Range

Every now and again I come across something that stops me in my tracks and causes me to go back to read or listen again and again, and then a few times more.  In January 2020 my wife Anne put me onto episode 117 of the podcast Hidden Forces that did just that.  I listened to it twice in rapid succession and I have been back to the trough several more times since.  

In this episode of the podcast, host Demetris Kofinas interviews writer David Epstein about his newish book Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World.  Since this blog is for my children’s edification (though they don’t yet really know it exists), let me cut to the chase and offer the insights I gleaned in point form:

  • Reflection – this is the key trait of “successful” people – only when we review what we have experienced and ask questions such as “Did I suck at <insert an activity> because of something I did, or am I just really bad at it?” that we can gain the insight we need to decide whether to keep working on it or to move on.
  • Good Learning always involves struggle.  If we find something easy (e.g. we know more than 50% about a new skill or subject) then it’s probably not the best learning experience for us.
  • Innovation – the best innovation happens in a crisis.  We are forced to figure out what other people in our organization know, and then to collaborate with them to figure “it” out.  When the crisis passes we revert to protecting our turf and innovation wilts.
  • Broad Based Learning – when we start a project we need to keep our scope broad and to read and research widely.  By definition we don’t know what our project truly entails until we have done the work to “feel out” the edges – only then can we work our way into the centre and focus.  This always feels inefficient, but it pays dividends in the long run.
  • Good Match Quality – Be willing to take the time to sample broadly and try many things because this allows us to achieve a better match between our interests / strengths and our work.  Bear in mind that this is likely a life-long process so don’t assume that it’s once and done.  Beware shortcuts (e.g. articles that promise “Top 5 Life Hacks”) because there’s no way we can find self-knowledge without putting in the work.  Don’t be distracted by “head starts” other people appear to have over us because that way of thinking assumes that we are on a stable trajectory all through our lives.  This is almost never the case.  “Late bloomers” often prevail because they took the time to work things out early in their careers.

Anyone want to buy me the book for my birthday?