The Busy Reader

 

Pages in Motion. Passion for Stories.

Range

December 1, 2019

Video Length 1:42

Who Should Read It

Anyone considering a complete career change, or wondering why their resume looks so random.

 

Why Should We Read It

Fear not! Our resumes are awesome!!

 

What Will We Learn

In our world of hyper-specialization, having a breadth of experience does not mean we are "falling behind", and in fact will be the key to greater success.

 

Book Reflections

 "I...had no idea what career I wanted. I was on track to wander aimlessly. Or so it seems...." 

 

Part of my undergraduate studies included a built-in (ie, mandatory) curriculum that exposed me to a wide breadth of topics. This curriculum included introductory courses in the humanities, social sciences, and foreign language, among others. Some of my college friends in the sciences genuinely detested these requirements. They already knew what they wanted to do in life, and had determined that these superfluous classes would not help them become medical doctors or PhD in chemistry. At age 18, these friends were on the fast lane to their careers. I, on the other hand, had no idea what career I wanted. I was on track to wander aimlessly. Or so it seems. If David Epstein's book Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World is to be believed, my meandering path is actually the key to success.

 

"...the most successful individuals did not start early. Rather, they engaged in a "sampling period" of unstructured exploration..."

 

I chose to study biology simply because it was the most interesting topic in high school. Career counselors found my thought process endearing, but suggested that a long-term, focused plan also needed to be in place. After all, we live in a world of experts, and expertise arises only from deliberate practice- ten thousand hours of it as the ubiquitous advice goes. Mr. Epstein does not argue the necessity of specialization; he acknowledges that we all must specialize to some degree. Instead, he tries to debunk a common fallacy born from false, though well-intentioned, extrapolations from the mythic "ten thousand hour" rule: that to get to ten thousand hours, we must start as early as possible. From Roger Federer to Charles Darwin, Mr. Epstein demonstrates that the most successful individuals did not start early. Rather, they engaged in a "sampling period" of unstructured exploration that not only developed their general athleticism or education, but also eventually matched them to the technical specialty that best suited their tastes.

 

"The world, however, tends to be "wicked." In this environment, the rules are unclear or unknown, and feedback is incomplete (if it ever comes at all)."

 

Why is a "sampling period" needed at all? Why won't a head start toward ten thousand hours guarantee success? The reason lies with the world itself. Narrow experience is highly relevant only in select scenarios: those in which patterns are reliably repeatable, every single time. This is what Mr. Epstein calls a "kind" environment. Chess is a classic example- make the wrong move, and the feedback is instant. If we practice enough, then the pattern recognition become as instant as the success that follows. The world, however, tends to be "wicked." In this environment, the rules are unclear or unknown, and feedback is incomplete (if it ever comes at all). This is why it's nearly impossible to predict political movements, scientific breakthroughs, or economic disruptions. We can, however, do a little better in these "wicked" environments if we're a little more like Charles Darwin- able to draw on a vast background of experience and make groundbreaking connections that specialists can never see.

 

"'...my personal Range of experience is probably the reason why The Busy Reader is possible at all."

 

I really did enjoy those mandatory undergraduate courses in the humanities and social sciences. I eventually studied not just one foreign language, but three while in college. For good measure, I graduated with a biology and Asian American studies double major. I also detoured through Vietnam (4.5 months), Guatemala (2.5 months), and Uganda (1 whole year!). At the time, it certainly didn't feel like I was succeeding at anything. But I eventually settled on a career, and I turned out okay. Will history remember my name the way they might remember Roger Federer, Charles Darwin, or David Epstein? Probably not! What I can say is that my personal Range of experience is probably the reason why The Busy Reader is possible at all. Not a bad fate if you ask me!

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