highway,” he wrote, rather than down a single-lane one-way street. They had range. The successful adapters were excellent at taking knowledge from one pursuit and applying it creatively to another, and at avoiding cognitive entrenchment. They employed what Hogarth called a “circuit breaker.” They drew on outside experiences and analogies to interrupt their inclination toward a previous solution that may no longer work. 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.

September 7, 2019 CHAPTER 2: How the Wicked World Was Made, p. 49

his education did not maximize the modern potential for applying conceptual thinking across domains. Professors, he told me, are just too eager to share their favorite facts gleaned from years of acceleratingly narrow study.

September 7, 2019 CHAPTER 2: How the Wicked World Was Made, p. 53

They were extremely well prepared for what they had experienced before, and extremely poorly equipped for everything else. Their very thinking was highly specialized in a manner that the modern world has been telling us is increasingly obsolete. They were perfectly capable of learning from experience, but failed at learning without experience. And that is what a rapidly changing, wicked world demands—conceptual reasoning skills that can connect new ideas and work across contexts. Faced with any problem they had not directly experienced before, the remote villagers were completely lost. That is not an option for us. The more constrained and repetitive a challenge, the more likely it will be automated, while great rewards will accrue to those who can take conceptual knowledge from one problem or domain and apply it in an entirely new one. The ability to apply knowledge broadly comes from broad training

September 7, 2019 CHAPTER 2: How the Wicked World Was Made, p. 45

Modern work demands knowledge transfer: the ability to apply knowledge to new situations and different domains. 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

September 7, 2019 CHAPTER 2: How the Wicked World Was Made, p. 48

Flynn was bemused to find that the correlation between the test of broad conceptual thinking and GPA was about zero. In Flynn’s words, “the traits that earn good grades at [the university] do not include critical ability of any broad significance.”*

September 7, 2019 CHAPTER 2: How the Wicked World Was Made, p. 49

interdisciplinary critical thinking

  • How do I work this into my portfolio.

September 7, 2019 CHAPTER 2: How the Wicked World Was Made, p. 50

This must change, he argues, if students are to capitalize on their unprecedented capacity for abstract thought. They must be taught to think before being taught what to think about. Students come prepared with scientific spectacles, but do not leave carrying a scientific-reasoning Swiss Army knife.

September 7, 2019 CHAPTER 2: How the Wicked World Was Made, p. 50

A class at the University of Washington titled “Calling Bullshit” (in staid coursebook language: INFO 198/BIOL 106B), focused on broad principles fundamental to understanding the interdisciplinary world

September 7, 2019 CHAPTER 2: How the Wicked World Was Made, p. 50

Jeannette Wing, a computer science professor at Columbia University and former corporate vice president of Microsoft Research, has pushed broad “computational thinking” as the mental Swiss Army knife. She advocated that it become as fundamental as reading, even for those who will have nothing to do with computer science or programming. “Computational thinking is using abstraction and decomposition when attacking a large complex task,” she wrote. “It is choosing an appropriate representation for a problem.”

September 7, 2019 CHAPTER 2: How the Wicked World Was Made, p. 51

Like many a grad student, I had a big database and hit a computer button to run a common statistical analysis, never having been taught to think deeply (or at all) about how that statistical analysis even worked. The stat program spit out a number summarily deemed “statistically significant.” Unfortunately, it was almost certainly a false positive, because I did not understand the limitations of the statistical test in the context in which I applied it. Nor did the scientists who reviewed the work. As statistician Doug Altman put it, “Everyone is so busy doing research they don’t have time to stop and think about the way they’re doing it.” I rushed into extremely specialized scientific research without having learned scientific reasoning.

September 7, 2019 CHAPTER 2: How the Wicked World Was Made, p. 52

The professor later explained that these were “Fermi problems,” because Enrico Fermi—who created the first nuclear reactor beneath the University of Chicago football field—constantly made back-of-the-envelope estimates to help him approach problems.* The ultimate lesson of the question was that detailed prior knowledge was less important than a way of thinking.

September 10, 2019 CHAPTER 3: When Less of the Same Is More, p. 75

Limb saw that brain areas associated with focused attention, inhibition, and self-censoring turned down when the musicians were creating. “It’s almost as if the brain turned off its own ability to criticize itself

September 10, 2019 CHAPTER 3: When Less of the Same Is More, p. 76

The jazz musician is a creative artist, the classical musician is a re-creative artist.”

