Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World

“Moravec’s paradox: machines and humans frequently have opposite strengths and weaknesses.”
“A duo of amateur players with three normal computers not only destroyed Hydra, the best chess supercomputer, they also crushed teams of grandmasters using computers. Kasparov concluded that the humans on the winning team were the best at “coaching” multiple computers on what to examine, and then synthesizing that information for an overall strategy. Human/Computer combo teams—known as “centaurs”—were playing the highest level of chess ever seen.”
“In totality, the picture is in line with a classic research finding that is not specific to music: 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.”
“I think when you’re self-taught you experiment more, trying to find the same sound in different places, you learn how to solve problems.”
“Kornell was explaining the concept of “desirable difficulties,” obstacles that make learning more challenging, slower, and more frustrating in the short term, but better in the long term.”
“Metcalfe and colleagues have repeatedly demonstrated a “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.”
“Space between practice sessions creates the hardness that enhances learning.”
“The blocked-practice students learned procedures for each type of problem through repetition. The mixed-practice students learned how to differentiate types of problems.”
“Decoding movies’ traits to figure out what you like was very complex and less accurate than simply analogizing you to many other customers with similar viewing histories. Instead of predicting what you might like, they examine who you are like, and the complexity is captured therein.”
“As education pioneer John Dewey put it in Logic, The Theory of Inquiry, “a problem well put is half-solved.”
“That is sort of like being forced to choose at sixteen whether you want to marry your high school sweetheart. At the time it might seem like a great idea, but the more you experience, the less great that idea looks in hindsight.”
“Naifeh and Smith used an elegant phrase to describe Van Gogh’s pliable passions: his “altered gospel.” The Grit Scale statement “I have been obsessed with a certain idea or project for a short time but later lost interest” is Van Gogh in a nutshell, at least up until the final few years of his life when he settled on his unique style and creatively erupted.”
“we learn who we are only by living, and not before.”
“Ibarra marshaled social psychology to argue persuasively that we are each made up of numerous possibilities. As she put it, “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.”
“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.”
“Yokoi was the first to admit it. “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.” He argued, “Everyone takes the approach of learning detailed, complex skills. If no one did this then there wouldn’t be people who shine as engineers. . . . Looking at me, from the engineer’s perspective, it’s like, ‘Look at this idiot,’ but once you’ve got a couple hit products under your belt, this word ‘idiot’ seems to slip away somewhere.”
“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.”
“He is suggesting that communication technology has limited the number of hyperspecialists required to work on a particular narrow problem, because their breakthroughs can be communicated quickly and widely to others—the Yokois of the world—who work on clever applications.”
“When information became more widely disseminated,” Ouderkirk told me, “it became a lot easier to be broader than a specialist, to start combining things in new ways.”
“She found that the most effective leaders and organizations had range; they were, in effect, paradoxical. They could be demanding and nurturing, orderly and entrepreneurial, even hierarchical and individualistic all at once. A level of ambiguity, it seemed, was not harmful. In decision making, it can broaden an organization’s toolbox in a way that is uniquely valuable.”
“So 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.”
“called “the principle of limited sloppiness.” Be careful not to be too careful, Delbrück warned, or you will unconsciously limit your exploration.”
“So, about that one sentence of advice: Don’t feel behind.”
“Compare yourself to yourself yesterday, not to younger people who aren’t you. Everyone progresses at a different rate, so don’t let anyone else make you feel behind. You probably don’t even know where exactly you’re going, so feeling behind doesn’t help. Instead, as Herminia Ibarra suggested for the proactive pursuit of match quality, start planning experiments. Your personal version of Friday night or Saturday morning experiments, perhaps.”
“Approach your own personal voyage and projects like Michelangelo approached a block of marble, willing to learn and adjust as you go, and even to abandon a previous goal and change directions entirely should the need arise.”