Book Notes: Range

Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World by David Epstein
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The book starts comparing Tiger Woods and Roger Federer – the former famous for his early start and continued effort in one area, the later choosing relatively late what he wanted to do. The importance here is “match quality” – where by you enjoy what you are doing. Where as Tiger was lucky that the thing which his father started him on he was matched to, other people who start equally early who are not a fit will give up or not put in the effort to be grate. As such there are some advantages in choosing after trying a variety of things to see which are are a match to.

This book explains how increasingly people get deeper and deeper into a field, the book highlights that this increasing domain expertise is no longer the holy grail which it used to be. With domain knowledge more easily accessible online the skills of searching and putting together information from different domains is key. A key point that the book makes is that, although team diversity can improve the situation having individual diversity is much more powerful.

Individuals are capable of more creative integration of diverse experiences than teams are

alva taylor and henrich greve

One of the key takeaways for me is the importance of taking complicated problems and trying to see similarities to other problems – the use of analogies is a very powerful way to see what work has already been done which on first sight may not entirely appear relevant. Varied analogies might then lead to solved works which can then be applied to the problem at hand.

Serial inventors are people who

  • high tolerance for ambiguity
  • systems thinkers
  • 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 broadly) than other technologists and have a wider range of outside interests
  • need to learn significantly across multiple domains
  • communicate with various individuals with technical expertise outside of their domain

Often if you’re too much of an insider, it’s harder to get good perspective

Where it is not possible to have people with range the next best is to have a team which practice active-openmindeness. Here, instead of trying to convince others that they are wrong, people try to ask questions to identify why they might be wrong. Through this people improve their own idea and perspective on how to solve the problem.

As such companies should build a Congruence (a social science term for cultural “fit” among an institution’s components – values, goals, vision, self-concepts, and leadership styles) which can aid in effective decisions making.

Consensus is nice to have, but we shouldn’t optimise happiness, we should be optimising our decisions.

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