Why divergent thinkers beat geniuses in the real world | David Epstein

Child prodigies, especially
in the YouTube age, Are sort of like human cat videos. Whether they’re playing classical music Or they’re in a sport or playing chess, You can’t look away from them, They’re so entertaining. We think of that as a trajectory. If they’re this good
at age five or age 10, They’re gonna be so good
at age 20 or 30 or 40. And I think the idea that
parents tend to take from them Is that if I just give my kid
this very narrowly focused, Early, technical training,
my kids will be ahead And they’ll stay ahead forever. It’s just the problem is that
turns out not to be the case. I’m David Epstein, author of ”Range: Why Generalists Triumph
in a Specialized World.” (climactic synthetic music) – [Cameraman] Nice, bro! (scribbling) – Okay, so even if you don’t know The details of Tiger Woods’ story, It’s probably the most powerful
modern story of development. His father gave him a putter
when he was seven months old. At two years old, he was
on national television Showing off his swing
in front of Bobe Hope. At three, he was learning how
to play out of a ”sand twap,” As he put it at the time And saying, ”I’m gonna
be the next great golfer. ”I’m gonna be the next Jack Nicholas.” By the time he’s a teenager, he’s famous. And you fast forward to age 21 And he’s the greatest golfer in the world. I think one of the reasons That prodigy stories are so attractive

Is because we’re used to
thinking of everything As being a trajectory, right? It’s intuitive to want to
give a kid a headstart. In sports, that might be something Like learning how to run
certain types of plays Or very specific techniques. Or in music, how to play the same piece Over and over and over again. Or in academics, tricks for
working out math problems. The problem is, we don’t
follow linear progressions. We are not wired correctly To interpret our own
development, necessarily, ’cause we just want what comes the fastest When, in many cases, slower development Is actually the best in the long run. One way to think about the
world is to think of it As a learning environment, And the milieu in which
you have to develop Some kind of skill. They run on a spectrum from
kind learning environments Where what you have to do is very clear And delineated by clear
rules and patterns repeat And the task doesn’t change, All the way to wicked
learning environments Where information might be obscured, There are no discernible
rules, the work can change And even the feedback you get
can be delayed and inaccurate. And we only see those prodigies In these very kind learning environments. You can think of something like chess. The grandmaster’s advantage
is essentially based On recognizing recurring patterns. But most of the work we do these days Is more toward the wicked
end of the spectrum,

Where we can’t just count
on things being the same Over and over or giving us
perfectly accurate feedback. For the wicked world, you want
a really broad training base, What scientists call a sampling period, Where you’re forming conceptual frameworks And abstract ideas that you
can bend to the activity As the activity itself changes. For a lot of the 20th century, The biggest contributions
came from specialists. But in the information
age, as more information Became quickly and easily disseminated, It became easier to be
broader than a specialist And the biggest
contributions started coming From people who spread their
work across a large number Of technological domains,
often taking something from one And bringing it to another area Where it was seen as extraordinary, Even if it was more
ordinary somewhere else. (playful music) Gunpei Yokoi was was a Japanese man Who didn’t score well on his
electronics exams in university So he had to settle for a low tier job As a machine maintenance worker
at a playing card company. This playing card company,
founded in the 19th century, Is called Nintendo. And one day, the president
of the company saw Yokoi Essentially playing around
with company equipment ’cause he didn’t have anything to do And he made an extendable
arm called the Ultra Hand. It was just a device where
you could grab distant objects With suction cups. And the desperate president
says, ”turn that into a toy, ”we’re going to market,” And it’s sort of a success.

And so the president says, ”all right, ”you’re going to start a
game and toy operation.” Yokoi realizes that he’s not equipped To work on the cutting edge, But there’s so much
information widely available That he can take information
from different domains And merge it, and he did
that for his magnum opus, The Game Boy. He developed this philosophy He called lateral thinking
with withered technology. And what he meant by
that, withered technology, He meant technology that’s
already well understood Easily available and often cheap, And lateral thinking meant
taking it from an area Where everyone’s already used to it And merging it with something else. Because the technology was so withered And so well understood, Programmers inside and outside of Nintendo Pumped out games for it way
faster than their competitors And the Game Boy became
the best selling console Of the 20th century And Nintendo still uses
that lateral thinking With withered technology philosophy today. The more we work in a
rapidly changing world Where we’re not exactly
sure what we should do next Or what work will look like next year Or in five years or 10 years, The more we want those people
who have had a broad view And can kind of draw on
different stores of knowledge. And one of the ways I think
about operationalizing that Is essentially having
a short term mindset. I know that sounds bad, right? You tell people we should
have long term goals

And that it’s like the
commencement speech advice, ”who are you gonna be in 10 or 20 years?” And ”march toward that.” It turns out that’s not
really a good way to operate, Especially when you’re younger. We’re essentially
telling someone to choose For a person they don’t yet know Who’s gonna be working in a
world they can’t yet conceive. The main advice, if I judge
by what people say back to me, Is to not feel behind because
you probably don’t even know Where you’re going, anyway. And I think, rather
than comparing yourself To someone who isn’t you, You should compare yourself
to yourself yesterday And proceed that way.

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