Lessons Learned From “Range: How Generalists Triumph in a Specialised World” – Part 1

Growing up I would jump from interest to interest all the time. I thought this meant I gave things up too often, but perhaps I was a generalist. If, like me, you find that focusing on one path forever doesn’t suit you, then this book is for you. David Epstein teaches us why not wanting to specialise may be our biggest strengths.

The book had so many interesting ideas that I couldn’t summarise them all in one post. Instead, I will be splitting the summary into a mini-series, starting with this post.

Kind Environments and Wicked Environments

Careers are not made equal. You have Kind environments and Wicked environments.

Qualities of Kind environments:

  • Easy to define successes and failures
  • Clear feedback
  • Examples include games, music and sports

You can measure success in a game or sport by winning or losing. When playing music, you can hear if it is wrong. Sports have world champions, Orchestras have First Chair’s. In Kind environments specialising is better for success and outdoing the competition.

Wicked environments are the opposite:

  • No clear definitions of success
  • Feedback varies in usefulness and how often you get it
  • Examples include most knowledge work

You can’t win or lose at accountancy. How do you compare software developers? Who is the world champion at repairing cars? Where do you rank in your job?

Abstraction is a Skill

Abstraction is understanding connections and differences between things.

To give an example, you see a bike, a tricycle and a car. You can tell that the bike and tricycle are similar and the car is different. You pedal a bike and a tricycle, cars have engines.You can also tell what a car has in common with the bike and tricycle. They all have wheels and are all modes of transport.

You can access more information on your phone than your grandparents saw in their whole lives. You can categorise all this information. These categories allow you to say what is similar and what is different between billions of things. Your ability to do this would seem superhuman a few hundred years ago.

Epstein illustrates this with a tale of some remote villagers. They had lived in their small part of the world for generations, not having access to the outside world. They were the closest thing we have to humans before the modern world. Researchers asked the villagers questions, to see how they think.

The villagers were told “in cold, snowy weather, bears are always white, north of here it is cold and snowy” then they were asked “What colour are the bears?”

The villagers replied “I don’t know, I have never been there” – they decided they couldn’t know something that was outside of their direct experience. They couldn’t abstract information.

The villagers were asked to find the odd one out given the following items:

  • Bullet
  • Rifle
  • Dagger
  • Bird

The villagers said there is no odd one out, they are all connected. You put a bullet in a rifle, to shoot the bird, which you cut for meat with the dagger, it’s the only way – they didn’t see a difference between weapons and prey, but instead saw how each one connected to their daily experience.

Self-Taught Vs By-The-Book Teaching

If you want to learn an instrument, you may feel it’s best to get a teacher. It will be easier and at the beginning and quicker. But, if you are willing to struggle at first and take your time, you could become a better musician.

It is slow and difficult to learn to play music by ear, but it forces you figure it out for yourself.

You learn how to learn.

Musicians who learned by mimicking music they’ve heard, are often called “naturals”. They seem to have a way with the instrument. In truth, they have the hard won skill of learning how to learn effectively.

Many classically trained musicians, whilst being elite musicians, struggle to improvise. Classical training is very strict, there is a right way and a wrong way to play. Improvisation is more free flowing and it’s harder to define what’s “good”.

Classical musicians are specialists in their music, playing with discipline and precision. Improvisers are generalists, able to pick up any tune and make it their own.

Come back next time to see what Epstein can teach us about interleaving and analogies.

The Science of Getting Lost and Getting Found

Photo by Malte Schmidt on Unsplash

Getting lost, is terrifying.

If it’s ever happened to you, you will know what I mean. It was likely one of the most stressful days of your life. The terror is real, you can die if you get lost.


We humans, have evolved to find getting lost stressful. Once we realise we are lost, adrenaline sets in and we lose all ability to reason. This makes getting found difficult.


Rescued people have been asked to explain their actions when they were lost and they often can’t remember. The panic caused them not to make reasonable decisions.

Below are some tips on:

  • How to get found if you are lost
  • Understanding how to find someone else who is lost
  • How certain people react when they are lost (we don’t all act the same)

How to Get Found

Stop moving!

