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David Epstein: 2019 National Book Festival

David Epstein: 2019 National Book Festival


>>Jon Parrish Peede:
Good morning book lovers. How are you? Great.>>Carla Hayden: They’re ready.>>Jon Parrish Peede: Can
we just stop for a moment and acknowledge the Librarian
of Congress, Carla Hayden and her hard working staff at the libraries
and the volunteers? [ Applauding ]>>Jon Parrish Peede:
Absolutely. [ Applauding ] I’m Jon Peede, the Chairman
of the National Endowment for the Humanities
and we are proud to continue our sponsorship
of the National Book Festival. Any age embraces the topic of
this festival, change makers. And one way we’re doing so is to
discuss this topic at our both on the bottom level of
the Convention Center. There we’ll recognize
the importance of the 19th Amendment, we have
funded a documentary that’ll be coming out on PBS. We have wonderful cutouts
of Suffrage Movement, leaders that you can pose with, that your children can
pose with, grandchildren. Frederick Douglass and
others, Alexander Hamilton some of the popular figures we’ve had from the past will be
there as well many. And we will have
programming about civics and about the importance
of libraries at the Parades of State Stage. But for this room,
in this moment, we’re here through
the NEH’s funding of this pavilion
understanding our world. And our federal agency
awards more than 130 million dollars a
year through the generosity of taxpayers to libraries, to
museums, universities, scholars, filmmakers, civic
leaders across the nation. And here we join you, not just
as one of your voices here on cultural funding,
but as leaders. And so our day, like
your day, will be filled with fascinating presentations from world class authors
at every discipline. They’ll be books to acquire,
have signed by the authors, meetings with fellow book
lovers, and treasure hunts of course, for children. And so we’re delighted to start
the activities with the author, David Epstein and his engaging,
thoroughly engaging new book, “Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World” David
is an investigative reporter a ProPublica. He’s a graduate of Columbia
University, where he majored in Environmental
Science and Astronomy. His master’s degree is in Environmental
Science and Journalism. He served as the Senior
Writer at Sports Illustrated, where he specialized at
the intersection of sports and investigative reporting. His Ted Talk about technology
that many of you have seen about technology and sports
performance is certainly worth your consideration. And he writes in the book, “The
challenge we face now is how to maintain the benefits of
breath, diverse experience, interdisciplinary experience,
and delayed concentration. In a world that increasingly
incentivizes, even demands, hyper specialization.” If that is the challenge,
then I would say indeed that Range answers the question. So please welcome, David and
my colleague, the honorable, Anne Radice who will
conduct the interview. Thank you. [ Applauding ]>>Anne Radice: Welcome David. And I’m hoping you’re going
to think I’m a generalists because these are notes
I’m going to try to use to draw questions from. You have so much in your
book, you’re a storyteller, which is fascinating because
in many ways, this is a book about leadership, how to
become a leader, how to — well, how to become somebody
who takes in many, many, experiences and solves problems. So for me, I was
fascinated to see that, not only do you tell great
stories, great examples, it’s filled with data, but
the data sort of sneaks in, and you find yourself
remembering all of your points, not particularly
because of the data, but because of the stories. So what I’m going to try to
do is pull some of the — I’m going the call them
“prompts” out of the book, so you can tell the stories
because they’re fascinating. I also wanted to give you
a shout out for talking about Frances Hesselbein because
Frances Hesselbein she is alive, which you told me, she’s
103, she’s the woman who saved the Girl Scouts. And her ability to help
shape leaders was recognized by Peter Drucker who
called her the greatest CEO of all times basically. And so I know you’ve
been influenced by her, but I think you’ve taken
it a whole step further. So without further ado, I was
wondering if we could start out with the stories that
deal with repetition. You know when you play sports,
and you’re a sports writer, the idea is we need to keep
practicing a certain thing, practicing, practicing, but you’re saying that’s not
always the best thing to do. So there’s your first pitch.>>David Epstein: Yeah. Thank you very much. And we should come
back to Frances because she had a
big influence on me and how I approached this book.>>Anne Radice: Good. We’d love to hear about it.>>David Epstein: So the