September 10, 2019 CHAPTER 3: When Less of the Same Is More, p. 76

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

September 10, 2019 CHAPTER 3: When Less of the Same Is More, p. 77

The parents with creative children made their opinions known after their kids did something they didn’t like, they just did not proscribe it beforehand. Their households were low on prior restraint.

September 10, 2019 CHAPTER 3: When Less of the Same Is More, p. 77

“I could show somebody in two minutes what would take them years of screwing around on the fingerboard like I did to find it. You don’t know what’s right or what’s wrong. You don’t have that in your head. You’re just trying to find a solution to problems, and after fifty lifetimes, it starts to come together for you. It’s slow,” he told me, “but at the same time, there’s something to learning that way.”

September 11, 2019 CHAPTER 4: Learning, Fast and Slow, p. 92

performance in the long run. Psychologist Robert Bjork first used the phrase “desirable difficulties” in 1994

September 10, 2019 CHAPTER 4: Learning, Fast and Slow, p. 83

There is a specific Japanese word to describe chalkboard writing that tracks conceptual connections over the course of collective problem solving: bansho.)

September 10, 2019 CHAPTER 4: Learning, Fast and Slow, p. 85

If the teacher didn’t already turn the work into using-procedures practice, well-meaning parents will. They aren’t comfortable with bewildered kids, and they want understanding to come quickly and easily. But for learning that is both durable (it sticks) and flexible (it can be applied broadly), fast and easy is precisely the problem.

September 10, 2019 CHAPTER 4: Learning, Fast and Slow, p. 85

desirable difficulties,” obstacles that make learning more challenging, slower, and more frustrating in the short term, but better in the long term

September 10, 2019 CHAPTER 4: Learning, Fast and Slow, p. 86

hypercorrection effect.” The more confident a learner is of their wrong answer, the better the information sticks when they subsequently learn the right answer. Tolerating big mistakes can create the best learning opportunities.*

September 11, 2019 CHAPTER 4: Learning, Fast and Slow, p. 89

If you are doing too well when you test yourself, the simple antidote is to wait longer before practicing the same material again, so that the test will be more difficult when you do. Frustration is not a sign you are not learning, but ease is.

September 11, 2019 CHAPTER 4: Learning, Fast and Slow, p. 89

In 2007, the U.S. Department of Education published a report by six scientists and an accomplished teacher who were asked to identify learning strategies that truly have scientific backing. Spacing, testing, and using making-connections questions were on the extremely short list. All three impair performance in the short term.

September 11, 2019 CHAPTER 4: Learning, Fast and Slow, p. 91

professors who caused short-term struggle but long-term gains were facilitating “deep learning” by making connections

September 11, 2019 CHAPTER 4: Learning, Fast and Slow, p. 94

learned under varied conditions, an approach called varied or mixed practice, or, to researchers, “interleaving.”

September 11, 2019 CHAPTER 4: Learning, Fast and Slow, p. 96

the most successful problem solvers spend mental energy figuring out what type of problem they are facing before matching a strategy to it, rather than jumping in with memorized procedures

September 11, 2019 CHAPTER 4: Learning, Fast and Slow, p. 96

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

September 11, 2019 CHAPTER 4: Learning, Fast and Slow, p. 96

Desirable difficulties like testing and spacing make knowledge stick. It becomes durable. Desirable difficulties like making connections and interleaving make knowledge flexible, useful for problems that never appeared in training. All slow down learning and make performance suffer, in the short term

September 11, 2019 CHAPTER 4: Learning, Fast and Slow, p. 98

Knowledge with enduring utility must be very flexible, composed of mental schemes that can be matched to new problems.

September 11, 2019 CHAPTER 4: Learning, Fast and Slow, p. 98

When a knowledge structure is so flexible that it can be applied effectively even in new domains or extremely novel situations, it is called “far transfer.”

September 12, 2019 CHAPTER 5: Thinking Outside Experience, p. 115

As education pioneer John Dewey put it in Logic, The Theory of Inquiry, “a problem well put is half-solved.”

