Monthly Archives: January 2020

Book Notes: Range

Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World by David Epstein
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The book starts comparing Tiger Woods and Roger Federer – the former famous for his early start and continued effort in one area, the later choosing relatively late what he wanted to do. The importance here is “match quality” – where by you enjoy what you are doing. Where as Tiger was lucky that the thing which his father started him on he was matched to, other people who start equally early who are not a fit will give up or not put in the effort to be grate. As such there are some advantages in choosing after trying a variety of things to see which are are a match to.

This book explains how increasingly people get deeper and deeper into a field, the book highlights that this increasing domain expertise is no longer the holy grail which it used to be. With domain knowledge more easily accessible online the skills of searching and putting together information from different domains is key. A key point that the book makes is that, although team diversity can improve the situation having individual diversity is much more powerful.

Individuals are capable of more creative integration of diverse experiences than teams are

alva taylor and henrich greve

One of the key takeaways for me is the importance of taking complicated problems and trying to see similarities to other problems – the use of analogies is a very powerful way to see what work has already been done which on first sight may not entirely appear relevant. Varied analogies might then lead to solved works which can then be applied to the problem at hand.

Serial inventors are people who

  • high tolerance for ambiguity
  • systems thinkers
  • technical knowledge from peripheral domains
  • repurposing what is already available
  • adept at using analogous domains for finding inputs to the invention process
  • ability to connect disparate pieces of information in new ways
  • synthesizing information from many different sources
  • they appear to flit among ideas
  • broad range of interests
  • they read more (and broadly) than other technologists and have a wider range of outside interests
  • need to learn significantly across multiple domains
  • communicate with various individuals with technical expertise outside of their domain

Often if you’re too much of an insider, it’s harder to get good perspective

Where it is not possible to have people with range the next best is to have a team which practice active-openmindeness. Here, instead of trying to convince others that they are wrong, people try to ask questions to identify why they might be wrong. Through this people improve their own idea and perspective on how to solve the problem.

As such companies should build a Congruence (a social science term for cultural “fit” among an institution’s components – values, goals, vision, self-concepts, and leadership styles) which can aid in effective decisions making.

Consensus is nice to have, but we shouldn’t optimise happiness, we should be optimising our decisions.

Book Notes: The Dichotomy of Leadership

The Dichotomy of Leadership: Balancing the Challenges of Extreme Ownership to Lead and Win by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

As with the previous book Extreme Ownership the content itself is quite simple but it is the stories from Iraq along with the lessons which make it an interesting read.

  • People and mission – you have to care about the people and also the mission, the two (at times) might be opposing e.g. having to let some people go so that the company can remain viable not doing it may mean the business fails.
  • Micromanagement and la say fair – being too controlling can be bad and so can being too hands on, you have to balance both and find an appropriate middle which will change with different situations
  • Resolute but not overbearing – setting and expecting high standards also being pragmatic on which is critical for the mission and what is not
  • When to Mentor, when to Fire – most people just need help to grow but if this is not producing improvements then it is the tough call to have to let someone go which is important for the team not to have to carry someone who is not up to the job.
  • Train hard, but train smart – training is key to growth but the training effort needs to be targeted to improve the team not just repeating easy exercises.
  • Proactive not reckless – being proactive and pushing things forward but with consideration if things don’t go as planned. Sometimes proactivity removes time for opposition or valuable discussion and risk evaluation which is reckless.
  • Disciplined not rigid – being disciplined is important but having procedures for everything goes too far. There needs to be a balance where by the important procedures exist but there is also space for leadership at all levels.
  • Hold people accountable but don’t hold their hands – requiring the approval of all work means that the leader quickly becomes a bottleneck and although there is a place for people doing this to be accountable for their work there is also a need for the leader to actually lead and clearly explain the why so that the team have space.
  • Leader and a follower – a leader must lead but also know when to follow someone either more senior or more junior (perhaps with more specialised knowledge etc)
  • Plan but don’t overplan – planning is important as this help set the direction, assess risks and ensure alignment. The challenge is to know when to stop planning and when to start doing as the plan can never be perfect.

Humility is the most important quality in a leader

  • Humble not passive – humility is good but not if it means an unwillingness to push back, voice concerns, stand up for the good of the team or provide feedback.
  • Focused but detached – there needs to be a balance between looking into low level detail and thinking about the higher level picture. Neither on their own is sufficient and their balance is key.