Book Review: Range

In Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World (Amazon,) David Epstein write about how people with a wider array of skills and experience end up having a larger impact on society than people who go deep.

There are certain domains that are kind learning environments, like chess or golf, where patterns repeat over and over, and feedback is extremely accurate and usually very rapid. A learner improves simply by engaging in the activity and trying to do better. In wicked domains, like investing, 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. In the most devilishly wicked learning environments, experience will reinforce the exact wrong lessons.

The story of why Stanley Druckenmiller was appointed the director of equity research in 1978 at the age of only 25 comes to mind. Speros Drelles, the director of investments, demoted Stanley Druckenmiller’s boss after his boss having been with the bank for over 25 years and was approximately 50 years old. [‘You know why I’m doing this, don’t you?’ –Speros Drelles] No. [‘For the same reason they send eighteen-year-olds into war.’ –Speros Drelles] Why is that? [‘Because they’re too dumb to know not to charge. The small cap [capitalization] stocks have been in a bear market for ten years, and I think there’s going to be a huge, liquidity-driven bull market sometime in the next decade. Frankly, I have a lot of scars from the past ten years, while you don’t. I think we’ll make a great team because you’ll be too stupid and inexperienced to know not to try to buy everything. That other guy out there [referring to Stanley Druckenmiller’s boss who he was just replacing] is just as stale as I am. (source)

One of my favorites from the book is this quote from Steven Levitt: “admonitions such as ‘winners never quit and quitters never win,’ while well-meaning, may actually be extremely poor advice.” Levitt identified one of his own most important skills as “the willingness to jettison” a project or an entire area of study for a better fit.

To solve tough problems, go wide rather than deep. And don’t hesitate to kill your darlings.

Recommendation: Skim.

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