September 11, 2019 CHAPTER 5: Thinking Outside Experience, p. 102

His fastidious documentation of every meandering path his brain blazed is one of the great records of a mind undergoing creative transformation. It is a truism to say that Kepler thought outside the box. But what he really did, whenever he was stuck, was to think entirely outside the domain

September 11, 2019 CHAPTER 5: Thinking Outside Experience, p. 102

Deep analogical thinking is the practice of recognizing conceptual similarities in multiple domains or scenarios that may seem to have little in common on the surface. It

  • // cancer and crop similarities - seed vs soil

September 11, 2019 CHAPTER 5: Thinking Outside Experience, p. 104

The current world is not so kind; it requires thinking that cannot fall back on previous experience

  • // yuval Harari - Sapiens writer - interview at Google
  • We must teach our kids how to cope with ever-changing variables

September 11, 2019 CHAPTER 5: Thinking Outside Experience, p. 106

A gift of a single analogy from a different domain tripled the proportion of solvers who got the radiation problem

September 11, 2019 CHAPTER 5: Thinking Outside Experience, p. 108

The trouble with using no more than a single analogy, particularly one from a very similar situation, is that it does not help battle the natural impulse to employ the “inside view,” a term coined by psychologists Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky. We take the inside view when we make judgments based narrowly on the details of a particular project that are right in front of us.

September 12, 2019 CHAPTER 5: Thinking Outside Experience, p. 108

Our natural inclination to take the inside view can be defeated by following analogies to the “outside view.” The outside view probes for deep structural similarities to the current problem in different ones. The outside view is deeply counterintuitive because it requires a decision maker to ignore unique surface features of the current project, on which they are the expert, and instead look outside for structurally similar analogies. It requires a mindset switch from narrow to broad.

September 12, 2019 CHAPTER 5: Thinking Outside Experience, p. 110

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

September 12, 2019 CHAPTER 5: Thinking Outside Experience, p. 114

There was a group of students, however, who were particularly good at finding common deep structures: students who had taken classes in a range of domains, like those in the Integrated Science Program.

September 12, 2019 CHAPTER 5: Thinking Outside Experience, p. 115

In one of the most cited studies of expert problem solving ever conducted, an interdisciplinary team of scientists came to a pretty simple conclusion: successful problem solvers are more able to determine the deep structure of a problem before they proceed to match a strategy to it

September 12, 2019 CHAPTER 5: Thinking Outside Experience, p. 117

Once a week, the entire team came together—lab director, grad students, postdoctoral fellows, technicians—to discuss some challenge a lab member was facing. The meetings were nothing like the heads-down, solitary work in stereotypical portrayals of scientists, huddled over their test tubes. Dunbar saw free-flowing and spontaneous exchange. Ideas were batted back and forth, new experiments proposed, obstacles discussed.

September 12, 2019 CHAPTER 5: Thinking Outside Experience, p. 118

Dunbar witnessed important breakthroughs live, and saw that the labs most likely to turn unexpected findings into new knowledge for humanity made a lot of analogies, and made them from a variety of base domains. The labs in which scientists had more diverse professional backgrounds were the ones where more and more varied analogies were offered, and where breakthroughs were more reliably produced when the unexpected arose. Those labs were Keplers by committee. They included members with a wide variety of experiences and interests. When the moment came to either dismiss or embrace and grapple with information that puzzled them, they drew on their range to make analogies. Lots of them.

September 12, 2019 CHAPTER 5: Thinking Outside Experience, p. 118

The more unusual the challenge, the more distant the analogies, moving away from surface similarities and toward deep structural similarities

September 13, 2019 CHAPTER 6: The Trouble with Too Much Grit, p. 128

Match quality” is a term economists use to describe the degree of fit between the work someone does and who they are—their abilities and proclivities

September 13, 2019 CHAPTER 6: The Trouble with Too Much Grit, p. 131

According to Levitt, the study suggested that “admonitions such as ‘winners never quit and quitters never win,’ while well-meaning, may actually be extremely poor advice

September 13, 2019 CHAPTER 6: The Trouble with Too Much Grit, p. 136

Miller showed that the process for match quality is the same. An individual starts with no knowledge, tests various possible paths in a manner that provides information as quickly as possible, and increasingly refines decisions about where to allocate energy

September 13, 2019 CHAPTER 6: The Trouble with Too Much Grit, p. 136

those who try will learn quickly if they might be a match, at least compared to jobs with less constant feedback

September 13, 2019 CHAPTER 6: The Trouble with Too Much Grit, p. 136

We fail,” he wrote, when we stick with “tasks we don’t have the guts to quit

September 13, 2019 CHAPTER 6: The Trouble with Too Much Grit, p. 136

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. The important trick, he said, is staying attuned to whether switching is simply a failure of perseverance, or astute recognition that better matches are available.

September 19, 2019 CHAPTER 6: The Trouble with Too Much Grit, p. 143

In the wider world of work, finding a goal with high match quality in the first place is the greater challenge, and persistence for the sake of persistence can get in the way.