Wait 30 minutes.

Half and hour is enough time to calm down, then the rational part of your brain will work again.

Retrace Your Steps

30 minutes have passed, no one has found you…

Now, that you’re calm, retrace your steps. Your instincts might tell you this will get you more lost. But it helps, you may spot something you recognise and be able to find your way back to safety.

The Hub-and-Spoke Method

Retracing your steps hasn’t got you found.

Pick a landmark that stands out to you (a tree, a cliff or church) and treat that as a centre point. Something tall works best, so you can see it even as you walk away from it.

Now walk in a straight line away from it to see if you spot something you recognise or find civilisation. Each time, walk out only as far as you can still see the centre point. Then walk back and head out in a different direction. Your footsteps will follow spokes on a wheel, where the middle of the wheel is your centre point.

The hub-and-spoke method

Head to High Ground

Climb high (if it’s safe to do so). Look for a known landmark, like a particular building or rock formation. If you have a map, even better, this can help you figure out which direction you’re facing and where you need to go.

It’s Not Safe to Go Alone, Take One of These

Preventative measure, bring someone with you. Pairs are less likely to panic and so more likely to make good decisions.

Finding a Lost Person

You may be the person who is safe, but you have lost a loved one. A little understanding of the mindset of a lost person will help you find them and get them back to safety.

Go to the Edges

Humans love boundaries, so even if we don’t know we are doing it, we will head to the edges of things. Depending on the general area the person got lost, check the nearest:

  • Roads
  • Hedges
  • Edges of fields
  • Buildings
  • Shorelines

Who did you Lose?

A Child

Children are generally easier to find as they are more likely to stay put. Head to the last place you saw them and call out to them.

An Autistic Child

Autistic children tend to take shelter in structures.

The structure could be as complex as a building or shed or as simple a bush.

A Person with Dementia

People with dementia tend to head in one straight line and keep going. Even pushing through obstacles.

If you know where their destination, keep going in that direction. If you are in the woods, look for broken up bushes or trees where they may have barged through.

A Solo Male

These are the worst! I don’t know why, but us men move the most. We tend to keep moving non-stop until we are found. If you are looking for a man on his own, you’re in for some trouble, he could be anywhere.

These tips come from a NewScientist article on the psychology of people who get lost: https://www.newscientist.com/article/mg24532710-800-people-who-get-lost-in-the-wild-follow-strangely-predictable-paths/#

How Your Phone Spies on You

Technology vector created by macrovector – www.freepik.com

Have you ever had a conversation with a friend about the latest iPhone, only to see adverts, on the web later?

How could your phone know what you were talking about earlier? It feels creepy, like you’re being spied on.

The truth, is that you are giving so much data to Facebook and Google by using your phone, that your phone doesn’t need to listen to what you say.

They have so much data, they can predict what you like to buy or search for.

How Facebook and Google Stalk You

Facebook and Google have access to you all over the web.

In 2017 Google had trackers on 75% of the top million websites in the world, Facebook had 25%. Both those numbers have increased since then.

When I talk about trackers I am referring to Tracking Pixels or Spy Pixels. As the name suggests they stalk you.

Tracking Pixels are invisible pieces of code in emails or web-pages you visit. You won’t even know they’re there.

These Tracking Pixels follow you to other websites, reporting back to their parent company, which sites you visited, what you did, how long you were there, what device you were using, where in the world you were… The list creeps on and on.

Google and Facebook’s services are free to use, because you are the product. They sell your data to companies who want to sell you things or change your worldview.

Your data can be sold to anyone who wants to use it.

This is an invasion of your privacy and an attack on your human right own your data.

Over the course of this series of posts I will explain in depth, why.

From marketing products to using your data to manipulate you.

How To Stop Tracking Pixels

DuckDuckGo’s plug-in for your browser (Chrome or Safari etc) blocks trackers. Their mobile app blocks Spy Pixels when you browse the web too.

Using a VPN can also help hide your location and what you are looking at on the web. This link also explains the benefits of VPNs. I will write more about these at a later date.