books starts in sports, partly because the seed of
it sort of came out, of kind, out of a debate that I
had with Malcolm Gladwell when I wrote a book about sports
science, previously when I was at Sports Illustrated
and it critiqued to the science underlying the
so called 10,000 hours rule. Or as he would say, we’re in
a panel together and we had to introduce each other
recently and he said, “This is David Epstein,
who devoted several pages of his first book to criticizing
my work” [laughter] it was a little bit of a harrowing
introduction, but so we were in invited to a conference
at MIT to debate essentially
sports development, right? And he had written
about the importance of early narrow specialization
and what’s called, “deliberate practice” repeat
the same thing over and over and over and I was the science
writer at Sports Illustrated, so I said if that’s the
hypothesis let me go look at the data. And what I saw was that
in almost every sport around the world
athletes who gone to become elite have
what scientist call a, “sampling period” where
they play this wide variety of sports. They gain broad general
skills early on that scaffold these
later technical skills. They learn about their own
interests and abilities and they systematically delay
specializing until later than their peers
and that’s the norm. But we never really
hear that story, what we hear is the Tiger Woods
story, essentially and sort of, you know, very selective
version of it. Where he was, you know, at seven
months old his father gave him a putter, not trying the
turn him into golfer, just giving it to him as a toy. At ten months he’s
imitating a swing. At 2 years old he’s on
national television golfing. You know, 3 years old
he’s saying I’m going to be the next great,
and you fast forward to 21 he’s the greatest
golfer in the world. But that turns out to
be the vast exception, and as I argue in the book. That story has been probably the
most powerful modern development story and it’s been extrapolated
to literally in some books to anything else you
to want do in life. And one of the arguments
I make is that golf is actually a horrible
model of almost everything else that humans to want learn. And so the model that may work for golf we’ve been making a
really dangerous extrapolating from golf to other activities where that approach
is not so good.>>Anne Radice: Well, tell
the story of the firemen who do repetition all the time.>>David Epstein: Yeah. So this, by the way,
this chapter called, “Learning to drop your
familiar tools” was like the hardest structural
writing challenge I’ve ever faced. So these so called hotshot
wilderness firefighters who and smoke jumpers who parachute
in or hike in to forest fires and big trenches around them to contain them are very
high performance teams. But a psychologist
named Carl White who studied them would notice when they would face something
kind of unexpected for example, they’d be on a hillside
and a fire would be on another hillside and little
bit would jump across a gulch and chase them up hill. They would often be ordered to
drop their tools and run away from the fire and
they would refuse. And what he noticed
was that when these — what he called, “high
reliability organizations” when disaster would happen, it
was because they would refuse to do something that seemed
obvious to an outsider. So repeatedly when there was a
tragedy the firefighters would be found having died next to
their tools, a Chainsaw, axe, a driptorch, hundreds of pounds
of equipment and maybe they’re within one hundred
feet from safety. And what he realized
was happening was when training was very,
very, very repetitive, that was really good as long as you were facing the same
situation over and over again, but when something changed,
you get stuck in that pattern and do the same thing anyway. And so firefighters would
refuse to drop those tools, even though it would
have saved their life. And he started to see this
in all sorts of other areas. So most of commercial
air disasters occur when the flight crew sticks to an initial plan
they’ve done before, even when to a random
outsider it’s clear that they’re heading
for disaster. Or a famous example that
he said was Karl Wallenda who was walking across
a tightrope between buildings started
to waiver grabbed — instead of grabbing
at the rope below him, grabbed at his balance
pole, right? Because that was his tool. Then he fell and in the air kept
grabbing for his balance pole, instead of the wires that
could have saved him. So it’s sort of a Proxy for being flexible in the
face of something different. And this gets to
this finding I write about that can be
summarize as breath of training predicts
breath of transfer. Transfer is the term
psychologists use to mean your ability to take