September 19, 2019 CHAPTER 7: Flirting with Your Possible Selves, p. 150

Dr. Cecily Cannan Selby, who at sixteen entered Radcliffe College and later used her physical biology PhD from MIT to apply wartime technology to the study of cells

September 19, 2019 CHAPTER 7: Flirting with Your Possible Selves, p. 152

I had been advised, and right away asked what training had prepared her for leadership. Wrong question. “Oh, don’t ask me what my training was,” she replied with a dismissing hand wave. She explained that she just did whatever seemed like it would teach her something and allow her to be of service at each moment, and somehow that added up to training

September 19, 2019 CHAPTER 7: Flirting with Your Possible Selves, p. 152

some “undefinable process of digestion” occurred as diverse experiences accumulated

September 19, 2019 CHAPTER 7: Flirting with Your Possible Selves, p. 153

a mind kept wide open will take something from every new experience.

September 19, 2019 CHAPTER 7: Flirting with Your Possible Selves, p. 154

Here’s who I am at the moment, here are my motivations, here’s what I’ve found I like to do, here’s what I’d like to learn, and here are the opportunities. Which of these is the best match right now? And maybe a year from now I’ll switch because I’ll find something better

September 19, 2019 CHAPTER 7: Flirting with Your Possible Selves, p. 154

Short-term planning

September 19, 2019 CHAPTER 7: Flirting with Your Possible Selves, p. 156

Our work preferences and our life preferences do not stay the same, because we do not stay the same.

September 19, 2019 CHAPTER 7: Flirting with Your Possible Selves, p. 156

we are works in progress claiming to be finished.

September 19, 2019 CHAPTER 7: Flirting with Your Possible Selves, p. 160

If you get someone into a context that suits them,” Ogas said, “they’ll more likely work hard and it will look like grit from the outside.”

September 19, 2019 CHAPTER 7: Flirting with Your Possible Selves, p. 160

We should all heed the wisdom of Alice, who, when asked by the Gryphon in Wonderland to share her story, decided she had to start with the beginning of her adventure that very morning. “It’s no use going back to yesterday,” she said, “because I was a different person then

September 19, 2019 CHAPTER 7: Flirting with Your Possible Selves, p. 161

Ibarra concluded that we maximize match quality throughout life by sampling activities, social groups, contexts, jobs, careers, and then reflecting and adjusting our personal narratives. And repeat. If that sounds facile, consider that it is precisely the opposite of a vast marketing crusade that assures customers they can alight on their perfect matches via introspection alone. A lucrative career and personality quiz and counseling industry survives on that notion

September 19, 2019 CHAPTER 7: Flirting with Your Possible Selves, p. 161

Ibarra criticized conventional-wisdom articles like one in the Wall Street Journal on “the painless path to a new career,” which decreed that the secret is simply forming “a clear picture of what you want” before acting.

September 19, 2019 CHAPTER 7: Flirting with Your Possible Selves, p. 161

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.

September 19, 2019 CHAPTER 7: Flirting with Your Possible Selves, p. 161

First act and then think

September 23, 2019 CHAPTER 7: Flirting with Your Possible Selves, p. 162

Rather than expecting an ironclad a priori answer to “Who do I really want to become?,” their work indicated that it is better to be a scientist of yourself, asking smaller questions that can actually be tested—“Which among my various possible selves should I start to explore now? How can I do that?” Be a flirt with your possible selves.* Rather than a grand plan, find experiments that can be undertaken quickly. “Test-and-learn,” Ibarra told me, “not plan-and-implement.”

  • In asterisk/footnote:
    • Shonda Rhimes year of yes.

September 23, 2019 CHAPTER 7: Flirting with Your Possible Selves, p. 163

Instead of working back from a goal, work forward from promising situations. This is what most successful people actually do anyway. In the graduation-speech approach, you decide where you want to be in twenty years, and then ask: what should I do now to get there? I propose instead that you don’t commit to anything in the future, but just look at the options available now, and choose those that will give you the most promising range of options afterward.

September 23, 2019 CHAPTER 7: Flirting with Your Possible Selves, p. 165

Virtually every good thing in my life I can trace back to a misfortune, so my feeling is you don’t know what’s good and what’s bad when things happen. You do not know. You have to wait to find out.”

September 27, 2019 CHAPTER 8: The Outsider Advantage, p. 179

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.”

