Timothy's Blog

A day in the life of a creative filmmaker

Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World

December 23rd, 2019 by

So I said I would write this review on this book I read, titled “Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World”, and I figured it was time to get to it. This book is pretty amazing in my opinion and I feel I learned a lot from it. I will share a few things I learned in the following review.

The book starts by talking about the “Tiger” syndrome (named after Tiger Woods) where kids are introduced early to the career they are going to pursue for the rest of their life and get going pretty early on it. This does lead to better initial results with their pursuits and even some people, like Tiger Woods who is very successful, for instance. But the book goes on to argue that this may not be the best way to learn.

It turns out people who don’t specialize early on actually get a deeper understanding of the subject they’re studying and do better in the long term. Data backs this up. It is shown that people who have a “sampling period” and study many subjects will actually do better in the long run.

The book then goes on to explain “wicked” vs “kind” problems. “Wicked” problems are those that require deep and analytical thinking rather than relying on the intuition which we value so much. I think such problems may also represent the lions share of really rewarding work that we do. “Kind” problems are those which are easily solved early and are easy for us to grasp.

The book also goes on to talk about how extracurricular learning actually helps to solve problems in the specialized space and how specialized “tigers” actually consistently fail or take much longer to solve a difficult “wicked” problem than their more generalized peers. The idea is that information and experience from outside your profession can often be the key that unlocks a “wicked” problem.

One “wicked” problem of this nature given as an example was when they were trying to clean up the Alaskan Valdez oil spill. The problem was that the oil they were trying to clean up could not be pumped into the barges because it was so stiff and unworkable. It was described as “chocolate mousse”.

So they started a contest to find a way to fluidize the oil and make it pump-able and eventually some guy with no experience in the area found that by spinning rods stuck in the stiff unrefined oil it would heat up and fluidize and become easy to pump. This is a good example of a “wicked” problem that was solved by someone with outside experience.

I will end by giving one more example of what I read in the book and that was the example of using lateral thinking with “withered technology”. The example was of Gunpei Yokoi who was a engineering graduate who was hired by Nintendo before they made video games. He used his creative thinking to combine technology, that wasn’t that advanced or cutting edge, to create products that were a hit on the market and innovated in surprising ways.

Yokoi started with no big ambitions but eventually ended up transforming the company from a failing company into a global giant. He started by inventing things like genius RC cars that only turned right and eventually went on to invent the Nintendo Gameboy which was a revolutionary product at the time not just for its technology but for how that technology was combined in new and surprising ways. His was a particular kind of genius and he is an inspiration to how I might like to innovate in my areas of expertise. He is what you would call a “generalist” who combines multiple disciplines.

So overall I’m very grateful I read this book and am trying to apply to my life what I have learned from it. One way to do this is to not be afraid to study many subjects at the same time which is something I’ve worried about in the past but now feel much more comfortable with.

Tell me what you think of this review and any questions you may have about the book and I’d be happy to answer! And if you want to buy this book on Amazon, you can see it here.

General Relativity and Quantum Mechanics

November 18th, 2019 by

I’ve recently been reading a book titled “Relativity – The Special and General Theory” which is the book Albert Einstein wrote on his two theories of relativity. So far I’ve covered the General Theory of Relativity and am just about to move on to the Special Theory of Relativity. In reading this book, it got me thinking about an old thought of mine which is about the problem of reconciling Special Relativity (or maybe it was General Relativity) and Quantum Mechanics.

Relativity - The General and Special Theories
Relativity – The General and Special Theories

You see, Classical motions of bodies (i.e. planets, humans, cars, balls, cats, you get the picture) can be described in a classical sense because the relativistic principles effect is so small that it literally can’t be measured (except when it comes to atoms and electrons and such things). So there is no problem describing relativistic systems in classical ways.

In a similar way, the theory of quantum mechanics describes things in a way that allows for interesting things to happen at very small scales but at larger scales the quantum effects can not be measured at all. Correct me if I’m wrong but I think I got this right. So both General Relativity and Quantum Mechanics have the same problem that made them so hard to discover in the first place and not very intuitive.

I’m not sure what my point is except that these theories of physics describe things that are not intuitive to the human brain or easy to find out but ultimately rule our universe. So even though sometimes things look bleak for physics or it looks like we haven’t made in breakthroughs in the realm of physics (i.e. a working theory of Quantum Gravity or Grand Unified Theory), eventually, if we stick to it, and keep exploring new ideas, we will find the answers.

So I don’t know if this helps you, but I find physics fascinating and would love to learn more (though not necessarily go through college for that) and find this very encouraging. If you found this interesting please let me know in the comments and I’ll be happy to talk about it! (I think my comments section is working now).

On a side note, I find Einstein makes a great author and would have probably made a great physics professor as well (He was appointed a professor of theoretical physics in Germany for a few years, a position made just for him). His manner is non-condescending and human and relatively easy to understand. Although I didn’t totally understand the equations for the Lorentz Transformation perhaps I will at some point in the future.

I look forward to reading the rest of this book and would recommend it to anyone interested in physics and mathematics!

By the way, I know I said I would write a summary of the last book I read, “Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World” which I just finished, but I will get to that soon so stay tuned.