Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World 5/5

David Epstein

Parts 1, 2, 3, 4.

11/ Learning to Develop Your Familiar Tools

  • MK: The chapter starts with the famous Carter Racing case study from HBS that we reviewed in INSEAD in the past. Not going to spill the beans, please DON’T read this part of the book. You’ll thank me later.

  • MK: All I can say (and I was one of the maybe two students who said “no” as a solution) is that where there are unacceptable risks (like the loss of life or the company bankruptcy) where you must always say “no”. This is your Governance 101, if you please.

  • Some people (the book mentions firefighters because of the mostly “kind” environment they operate in) are helpless without their tools. This can be extrapolated to consultants with their frameworks. But the important part is that there are some “wicked” problems that can’t be solved via trial and error (see my point about the loss of life above).

  • Mistakes of conformity (i.e. when no one is responsible as everyone’s following the protocol to their best understanding of it) are based on using the existing tools for the novel problem. And yes, I do know this is the 5th time I’m massaging the same message.

  • MK: Again, the book is addressing the groupthink from the perspective of “congruence”, the desire of groups to live in harmony and throw away inconvenient evidence. I guess this horse is kind of long dead, but OK, moving on. The book goes on to demonstrate that incongruence is the way to go, but again, the evidence becomes quite thin as dissent in the ideal world is perfect, but there are social consequences for non-conformance. Sorry, I’m getting a bit irritated by the end of the book (which you might’ve noticed as there’s 80% of my thoughts here vs the usual 10-20%).

12/ Deliberate Amateurs

  • Talent mobility and exchange is equally important for IT, Broadway musicals and research teams. Silos kill innovation and careers.

  • This also includes the diversity of experiences when it comes to international experiences: such people (even without deep knowledge) are beneficial to the teams due to the ability to inject the unusual knowledge combinations.

  • Work that builds bridges between on disparate pieces of knowledge is less likely to be funded or recognized in a short time frame, but over time is more likely to make a sizeable impact.

  • Innovation system should intentionally preserve range and inefficiency. [MK: This was the first sentence in my textbook for Innovation Management a decade ago.]

  • MK: The books doesn’t make distinction between invention and innovation, which is sad and weakens the argument about the inventions not being able to be recognized immediately.

  • Crisis is an opportunity to bring down the communication walls and let companies do their most impactful work.

  • The more mistakes and failed experiments people make – the higher the chance of their future success (if they learn from the mistakes, of course). [MK: while the “fail fast” is an acceptable piece of advice in the US, in most countries there’s a stigma associated with failure, something that reading books on lean methods won’t immediately change. Thus, this advice should be taken with a small grain of salt.]

  • MK: as a conclusion: there’s nothing wrong with specialization unless the industry gets disrupted and the jobs opportunities decline in numbers. If anything, being constantly curious and experimenting with different things and selves is a strategy for future employment or maybe even enjoyment of life.

  • MK: it’s very easy to throw away the effort of becoming a specialist under the guise of constant self-reinvention, but I’d argue that there still needs to be a conscious drive and process of information gathering, storing and analysis as well as the constant updating of one’s picture of the world. Employers don’t give employees many opportunities for the development even within the work-related area of interest, so the job of self-learning and building the range is firmly in the hands of the employees.

The Book.