your skills and knowledge and apply them to a situation
you haven’t quite seen before where something changes. And what predicts your ability
to do that is your diversity of experience that you
had during training. So you have to be very
careful about going about things the 10,000 hours
way, unless you’re engaged in an activity like chest
or golf which are so called, “kind learning” environments
that we can talk about it.>>Anne Radice: Well,
I was fascinated too in your chapter how the
wicked world was made when you start talking
about IQ because, of course, when I was growing up,
that was it, I mean, everything got judged by IQ. But then in your
chapter you talk about IQ’s got gotten
higher everywhere.>>David Epstein: Yeah.>>Anne Radice: So I don’t
feel so special anymore.>>David Epstein: Well,
you should feel special because IQ’s are going up. So everyone who came before
you, you know, you’re like a>>Anne Radice: Oh, okay.>>David Epstein:
But yes, and this — it’s not just that IQ’s have
gone up, this is the so called, “Flynn effect” so
IQ scores have gone up about three points per decade over the course of
the 20th century. And they didn’t just go up, they went up where they were
least expected to go up. So there’s an IQ test called, “The Raven’s Progressive
Matrices” that is it’s just abstract
patterns and one is missing and you have to deduce the
rules from the patterns and fill in the missing pattern. And this was created
to be what’s called, “culturally reduced” nothing
you’ve learned or in life or in school or anything should
have any effect on your ability to do well on this test. So this so called if
Martians landed on earth, we could give them this test to
see how cleaver they are, right? And in fact, that turned out
to be the least stable test. That’s where we’ve seen the
highest rise, and it turns out it has to do with the way
that our minds have changed to accommodate modern work. So some of the studies that sort of illuminated why
this was happening. Looked at a natural
experiment in the Soviet Union where in remote areas of
what’s now Uzbekistan. The Soviet socialized
agricultural land and they took what had been
subsistence farmers living in so called, “premodern
conditions” and started forcing some them
to engage in modern work, where they had to
coordinate with other people, they had to think
about people’s work that they didn’t actually do. So they had to start thinking
outside of their own experience to coordinate work, and some
of those people were still in that condition because this
change was sort of spreading. And this group of psychologists
went and studied them, and found in the
people who were still in the premodern situation,
they’re thinking was — it wasn’t worse, it was just
adapted to a different situation where they had to rely on
very concrete experience. So they would be asked
something like, where it’s cold and there’s snow all the bears
are white and they’d say, “In Novaya Zemlya it’s cold and there is snow” what
color are the bears? And they would say, “I can’t —
I haven’t been there, you know, you’d have to ask
someone who’s been there” and you could never get
them to extrapolate outside of their own experience. Whereas, even a little
exposure to this modern work with where people had to start
thinking abstractly about work that they don’t do, it completely changed
how their minds worked to where they would get
better at grouping things by abstract concept even if
they’ve never experienced them. And we’ve continued
go where we have to — we have to live by
what’s called, “transfer” taking our knowledge
and applying it to situations that we haven’t seen, to work
that we haven’t done before. That’s how we get by we
sort of take it for granted. And that’s caused us to get
much better as deducing rules, essentially when
they’re not there and it’s changed very
fundamentally the way we think. And so it’s particularly on
these abstract parts of IQ tests that we’ve these huge rises. And by the way, this
is a side point but I think the Flynn Effect
is a really good measure of in some ways of
gender equity in a society because you’re dosage
of modern work and modern life is proportional to how much you see
this IQ rise. In some societies where women
are less allowed to engage in modern work, you see
the Flynn Effect separating for men and women. Right? So if you see the Flynn
Effect not progressing the same for men and women, then, you
know, I this it could be sort of an indirect measure of
gender equity in a societies.>>Anne Radice: Well, I
don’t know if you’re aware that on weekends
here in Washington, in government buildings, where of course we all would
love people to be working, even on the weekend, they
turn off the air conditioning, they turn off the heat whatever, and you say Saturday is a