Why “I’ve got nothing to hide” is a Bad Argument Against Data Privacy

Big Tech is always watching
Photo by Scott Webb on Unsplash

Do you shower with the door open?

Do you tell everyone your salary?

Do you openly discuss your doctor’s visits?

If you answered “no” to any of the above, you care about privacy. So you should care about digital privacy.

You might think that it’s okay if big companies want your data, because you’re “too boring” for them to bother with you.

Google and Facebook don’t think you’re boring. Big Tech are now the most valuable companies in the world and they run on your data.

If you want to see an in-depth, terrifying account of how our data can be used against us, you must watch the Great Hack on Netflix. It explains the ways your data can be used against you by these companies, using Cambridge Analytica as an example.

Facebook has more users than any single sovereign country and has founds ways to get people to volunteer their most personal information, only to use it against them or sell it to people who will.

Facebook can stalk you around the web even when you aren’t using the app and sell that information to other companies. So even if you trusted Facebook (why would you?) then you need to make sure you trust all the companies they sell to as well.

Google knows where you go (maps), what you want to know (search) and pretty much anything else that can be turned into data.

Don’t Hide, Protect

Privacy is not about hiding, it’s about protecting your information. You have a right to keep your information to yourself.

The law has not been able to keep up with technology, so while you do have a right to privacy, Big Tech doesn’t have a legal obligation to care yet.

Start Simple with DuckDuckGo

One simple way to protect your privacy is to add the DuckDuckGo plugin to your Chrome browser or use the DuckDuckGo app instead of Google, to find things out on your phone.

A quick look through their website will show you how they can protect your privacy and most of my ideas for this post came from one of their own blog posts.

I plan to write more about data privacy, why you should care and how to protect yourself in my upcoming posts.

I am not affiliated with DuckDuckGo or being paid by them for recommendations, my opinions are my own.

3 Reasons it’s so Hard to Follow Your Passion

Photo by Jade Stephens on Unsplash

Follow your passion is the most common career advice you will hear these days.

It’s a nice idea, but how easy it to actually do? And how much does it actually help?

An article on HBR explained that passions are made not found, passions are more about your values than what you enjoy, and passion can only take you so far.

Don’t Wait to “Find” Your Passion

People aren’t born with a passion.

Think about your favourite hobby. Did you start doing it in the womb? Or did you start it and gradually get better with practice and start to love it. You may have started so young you can’t remember, but you did start.

Passions are developed.

So if you don’t like something the first time you try it, that doesn’t mean you will never like it. If you care about the results your work produces, keep practising. You can get better bit by bit and you will find yourself starting to enjoy it more and more.

Focus on Meaning, not Fun

Your preferences change all the time, think about your hobbies now, the TV shows you watch, the books you read.

How many are the same from your childhood? or even 5 years ago?

Pleasure is short-lived. You are not going to love doing the same things your whole life, because you as a person change so much throughout your life.

Meaning however, deepens with time.

If you love making someone’s day or knowing that something you taught someone could make their life just a little easier, this feeling will last much longer than the pleasure of a massage.

Passion Can Work Against You

There are two big situations where passion can work against you:

For and Against

Imagine you are trying to convince your friend of all the benefits of Android. You can talk all day about the features, the lower cost and wider choice of phones. But if the person you are talking to is a strong Apple supporter, you are more likely to make them support their side more strongly.

Passion in something we disagree with actually makes us push back and think of all the reason that person is wrong. So beware how passionately you speak when trying to persuade someone before you know which side they’re on.

Sacrifices of Passion

If you love your job so much that you would secretly do it for free, you may think you’ve found yourself the best deal in the world.

The problem is when immoral managers start to notice just how much you love your job.

They may start asking you to do unpaid overtime, because they know you love it enough to keep going.

They may ask you to work a few weekends, just to get this project done.

They may ask you just to help them for 10 minutes, which turns into 2 hours, so you miss your lunch-break.

A few months or years later, you will find you have no time and no energy to do anything but work. You will forget why you loved this job so much as now it is just an endless mountain of work and waterfall of stress.

So remember, passion is better developed than “found”, passion lasts longer when it appeals to your deeply held values and passion can be used against you.