Range, Intentional Learning & Amateurs vs. Professionals

The High Five - Edition #13

Hi friends,

Greetings and welcome to another edition of ‘The High Five’.

So this last week, I have been playing around with some mind-mapping tools on my iPad. I thought I will do a test drive by using them to illustrate a few key insights in some interesting stuff I was reading. So you will see two illustrations in today’s pieces, done using those apps. I also got to finish reading a book this week and I’m sharing a short-take about it here.

Book Review: Range - How Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World

Range provides a compelling counter-argument to the well-known and often extolled success factors such as the famous 10,000 hours rule (espoused by Malcom Gladwell) or early specialization in some disciplines. Citing in-depth research, the author provides many examples of successes, wherein people who got to sample (or dabble in) various things (jobs, sports, disciplines, art forms, science streams etc.) managed to achieve greater success than those who specialized in narrower streams.

The author contends that the success of people who specialize in something early on, is actually an exception and not the rule. He also discusses a lot about the ‘kind’ and ‘wicked’ environments, characterized by predictable and unpredictable patterns/outcomes respectively. The ‘kind’ environments are akin to a game of Chess, where probably a super computer today can predict every move of the opponent and play accordingly. The ‘wicked’ domains are the ones where the rules of the game are incomplete, where the patterns may or may not be repetitive or obvious, and where feedback is often delayed or inaccurate. The author argues that relying upon experience from a single domain, to solve problems in a ‘wicked’ domain not only limits the success but could also lead to failures.

The author’s research into this topic is quite solid and the arguments are very convincing because the author doesn’t restrict his research into one geography or demographics or discipline or even timeline. I felt that this is a very important book to come out in the current epoch, where economic volatility, advancement of technology, deluge of information, shape a ‘wicked’ world with unpredictable patterns. While narrow specialization can solve narrow problems, people with a wider breadth of experience can apply their diverse skills to create novel solutions that result in greater success. I’d certainly recommend this book, as it will reframe your thinking and also provide some good advice on how to practice range.

Bottomline: Being Jack of all trades, will help you master a few after all.

Career & Learning: Mindsets and Behaviors of Intentional Learners

With the exponential advancement of technologies, reskilling is one of the critical needs in business environments today. And yet, many adults struggle to learn new concepts and skills effectively today. That's because the traditional form of learning models do not seem to be working in the new contexts. More than formal learning opportunities, it is the everyday experiences and interactions that are offering tremendous new opportunities to professionals. In this scenario, it is imperative for professionals to adopt certain mindsets and behaviours, to be able to bring intentionality to learning. This article by McKinsey covers two important mindsets and five best-practice behaviours for the same.

Two Critical Mindsets

  1. Growth Mindset: This is a very popular model, conceptualized by Stanford Professor Carol Dweck. Carol argues that people have either a fixed mindset or a growth mindset.

    • Fixed mindset: the belief that talents, abilities are finite.

    • Growth mindset: the belief that you can grow, evolve, change by cultivating traits. A growth mindset could be cultivated by shifting your beliefs about yourself.

  2. Curiosity: This is the engine for intentional learning and is the foundation for learning because it sparks inspiration, feeds the core abilities and is also not age-dependent. Our curiosity muscle could be strengthened by:

    • Facing our fears boldly

    • Seeking new experiences, environments, and ideas and exposing ourselves to new groups of people

    • Cultivating interests and skills outside our core job, which broadens our perspectives and learning

Five best practices

While a growth mindset and an active muscle of curiosity are vital for intentional learning, directing them towards specific behaviours will create the desired impact. The 5 behaviours of intentional learners are:

  1. Setting small and clear goals: Create tangible time-bound goals for specific areas

  2. Removing distractions: Perform a self-analysis of your priorities, roles, time, energy, choices and prepare a plan to align them all. Consider what needs to be added and what needs to be subtracted, to remove friction in your learning experience. Plan for deep work by minimizing distractions in your environment.

  3. Seeking feedback: Pursue actionable feedback, voraciously, from experts. Gather as many details as possible and decide how to treat feedback.

  4. Practicing in specific areas: Plain practice doesn't make you perfect but deliberate practice can build your expertise. Deliberate practice involves focused activity aimed at the right level of challenge that extends your expertise.

  5. Practicing meta-cognition: Reflecting on your activities and directing your thinking towards refinement is critical. Reflection helps in confidence-building and also improves our growth mindset.

Intentional learning is not only an investment that has compounding benefits for future but is an essential attribute that is going to differentiate us at our workplace as it hones our abilities to think critically and shape new perspectives.

Idea in illustration: Difference between Amateurs and Professionals

This is an illustration I made up after reading this article on the difference between amateurs and professionals.

Quote for this week: As machines begin to learn like humans, we humans need to become learning machines.

A question I have been thinking about: How would our behaviour change, if all social-media apps removed the feature of showing updates in a bottomless-pit and instead restricted to showing only top 10 recent updates?

This week, I revisited the OST of American Beauty after many years. And boy, it still holds up so well. What an amazing score it had!

If you liked ‘The High Five’, please share it with someone who might also enjoy reading it. And let me know what you think about this edition. Have a lovely weekend.