great day to get things done.>>David Epstein: Yeah. Well, I stole that idea from one of my favorite interviewees,
Oliver Smithies. He who was a scientist who — I was reading through his
notebooks that were digitized by the University of North
Carolina, and what you notice is that his most important work
always occurred on Saturday’s, what he called, “Saturday
morning experiments.” And so as he told
me, people ask, “why I came into work any
other day other than Saturday” so he’d go and he was like
this in better at sort of an experimenter, and
he would go in to work and on Saturday he
said, “you don’t have to be completely rational. I do things that are unfunded, I can play with other people’s
equipment” in fact, no really, when his colleagues were
going to get rid of equipment, instead of throwing it out,
they would label it with a label “N B G B O K F O” which meant,
“No bloody good but okay for Oliver” because he would
take it and play with it and he’d do this on
Saturday mornings. And it on one of
those Saturday morning where he was — you know. He got a key to the janitor’s
closet and goofing around and invented something
called, “gel electrophoresis” which completely revolutionized
biology and chemistry, it allows us to separate
molecules for study. And he just always wanted
to learn new things. And so in his 50s he took a
sabbatical, two floors away from his own office to
learn how to work with DNA. So early in his career he
was training to be a doctor, and then he saw electron
chemistry and said, “I’m going to do
chemistry” and that was seen as him getting off
track at the time, but then he helped
pioneer biochemistry. Which is now its own
specialty but was at the time of bold Hybrid and then in his
50s he becomes a geneticist, publishes a paper in
his 60s that then went to the Nobel Prize because
he learned how to alter genes in animals so we can
study them for disease. And so as I kept seeing
that trend with creators, where they would have time
set aside that was unfunded and unstructured,
where they could sort of do this experimentation
and that’s where their breakthroughs
would come.>>Anne Radice: I want
to get back to Frances because I want you to
explain your relationship to her and her studies. And also listening to
this story, you just told, probably not many of
us in here are going to win the Nobel Prize,
ever, but in what we do in our every day, we can
certainly learn from this. And I think that a lot of
people are now thinking about Saturday’s not
so bad after all. But talk about Frances because
she’s an amazing person.>>David Epstein: Yeah. So the nutshell story of
Frances is grew up in Johnstown, Pennsylvania when it was as
big steel town and she had about a semester of college
when will her father got sick and was passing away and so she
had to take care of the family. And essentially, she got
married fairly young, her husband went
away to World War II, where he was a combat
air photographer, and she was born in
1915, by the way. And he came back and
started a photography studio and she would just do
whatever just needed, like, she was just this jack of
all trades kind of person. Which by the way, we always
I think it’s very culturally telling that we cut off that
phrase the full quote is, “jack of all trades master none,
oftentimes better than master of one” but so in her 30s,
a woman a prominent woman in her community comes
to her door and says, “Would you like to volunteer to lead a local girl scout
troop the previous leader left?” And she says, “I
have a little boy. I don’t know anything about
that, don’t know anything about leadership, don’t know
anything about little girls” and the woman says, “Okay. Well, we’ll just have to does
ban these families, you know, these girls from modest families
who meet in a church basement” and Frances says, “Fine. Six weeks and then you can find
a real leader” and it turns out she enjoys it and she
stays with them for seven years until they graduated
high school. And sort of the short story is
she keeps getting asked to take on jobs with the Girl Scouts
and she keeps saying like no and they say, “but if you don’t,
well, we’ll just have to get rid of this program” and so
she keeps saying fine for like a month, you know? And then these asks keep getting
bigger and then she’s asked to Chair the United Way
campaign for the Girl Scouts. And she says — and since she
like never wants these jobs, never goes looking, she feels
free to do whatever she wants. So she says, “all right I’m
going to go get Bethlehem Steel and the Union to be
supporters of this” and then United Way is like,
whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, you know, because Bethlehem
Steel was a big supporter and she said, “well, you told
me to run it, so I’m going to do it my way or”
and she does it and Johnstown has the