September 23, 2019 CHAPTER 8: The Outsider Advantage, p. 173

Bingham calls it “outside-in” thinking: finding solutions in experiences far outside of focused training for the problem itself. History is littered with world-changing examples.

September 23, 2019 CHAPTER 8: The Outsider Advantage, p. 177

Einstellung effect, a psychology term for the tendency of problem solvers to employ only familiar methods even if better ones are available

September 27, 2019 CHAPTER 8: The Outsider Advantage, p. 178

the further the problem was from the solver’s expertise, the more likely they were to solve it.”

September 27, 2019 CHAPTER 8: The Outsider Advantage, p. 178

Big innovation most often happens when an outsider who may be far away from the surface of the problem reframes the problem in a way that unlocks the solution.”

September 27, 2019 CHAPTER 8: The Outsider Advantage, p. 181

key to creative problem solving is tapping outsiders who use different approaches “so that the ‘home field’ for the problem does not end up constraining the solution.” Sometimes, the home field can be so constrained that a curious outsider is truly the only one who can see the solution.

September 27, 2019 CHAPTER 8: The Outsider Advantage, p. 186

intern syndrome. “Where you have a medical student introduced to a lot of new diseases,” Jill said, “and they keep thinking they have what they’re reading about.”

  • // medical student disease - they believe they have what they are studying or treating

September 27, 2019 CHAPTER 9: Lateral Thinking with Withered Technology, p. 200

He felt that the lateral and vertical thinkers were best together, even in highly technical fields. Eminent physicist and mathematician Freeman Dyson styled it this way: we need both focused frogs and visionary birds. “Birds fly high in the air and survey broad vistas of mathematics out to the far horizon,” Dyson wrote in 2009. “They delight in concepts that unify our thinking and bring together diverse problems from different parts of the landscape. Frogs live in the mud below and see only the flowers that grow nearby. They delight in the details of particular objects, and they solve problems one at a time.” As a mathematician, Dyson labeled himself a frog, but contended, “It is stupid to claim that birds are better than frogs because they see farther, or that frogs are better than birds because they see deeper.” The world, he wrote, is both broad and deep. “We need birds and frogs working together to explore it.” Dyson’s concern was that science is increasingly overflowing with frogs, trained only in a narrow specialty and unable to change as science itself does. “This is a hazardous situation,” he warned, “for the young people and also for the future[…]

September 30, 2019 CHAPTER 9: Lateral Thinking with Withered Technology, p. 209

If not experience, repetition, or resources, what helped creators make better comics on average and innovate? The answer (in addition to not being overworked) was how many of twenty-two different genres a creator had worked in

September 27, 2019 CHAPTER 9: Lateral Thinking with Withered Technology, p. 193

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

September 27, 2019 CHAPTER 9: Lateral Thinking with Withered Technology, p. 198

tendency people have to consider only familiar uses for objects, an instinct known as functional fixedness

September 27, 2019 CHAPTER 9: Lateral Thinking with Withered Technology, p. 198

I don’t have any particular specialist skills,” he once said. “I have a sort of vague knowledge of everything.” He advised young employees not just to play with technology for its own sake, but to play with ideas. Do not be an engineer, he said, 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

September 27, 2019 CHAPTER 9: Lateral Thinking with Withered Technology, p. 199

As the company grew, he worried that young engineers would be too concerned about looking stupid to share ideas for novel uses of old technology, so he began intentionally blurting out crazy ideas at meetings to set the tone. “Once a young person starts saying things like, ‘Well, it’s not really my place to say . . .’ then it’s all over,” he said.

September 29, 2019 CHAPTER 9: Lateral Thinking with Withered Technology, p. 204

The polymaths had depth in a core area—so they had numerous patents in that area—but they were not as deep as the specialists. They also had breadth, even more than the generalists, having worked across dozens of technology classes. Repeatedly, they took expertise accrued in one domain and applied it in a completely new one, which meant they were constantly learning new technologies. Over the course of their careers, the polymaths’ breadth increased markedly as they learned about “the adjacent stuff,” while they actually lost a modicum of depth

September 29, 2019 CHAPTER 9: Lateral Thinking with Withered Technology, p. 207

T-people like myself can happily go to the I-people with questions to create the trunk for the T,” she told me. “My inclination is to attack a problem by building a narrative. I figure out the fundamental questions to ask, and if you ask those questions of the people who actually do know their stuff, you are still exactly where you would be if you had all this other knowledge inherently. It’s mosaic building. I just keep putting those tiles together. Imagine me in a network where I didn’t have the ability to access all these people. That really wouldn’t work well.”

