The writer used interesting anecdotes to illustrate results from real research, rather than simply taking anecdotes and making claims. To summarize the book in one sentence: Generalists have the ability to spot opportunities for applying new skills to an old problem, or applying old skills to new problems.

Lessons in Learning

  • Kind environments, such as chess and sports, tend to have well defined rules, repeating patterns and immediate feedback loops. Wicked environments are more common in the real world. Kahneman and Klein showed that improvement techniques in kind environments are not necessarily relevant to the real world.
  • We are inclined to learn by block learning, or learning in units, because it is appealing. However, research shows that learning by interleaving creates a desirable difficulty that allows knowledge to stick.
  • Using analogies to think in a relational way allows one to take the familiar and put it in a new light.
  • An example of the interplay between specialization and generalizability is Kasparov using computers to help him with chess tactics and short term analysis, while maintaining strategy himself.
  • Pushing boundaries requires inefficiency. In crises, innovative work occurs because boundaries are torn down.

  • The inside view is a bias we gain by being too close to a problem. This results in ignoring gaps that we would otherwise spot of it was outside our domain.
  • We recognize that our desires and motivations have changed a lot in the past, but don't expect them to change as much in the future. Dan Gilbert: "end of history illusion".
  • There's an inverse relationship between how well forecasters thought they were doing and how they were doing (Tetlock). Experts are undefeated because they claim victory when they are right and explain away miscalculations. We are inclined to Google supportive evidence rather than contrary ideas. On the other hand, superforecasters have an objective of maximizing predictions, not convincing others. Hence, they view their own ideas as hypotheses in need of testing.
  • There is a drawback of having too much grit because it is rare to find oneself in a situation where match quality is good and thus switching is usually a good idea. "Match quality" is a term economists use to describe the degree of fit between the work someone does and who they are.

Other Tidbits

  • Personality traits, like grit, aren't absolute. They have a context and temporal component.
  • Doing allows us to discover possibilities. Paul Graham: instead of working backward from a goal, work forward from promising situations.
  • Specialization has an appeal because it is obvious - keep going straight. Breadth is trickier to grow.
  • There is a tendency to resist dropping tools familiar to you because it would be like dropping our identity. As a real world example, firefighters hold onto their tools when fleeing an out of control fire, when dropping them would have saved their life. Although the situation changed, we use our situation-specific tool
  • "In God We Trust. All Other Bring Data." -Sign in NASA HQ
  • Deliberate Amateurs: Saturday morning experiments to play.
  • Bring new skills to an old problem; or address a new problem with old skills.