This book is a best-seller that tries to persuade you that generalists are the ones who will succeed and innovate. The book is quite repetitive — it gives examples after examples illustrating very similar points. The high level takeaway is that: a generalist will thrive in “wicked” domains: In wicked domains, the rules of the game are often unclear or incomplete, there may or may not be repetitive patterns and they may not be obvious, and feedback is often delayed, inaccurate, or both . They will not thrive in a environment where: “a learner improves simply by engaging in the activity and trying to do better”.
It’s useful to roughly read the book and get convinced. It is relevant to my job because I am not expected to be an expert in every field I am involved in. How to perform well and lead effectively when I’m not an expert is exactly what this book shows. It also shows what kind of environment one needs to encourage innovation. The idea is worth 5/5 but the overall book is pretty average.
- The learning environment is kind because a learner improves simply by engaging in the activity and trying to do better. Kahneman was focused on the flip side of kind learning environments; Hogarth called them “wicked.” In wicked domains, the rules of the game are often unclear or incomplete, there may or may not be repetitive patterns and they may not be obvious, and feedback is often delayed, inaccurate, or both.
- Claude Shannon, who launched the Information Age thanks to a philosophy course he took to fulfill a requirement at the University of Michigan. In it, he was exposed to the work of self- taught nineteenth- century English logician George Boole, who assigned a value of 1 to true statements and 0 to false statements and showed that logic problems could be solved like math equations. It resulted in absolutely nothing of practical importance until seventy years after Boole passed away, when Shannon did a summer internship at AT& T’s Bell Labs research facility. There he recognized that he could combine telephone call- routing technology with Boole’s logic system to encode and transmit any type of information electronically.
- When a group of Estonian researchers used national test scores to compare word understandings of schoolkids in the 1930s to those in 2006, they saw that improvement came very specifically on the most abstract words. The more abstract the word, the bigger the improvement.
- The collective farmers, and young people with even a little formal education, did so easily, naturally forming color groups. Even when they did not know the name of a particular color, they had little trouble putting together darker and lighter shades of the same one. The remote villagers, on the other hand, refused, even those whose work was embroidery. “It can’t be done,” they said, or, “None of them are the same, you can’t put them together.” When prodded vigorously, and only if they were allowed to make many small groups, some relented and created sets that were apparently random.
- They titled their study Superman or the Fantastic Four? “When seeking innovation in knowledge- based industries,” they wrote, “it is best to find one ‘super’ individual. If no individual with the necessary combination of diverse knowledge is available, one should form a ‘fantastic’ team.”
- Reason without numbers was not accepted. In the face of an unfamiliar challenge, NASA managers failed to drop their familiar tools.
- In some batches of applications, the candidates performed as the standard evaluation process predicted; in others, they weren’t even close. Yet, over and over, the individual managers conformed to standard procedure no matter what the results told them, even when it clearly was not working, and even when a better system was easily discoverable. They failed to learn with experience. Until a wrinkle was added. Conformist managers were given fake Harvard Business Review research proclaiming that successful groups prioritize independence and dissent. Miraculously, their minds were opened and they started learning.
- “You can do your entire career on one cell type and it’s more likely you keep your job by getting grants,” Casadevall told me. “There is not even pressure to integrate. In fact, if you write a grant proposal about how the B cell is integrating with the macrophage [a basic interaction of the immune system],* there may be no one to review it. If it goes to the macrophage people, they say, ‘Well, I don’t know anything about it. Why B cells?’ The system maintains you in a trench. You basically have all these parallel trenches, and it’s very rare that anybody stands up and actually looks at the next trench to see what they are doing, and often it’s related.”