Book:  Range

Author:  David Epstein

Purchase:  PrinteBook | Audiobook

Citation:  Epstein, D. (2019). Range : why generalists triumph in a specialized world. New York: Riverhead Books.

Three Big Takeaways:

  • The rule of deliberate practice represents the idea that the number of accumulated hours of highly specialized training is the sole factor in skill development, no matter the domain. Deliberate practice occurs when learners are given explicit instructions about the best method, individually supervised by an instructor, supplied with immediate informative feedback, and repeatedly perform the same or similar tasks. Elite athletes spend more time in highly technical, deliberate practice each week than those who plateau at lower levels. (pg. 5)

  • Whether or not experiences inevitably lead to expertise depended entirely on the domain in question. Narrow experience made for better chess and poker players and firefighters, but not for better predictors of financial or political trends, or how employees or patients would perform. In “kind” learning environments, patterns repeat over and over, and feedback is extremely accurate and usually very rapid. This is the very definition of “deliberate practice.” The learning environment is kind because the learner improves simply by engaging in the activity and trying to do better. There is another side of learning environment, called “wicked.” (pg. 20)

  • The Flynn effect - the increase in correct IQ test answers with each new generation in the twentieth century - has now been documented in more than 30 countries. The gains are startling: three points every 10 years. To put that in perspective, if an adult who scored average today were compared to adults a century ago, she would be in the 98th percentile. Today's children are far better at solving problems on the spot without a previously learned method for doing so. They are able to extract rules and patterns where none are given. (pg. 38)

Other Key Ideas:

  • “Eventual Elites” typically devote less time early on to deliberate practice in the activity and which they will eventually become experts. Instead, they undergo what researchers call a sampling period. They play a variety of sports, they gain a range of physical proficiencies, they learn about their own abilities, and only later do they focus in and ramp-up technical practice in one area.  (pg. 7)

  • Even the best universities aren't developing critical intelligence. They aren't giving students the tools to analyze the modern world, except in their area of specialization. Their education is too narrow. Everyone needs habits of mind that allow them to dance across disciplines. Three-quarters of American graduates go on to a career unrelated to their major - a trend that includes Math and Science Majors – after having become competent only with the tools of a single discipline. (pg. 49)

  • In most classrooms one topic is confined to one week and another to the next, meaning each particular concept or skill gets a short week of intense focus, and then on to the next thing. That structure makes intuitive sense, but it forgoes and other important desirable difficulty: spacing. Spacing is what it sounds like - leaving time between practice sessions for the same material. You might call it deliberate not practicing between bouts of deliberate practice. Space between practice sessions creates the hardness that enhances learning. (pg. 88)

  • Over the past 40 years, Americans have increasingly said in national surveys that current students are getting a worse education than they themselves did, and they have been wrong. Scores from the national assessment of educational progress have risen steadily since the 1970s. Unquestionably, students today have mastered basic skills that is superior to students of the past. School has not gotten worse. The goals of Education have just become loftier. (pg. 92)

  • Programs like Head Start do give a head start, but academically that is about it. Researchers have found a fade-out effect, or a temporary academic advantage quickly diminishes and often completely vanishes. Early Childhood programs teach closed skills that can be acquired quickly with repetition of procedures but that everyone will pick up at some point anyway. Everyone is going to learn the skill anyway and there is no evidence that rushing it matters. If programs want to impart lasting academic benefits, they should focus on open skills that scaffold later knowledge. Teaching kids to read a little early is not a lasting advantage. Teaching them how to hunt for and connect contextual clues to understand what they read can be. A head-start comes fast, but deep learning is slow. The slowest growth is for the most complex skills. (pg. 96)

  • If you're asked to predict whether a particular horse will win a race or a particular politician will win an election, the more internal details you learn about any particular scenario the more likely you are to say that the scenario you are investigating will occur. Psychologists have shown repeatedly that the more internal details an individual can be made to consider the more extreme their judgment becomes. Focusing narrowly on many fine details specific to a problem at hand feels like the exact right thing to do, when it is often exactly wrong. (pg. 109)

  • Even the dreaded administrative headache known as teacher turnover captures the value of informed switching. Teachers are more effective at improving student performance after they switch to a new school, and that the effect is not explained by switching to higher achieving schools or better students. When teachers leave schools at which they're poorly matched, this may move us closer to an optimal allocation of teachers to schools. (pg. 132)

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