I heard from Ryan Holiday about the book Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World by David Epstein. In his final Reading List Email of 2019, he said it was the book he had recommended to the most people this year. (He also said it doubled as a valuable parenting resource.)
The book's focus is all the ways that generalists, or people with skills and knowledge across multiple domains, can often be even more effective in a dynamic, fast-changing, specialized world. It also explains the benefits of tinkering, experimenting, and "active openmindedness" in science, technology, and innovation/creativity in general.
I've often considered myself more of a jack of many trades than a master of any single one, and this book makes me feel a little better about myself. You have to be deep enough in a domain to understand it and be effective, but it's often at the intersections and interfaces between domains (where generalists often hang out) where innovation and creativity usually occurs.
As a parent, I learned that there is huge value for kids in early experimentation and sampling of many different things (musical instruments, sports, etc.) before later specialization. Early specialization can yield remarkable results, but later specialization is usually much better overall for many reasons the book discusses.
My main notes and takeaways on the book are below.
Intro: Roger Federer (generalization) vs. tiger woods (specialization)
Theory of deliberate practice
Sampling period early then specialize much later
1 cult of head start
Are chess and golf exceptions or the rule
Kind or wicked learning environments. Some confirm to patterns and rules and others don’t.
Cognitive entrenchment if get too specialized
Need to have broad interests to get better
2 how the wicked world was made
Exposure to modern world increases ability to deal with complexity
Fermi estimation problems
3 when less of the same is more
Better to learn multiple musical instruments and let kid choose which
Many jazz musicians improvise and don’t know how to read music
4 learning fast and slow
Making connections problems in class versus following procedures and rules
Fast and easy learning not as good
Make it hard
Generation effect: force kid to generate answers
Retrieval and learning is all about the journey
Deliberate spacing between practice sessions
Space between practice sessions makes learning hard which helps the learning
Repetition less important than struggle
Doing poorly now essential for long term performance
Interleaving. Varied/mixed practice. Shuffle flash cards of different problem types.
5 thinking outside experience
Avoiding dangers of the inside view
Look outside for other similar analogies
6 trouble with too much grit
Match quality of job to person
7 flirting with your possible selves
Meandering career paths are the norm
Short term planners not long term visionaries
Formulate long term goals after period of discovery
Context principle: context affects your personality
Personality continues to evolve
Do many experiments
Test and learn, not plan and implement
Trying things is how you find your talent and passion
8 outsider advantage
Local search versus new ideas
9 lateral thinking with withered technology
Be producer not engineer
Key is adjacent stuff
10 fooled by expertise
Breadth better than depth for forecasting
Foxes versus hedgehogs
Use experts for facts not opinions or predictions
Best forecasters flip flop like crazy
Good judgment project
Active openmindedness and trying to falsify own notions
Accepting and seeking out contrary ideas
Not what you think but how you think
Writing down in notes every idea you encounter contrary to your own
Look for outside examples of structurally related events
11 learning to drop familiar tools
Is this the data we really want to rely on? Do we need more data?
Professionals sometimes need to drop their tools when in uncharted territory
Congruence model: sometimes need to use different frameworks. Need to have range.
12 deliberate amateurs
Conclusion: expanding your range