September 30, 2019 CHAPTER 9: Lateral Thinking with Withered Technology, p. 207

As ambiguity and uncertainty increases, which is the norm with systems problems, breadth becomes increasingly important.”

September 30, 2019 CHAPTER 9: Lateral Thinking with Withered Technology, p. 208

Melero and Palomeras measured uncertainty in each technological domain: a high-uncertainty area had a lot of patents that proved totally useless, and some blockbusters; low-uncertainty domains were characterized by linear progression with more obvious next steps and more patents that were moderately useful. In low-uncertainty domains, teams of specialists were more likely to author useful patents. In high-uncertainty domains—where the fruitful questions themselves were less obvious—teams that included individuals who had worked on a wide 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

September 30, 2019 CHAPTER 9: Lateral Thinking with Withered Technology, p. 211

modern Thomas Edisons—“serial innovators,” she and two colleagues termed them. Their findings about who these people are should sound familiar by now: “high tolerance for ambiguity”; “systems thinkers”; “additional technical knowledge from peripheral domains”; “repurposing what is already available”; “adept at using analogous domains for finding inputs to the invention process”; “ability to connect disparate pieces of information in new ways”; “synthesizing information from many different sources”; “they appear to flit among ideas”; “broad range of interests”; “they read more (and more broadly) than other technologists and have a wider range of outside interests”; “need to learn significantly across multiple domains”; “Serial innovators also need to communicate with various individuals with technical expertise outside of their own domain.”

September 30, 2019 CHAPTER 9: Lateral Thinking with Withered Technology, p. 212

In some respects,” Gruber concluded, “Charles Darwin’s greatest works represent interpretative compilations of facts first gathered by others.” He was a lateral-thinking integrator.

September 30, 2019 CHAPTER 10: Fooled by Expertise, p. 221

narrow-view hedgehogs, who “know one big thing,” and the integrator foxes, who “know many little things.”

September 30, 2019 CHAPTER 10: Fooled by Expertise, p. 225

Often if you’re too much of an insider, it’s hard to get good perspective.” Eastman described the core trait of the best forecasters to me as: “genuinely curious about, well, really everything.”

September 30, 2019 CHAPTER 10: Fooled by Expertise, p. 225

Like polymath inventors, Eastman and Cousins take ravenously from specialists and integrate.

September 30, 2019 CHAPTER 10: Fooled by Expertise, p. 225

In an impressively unsightly image, Tetlock described the very best forecasters as foxes with dragonfly eyes. Dragonfly eyes are composed of tens of thousands of lenses, each with a different perspective, which are then synthesized in the dragonfly’s brain

October 1, 2019 CHAPTER 10: Fooled by Expertise, p. 227

The best forecasters view their own ideas as hypotheses in need of testing. Their aim is not to convince their teammates of their own expertise, but to encourage their teammates to help them falsify their own notions

  • Look at both/all sides of the argument

October 1, 2019 CHAPTER 10: Fooled by Expertise, p. 229

God does not play dice with the universe, Einstein asserted, figuratively. Niels Bohr, his contemporary who illuminated the structure of atoms (using analogies to Saturn’s rings and the solar system), replied that Einstein should keep an open mind and not tell God how to run the universe.

October 1, 2019 CHAPTER 10: Fooled by Expertise, p. 230

forecasters can improve by generating a list of separate events with deep structural similarities, rather than focusing only on internal details of the specific event in question. Few events are 100 percent novel—uniqueness is a matter of degree, as Tetlock puts it—and creating the list forces a forecaster implicitly to think like a statistician.

October 1, 2019 CHAPTER 10: Fooled by Expertise, p. 230

Another aspect of the forecaster training involved ferociously dissecting prediction results in search of lessons, especially for predictions that turned out bad

October 4, 2019 CHAPTER 11: Learning to Drop Your Familiar Tools, p. 257

But cultures can actually be too internally consistent. With incongruence, “you’re building in cross-checks,” Tetlock told me. The experiments showed that an effective problem-solving culture was one that balanced standard practice—whatever it happened to be—with forces that pushed in the opposite direction. If managers were used to process conformity, encouraging individualism helped them to employ “ambidextrous thought,” and learn what worked in each situation. If they were used to improvising, encouraging a sense of loyalty and cohesion did the job. The trick was expanding the organization’s range by identifying the dominant culture and then diversifying it by pushing in the opposite direction.