highest per capita giving in the entire country. And by the way, the second
woman to ever lead one of those United Way
campaigns was like last year and she was doing it, you
know, like decades ago. And so this keeps happening, she
keeps taking these bigger jobs. And when they gets in
her 50s she’s asked to be the Executive Director of
a Local Council and she says, “no, that’s a professional, I
would never take an actual job” and of course, again, they
say, like, well, all right, I guess we’ll just
have to [laughter] and so she goes and
she says, “fine. Six weeks. I’ll straighten out the
books and then leave” and she starts reading
management books and about the history
of Girl Scouts and realizes this work
actually is her vocation. So in her mid 50s she starts
her career, keeps going well, eventually she’s asked to
come to New York to interview for the job of CEO, at
the time when Girl Scouts in total crisis, memberships
falling off a cliff, it’s kind of a high bound
place, it’s not very diverse. And she says, “nope, don’t want
that job” and her husband says, “I’ll drive you to New York,
you can turn it down in person at least” and so she
gets there and they say, “What you would you do?” Like, the previous Girl
Scouts leader had been like Captain Dorothy Stratton who started the women’s
Coast Guard reserve and was a University Dean Cecily Cannan Selby, who had like
leadership in, you know, in industry and education. Frances Hesselbein was one of
355 local Girl Scout leaders and with, you know, one
semester of college education. And so she goes in and
feeling not bad, she says, “I’d throw everything out. I’d get rid of that one
sacred handbook, I’d make four that appeal to different
age groups. I’d make sure that other
communities, when they look at us, they see themselves. So that if an Indigenous
girl on ice flow in Alaska, this is what she says, if she
opens a Girl Scout handbook, I’d make sure shed see herself
in a Girl Scout uniform.” And so she says, “and I’d
get rid of the campsites, they’re got getting as much use. I’d teach girls about sex and
drugs and computers and science and math and all this stuff” and
then she goes home and is like, “that was kind of fun”
but and then, you know, and then she arrives in
New York, not that long after is the new CEO
of the Girl Scouts. Which she precedes to save as a
130,000 volunteers who she pays, not in money but in a
sense of mission, right? Adds enormous diversity. She’s told when she gets there, fix the finances then
worry about diversity. And she says “no, diversity is
the problem, that’s the problem, that’s what we’re going to do. We need to reflect the
community we want to serve” and so she commissions
research on all this messaging and it ends in these
beautiful messages like one targeted native
girls says, your names are on the rivers and all these
sorts of beautiful messages. And so she saves the
Girl Scouts essentially. Tries to retire and the next day
is called by Mutual of America and they say, “Come see
your office” you know? On Madison Avenue and she says,
“What are you talking about?” And they said, “we’ve
are noticed that you’ve never made a
long term plan in your life. So we figured we’d just give
you an office and you’ll figure out what to do with it”
and she now is the Head of the Frances Hesselbein
Leadership Institute in Manhattan where she goes
to work five days a week at the age of 103 1/2. And so this is in a
chapter about the importance of short term planning and
how [laughter] there’s a lot of research, that’s the ironclad
long term plans are actually really counterproductive. But she became a huge
— sorry I’m just — she became a bit of a role
model, more than a bit of a role model for me
and really effected — she had this saying, she had two
great sayings that they repeated to me over and over and over. One was, “leadership is a matter
of how to be, not a matter of what to do” and
the other was, “you have to carry a big
basket to bring something home” which meant she would go to
trainings and people would say, “I’m not getting anything
from this, I know all this” and she’d say, “if you’re open
minded, you’ll get something from anything” and
when she said that, I was stuck with my own
writing and I decided to take a beginners online
fiction writing course, you know, it’s a
beginning writing class. Maybe it’ll help and it didn’t
help in the way I thought, but what happened
was, I had to — there was an exercise
where I had to write a story with no dialog. And I realized I’ve been
leaning on dialog in a lazy way when I didn’t understand
something in my book to let someone else just another
scientist just explain it. I went back through the whole
manuscript, stripped a ton of quotes, replaced it with
more clear narrative writing and that really came out
