Range By David Epstien

February 08, 2021

I'm Digvijay. I try to come up with mental models which helps me think & do stuff efficiently. Know more about me.

These are some of the notes I took while reading Range by David Epstien. The book describes why developing Range (being interdisciplinary) is important, contrary to the popular belief around being a specialist.

  • Early specialization in any domain is mostly forming patterns & sort of muscle memory which let you work based on intuitions.

  • Unfortunately, this trick of being able to remember sequences & patterns only works in what is named by author as kind environment i.e. an env with fixed rules & finite possibilities.

  • Change in even the slightest manner can result in the failure to guess/predict patterns/events.

  • No doubt, being able to perform at a quick pace & working without cognitive effort was valued during industralization and era before that but as machinces are getting better from humans at specialization for any task, having range is the key to produce better results by connecting dots amongst multiple domains and set yourself apart.

  • Our experience with a subject is simply dependent on how much data we are trained with. Author helps this statement by giving example of pre modern villagers failed to realize how bird, knife, gun & bullet can be classified differently because for them these equipments were used together in their daily lives. They didn’t had any idea apart from that for classification.

  • Most of the educational institutes favour narrowing down and constantly feeding students with information around a particular concept which isn’t true education. That’s why majority fails to learn outside their space of expertise.

  • We must conceptualize. No doubt, the villagers were right but only according to their environment (& experience i.e. the set of data they have seen). They failed to learn without experience (data). That is not an option for us in a rapidly changing, wicked world. The more constrained & repetitive a challenege, the more likely it will be automated, while great rewards will accrue to those who can take conceptual knwoledge from one problem or domain and apply to an entirely new one. Read about Fermi problems/thinking, an extension of conceptualizing.

  • Have a look at The Cambridge Handbook of Expertise and Expert Performance.

  • Heavily using procedures instead of doing cognitive effort to solve problems might enable you to ace the test but cause failure in the long run (note, unable to find a study performed at Haly Bacconi Uni Italy, will add soon as I get some link).

  • Desirable difficulties like testing & spacing makes information stick. Making connections and interleaving helps flexibly apply knowledge across domains.

  • Knowledge with enduring utility must be very flexible, composed of mental schemes that can be matched to new problems.

  • Think outside experience, move away from surface level similarities and towards topics with deep structural similarity.

  • The idea that a change of interest, or a recalibration of focus, is an imperfection and competitive disadvantage leads to a simple, one-size-fits-all Tiger (woods) story: pick and stick forever. Flirt with possible selves, that’s the strategy to find the best match (your passion/interest).

  • Often opportunities for non-specialists lies in withered tech (must read) and thinking laterally about it.

  • Being rigid on solutions can be disastrous. Continuously learning & iterating in wicked domains is the way to go.

  • Seeing small pieces of a larger jigsaw puzzle in isolation, no matter how hi-def the picture, is insufficient to grapple with humanity’s greatest challeneges.

  • I was looking for a one-liner from the author & here it is - “Do not feel behind, keep exploring and connecting.”