October 4, 2019 CHAPTER 11: Learning to Drop Your Familiar Tools, p. 258

Gene Kranz, the flight director when Apollo 11 first landed on the moon, lived by that same mantra, the valorized process—“In God We Trust, All Others Bring Data”—but he also made a habit of seeking out opinions of technicians and engineers at every level of the hierarchy. If he heard the same hunch twice, it didn’t take data for him to interrupt the usual process and investigate. Wernher von Braun, who led the Marshall Space Flight Center’s development of the rocket that propelled the moon mission, balanced NASA’s rigid process with an informal, individualistic culture that encouraged constant dissent and cross-boundary communication. Von Braun started “Monday Notes”: every week engineers submitted a single page of notes on their salient issues. Von Braun handwrote comments in the margins, and then circulated the entire compilation. Everyone saw what other divisions were up to, and how easily problems could be raised. Monday Notes were rigorous, but informal

October 1, 2019 CHAPTER 11: Learning to Drop Your Familiar Tools, p. 236

well-known cognitive bias, overemphasizing the importance of a single, dramatic memory

October 1, 2019 CHAPTER 11: Learning to Drop Your Familiar Tools, p. 240

If I was in your situation I would probably say, ‘But in a classroom the teacher typically gives us material we’re supposed to have.’ But it’s often the case in group meetings where the person who made the PowerPoint slides puts data in front of you, and we often just use the data people put in front of us. I would argue we don’t do a good job of saying, ‘Is this the data that we want to make the decision we need to make?’”

October 1, 2019 CHAPTER 11: Learning to Drop Your Familiar Tools, p. 245

The very tool that had helped make NASA so consistently successful, what Diane Vaughan called “the original technical culture” in the agency’s DNA, suddenly worked perversely in a situation where the familiar brand of data did not exist. Reason without numbers was not accepted. In the face of an unfamiliar challenge, NASA managers failed to drop their familiar tools.

October 1, 2019 CHAPTER 11: Learning to Drop Your Familiar Tools, p. 247

Given the central role of tools in defining the essence of a firefighter, it is not surprising that dropping one’s tools creates an existential crisis.” As Maclean succinctly put it, “When a firefighter is told to drop his firefighting tools, he is told to forget he is a firefighter.”

  • // Anil Dash’s dropping of labels

October 1, 2019 CHAPTER 11: Learning to Drop Your Familiar Tools, p. 248

Dropping familiar tools is particularly difficult for experienced professionals who rely on what Weick called overlearned behavior. That is, they have 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. Research on aviation accidents, for example, found that “a common pattern was the crew’s decision to continue with their original plan” even when conditions changed dramatically.

October 1, 2019 CHAPTER 11: Learning to Drop Your Familiar Tools, p. 248

Gleason told him that he preferred to view his crew leadership not as decision making, but as sensemaking. “If I make a decision, it is a possession, I take pride in it, I tend to defend it and not listen to those who question it,” Gleason explained. “If I make sense, then this is more dynamic and I listen and I can change it.” He employed what Weick called “hunches held lightly.”

  • // strong opinions loosely held

October 1, 2019 CHAPTER 11: Learning to Drop Your Familiar Tools, p. 250

A team or organization that is both reliable and flexible, according to Weick, is like a jazz group. There are fundamentals—scales and chords—that every member must overlearn, but those are just tools for sensemaking in a dynamic environment. 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. It is, of course, easier said than done. Especially when the tool is the very core of an organization’s culture.

October 4, 2019 CHAPTER 11: Learning to Drop Your Familiar Tools, p. 255

once articulated, “Insisting on perfect safety is for people who don’t have the balls to live in the real world.” It is no wonder that organizations struggle to cultivate experts who are both proficient with their tools and prepared to drop them. But there is an organizational strategy that can help. The strategy, strange as it sounds, is to send a mixed message.

October 4, 2019 CHAPTER 11: Learning to Drop Your Familiar Tools, p. 256

thinkers who tolerate ambiguity make the best forecasts

October 4, 2019 CHAPTER 11: Learning to Drop Your Familiar Tools, p. 258

Balancing the Risks of Mindless Conformity and Reckless Deviation.”

