Last month’s book club selection was ‘Range’ by David Epstein. The team thoroughly enjoyed it and several of us chipped in with some insights we gleaned from the book.
1. Think outside of your industry. The ability to learn enough about a subject to understand it in some depth and yet have the mindset to dabble in a related or a different field arms people with unique strengths that can help navigate dynamic and evolving marketplaces. In this aspect, I (Shivapriya) continue to learn from my dad and sister. My dad’s career spanned experiences in coal and gas assets to oil and gas exploration to solar, which are all very different asset classes. My sister is an engineer who designs AI and machine learning solutions but also loves doing animation in her spare time. The book supports this thinking in pointing out that “Nobel Prize winners are 22x more likely than their peers to have a non-science hobby, like ballroom dancer, actor, magician, or another type of performer.”
2. Encourage curiosity and experimentation in those around you – The book’s early theme should resonate with any young parent out there but are just as applicable in our roles as colleagues and mentors. The societal shift towards specialization continues to grow stronger and starts earlier. But there is great value in doing many different activities. The benefit may not be immediate or direct and it may not be the most obvious path. You may even feel like you, or your child, or your team, are falling behind. But over the long run, gaining this breadth of experience and perspective often helps teams and society solve some of our most complex challenges.
3. The difference between ‘kind’ and ‘wicked’ environments – ‘kind’ environments are those that are repeatable and predictable with definite boundaries. The book uses the examples of playing the violin, chess, golf, and even fighting fires – given the importance of patterns – as examples of ‘kind’ environments. ‘Wicked’ environments are those which are challenging, if not impossible, to exactly replicate. Most learning environments are deemed ‘wicked’ and playing tennis is the opening example the book uses when contrasting Roger Federer and Tiger Woods.
4. The advantage of late specialization versus early specialization. A common theory in today’s ‘Master Class’ world is that shortcuts can be taken, and efficiencies can be had when developing skills. These retroactive analyses often do not consider the experiments that took place along the way that allowed the highly skilled individual to realize what area of focus aligned best with their skillset and interests (i.e. the matching phase). The most glaring example in the book comes from Germany’s 2014 World Cup Championship team. Members of that team did not participate in organized soccer until the average age of 22! They of course play non-organized soccer and a variety of other sports before realizing soccer was the best fit; and they developed several other complementary skills along the way.
5. Career growth is not formed in a linear manner. Vincent Van Gogh was a teacher, a pastor, a book salesman and an art dealer all before painting his first masterpiece at the age of 33. We have several members on our team that have not followed a traditional path, some that had little to no solar experience before joining. But they are finding their inner Van Gogh now!
6. Just do it and improvise. Less rules and fewer boundaries allow people like the jazz musician Django Reinhardt, who only has two fingers, to experiment with unconventional ways to play music. In fact, a common answer among Jazz musicians when asked if they can read music is “not enough to hurt my music.” The best way to learn is to start!
7. ‘Desirable difficulties’ are required in the development phase. Learning needs to be hard. One way to ensure desirable difficulties is to utilize what is known as the ‘generation effect.’ This is similar to the Socratic Method and calls for the learner to generate answers – especially wrong ones – early in the learning process. The struggle to retrieve this information prepares the brain for subsequent learning.
8. Short-term plans > long-term plans. This is because the planner (you) changes and evolves. As the book notes, we should “flirt with our possible selves” to determine best match. Management expert Peter Drucker once labeled Frances Hesselbein as the best CEO in America. Hesselbein at the time was the CEO of the Girl Scouts of America, was in her mid-50’s, didn’t graduate college, had no formal business training and claimed “she just did whatever seemed like it would teach her something and allow her to be of service at each moment, and somehow added up to training.”
9. Learn to drop familiar tools. Wilderness firefighters are often found dead clutching their heavy equipment even though they should have dropped their tools to outrun the advancing fire. The same goes for Navy seamen and fighter pilots who will cling to their tools (be it their heavy boots or their planes) to the death. This can happen to us in a less severe manner. In company cultures there are often formal or standardized cultures and policies and this congruence can lead to a defensive, siloed mindset devoid of innovation.
10. Embrace your own circuitous journey. Maybe you are starting a career journey later in life than most, like many of military veterans highlighted in the book. Or you took a less direct route to get where you are than others. That does not make it a liability. Rather, it is an opportunity. Certainly, you need to double down on your commitment to your new field by bringing passion and stamina. But bringing range and diversity in life experiences and work experiences is often exactly what can help teams the most. Plus, who wants to specialize on one thing when there is an entire world out there for us to explore?