October 4, 2019 CHAPTER 11: Learning to Drop Your Familiar Tools, p. 259

Like Kranz, von Braun went looking for problems, hunches, and bad news. He even rewarded those who exposed problems

October 7, 2019 CHAPTER 11: Learning to Drop Your Familiar Tools, p. 262

Consensus is nice to have, but we shouldn’t be optimizing happiness, we should be optimizing our decisions. I just had a feeling all along that there was something wrong with the culture. We didn’t have a healthy tension in the system

October 7, 2019 CHAPTER 11: Learning to Drop Your Familiar Tools, p. 264

when Geveden became CEO, he wrote a short memo on his expectations for teamwork. “I told them I expect disagreement with my decisions at the time we’re trying to make decisions, and that’s a sign of organizational health,” he told me. “After the decisions are made, we want compliance and support, but we have permission to fight a little bit about those things in a professional way.” He emphasized that there is a difference between the chain of command and the chain of communication, and that the difference represents a healthy cross-pressure. “I warned them, I’m going to communicate with all levels of the organization down to the shop floor, and you can’t feel suspicious or paranoid about that,” he said. “I told them I will not intercept your decisions that belong in your chain of command, but I will give and receive information anywhere in the organization, at any time. I just can’t get enough understanding of the organization from listening to the voices at the top.”

October 7, 2019 CHAPTER 11: Learning to Drop Your Familiar Tools, p. 264

Information could flow in many directions, and anyone in one circle had numerous entry points to communicate with the next circle, rather than just a single superior who acted as a gate

  • // unbelievable (Netflix) - women from diff counties chatting over pool

October 7, 2019 CHAPTER 11: Learning to Drop Your Familiar Tools, p. 267

no tool is omnicompetent. There is no such thing as a master-key that will unlock all doors.

October 7, 2019 CHAPTER 12: Deliberate Amateurs, p. 282

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.

October 7, 2019 CHAPTER 12: Deliberate Amateurs, p. 271

Take your skills to a place that’s not doing the same sort of thing. Take your skills and apply them to a new problem, or take your problem and try completely new skills.”

October 7, 2019 CHAPTER 12: Deliberate Amateurs, p. 274

When Geim was asked (two years before the Nobel) to describe his research style for a science newsletter, he offered this: “It is rather unusual, I have to say. I do not dig deep—I graze shallow. So ever since I was a postdoc, I would go into a different subject every five years or so. . . . I don’t want to carry on studying the same thing from cradle to grave. Sometimes I joke that I am not interested in doing re-search, only search

October 7, 2019 CHAPTER 12: Deliberate Amateurs, p. 275

He arrived in a workspace that treated mental meandering as a competitive advantage, not a pest to be exterminated in the name of efficiency.

  • Something to look for in a new workplace?

October 7, 2019 CHAPTER 12: Deliberate Amateurs, p. 280

New collaborations allow creators “to take ideas that are conventions in one area and bring them into a new area, where they’re suddenly seen as invention,” said sociologist Brian Uzzi, Amaral’s collaborator. Human creativity, he said, is basically an “import/export business of ideas.”

October 7, 2019 CHAPTER 12: Deliberate Amateurs, p. 281

Consistent with the import/export model, scientists who have worked abroad—whether or not they returned—are more likely to make a greater scientific impact than those who have not. The economists who documented that trend suggested one reason could be migrants’ “arbitrage” opportunities, the chance to take an idea from one market and bring it to another where it is more rare and valued.* It echoes Oliver Smithies’s advice to bring new skills to an old problem, or a new problem to old skills. The atypical combination of typical forms—say, hip-hop, a Broadway musical, and American historical biography—is not a strategy fluke of showbiz.

  • Interesting footnote here.

October 7, 2019 CHAPTER 12: Deliberate Amateurs, p. 284

But the answer to Alzheimer’s disease may come from a misfolding protein in a cucumber.

Remind me of the dream I had as a kid where I cured cancer with something to do with a cabbage.

October 7, 2019 CHAPTER 12: Deliberate Amateurs, p. 285

A curious phenomenon has appeared in recent years on a near-annual basis when the Nobel Prizes are awarded. Someone who receives one explains that their breakthrough could not have occurred today. In 2016, Japanese biologist Yoshinori Ohsumi closed his Nobel lecture ominously: “Truly original discoveries in science are often triggered by unpredictable and unforeseen small findings. . . . Scientists are increasingly required to provide evidence of immediate and tangible applications of their work

October 7, 2019 CHAPTER 12: Deliberate Amateurs, p. 286

companies do their most impactful creative work in a crisis, because the disciplinary boundaries fly out the window

October 7, 2019 Acknowledgments, p. 294

Ideas are not really lost, they are reactivated when useful

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