of there saying like, you could do anything and
if you bring an open mind to it, you will. I’m now convinced
there’s no amount of beginners writing
courses I could take and not learn something from. So I live in Woodley Park and when I noticed one day
there were like a bunch wizards in the neighborhood and
I went over to the hotel and realized there
was like a conference, like an anime conference
over there. So I just, like, sat in on
the beginners writing class and its like, you know, about
I’m probably not going to write about any Japanese comics but>>Anne Radice: Without
saying never.>>David Epstein: No,
I definitely wouldn’t. Believe me. But like its structure, it’s
dialog, it’s like, you know, conflict and so she really
made a big impression on me in a lot of ways. So I was honored to include
her in the book in a big way.>>Anne Radice: Well,
when I read her name in your book I went out and
found her book about leadership. The difference, I think,
you were inspired by her, but I’ve think you’ve taken it
a whole new — a whole new way. Meaning, when you read her book, which is amazing,
it’s really a how to. We do this, this, and this,
and then if this happens, we do this, but it
doesn’t tell stories. And I keep thinking,
I keep going back to the fact the way
you tell the story, makes it, you can remember it. Now, I don’t think it’s just
a matter of advancing age that I can’t remember everything
that she says, and I find myself like point one, point two,
point three, but the synthesis of it all really comes
in your book, I think. And she should, I’m sure
she must love your book.>>David Epstein:
I was very nervous about what she would
think, but I think she does. And I — in my previous book,
I read a lot of memory research and I try to leverage that in
my writing to write in a way that I know helps build
peoples semantic network so they’ll remember the points. So I’ve kind of tried to
do that very proactively.>>Anne Radice: When I
read the stories of Venice and figlie del coro, which I’d
love for to you talk about, I thought this guy should be
writing art history then people would read it, you know? But –>>David Epstein:
That’s interesting that you mentioned that. One of the great gifts of this
book for me was getting to dive, getting to build these — I
ground myself in areas of art and music that allowed me like
really changed my experience of a concert or a museum. And so the figlie del coro you
mentioned, so this is a story about so music is one of
the areas that we associate with early specialization,
so I knew I had to take it on early in the book. And figlie del coro so
in Venice, in the 17th and 18th century there’s a
very vibrant sex industry, and there is a problem with especially baby girls
being dropped in the canals when sex workers couldn’t
take care of them essentially. And so Venice started these
very progressive social service institutions called, “Ospedale”
where there was like — they would take girls
and raise them. And it was like, you know
when you put your luggage in like the check thing to see if you can carry
it on the plane? There was like a box and
if the baby fit in the box, they would take her and raise
her, no questions asked. And they wanted to make
these girls, you know, citizens who could be,
kind of, self sustaining and all these kinds of things and so they would teach them
different skills and say, like, give them different incentives
to learn different skills, like if they’re learning some
skill they get less chores. And people started donating some
instruments to the institutions, and some of the girls started
trying to learn all of them. And what the governors of the
institution started to notice is that they would play
and people would come by and money would start
pouring in, like donations. So then they started soliciting
donations of instruments. Venice was the ground zero of
musical innovation at the time, like, the modern piano was being
invented, the systems of major and minor keys that
we rely on today. And these girls eventually ended up becoming the most famous
musicians in the world. And what they would start as learning every different
instrument they could. And they became this musical
laboratory for composers who started fighting to be
able to compose for them. So and Vivaldi was one of
people who won that right and composed the four
seasons for figlie del coro. And they became world
famous and only odd thing about their training was that, instead of starting very
focused, they started by learning all of the
instruments and that, in fact, looks exactly like — the
research on musicians looks just like the research in sports. The ones who go on to became
elite then have a sampling period where they try a
variety of instruments, they spread their early practice
across a lot of instruments and lightly structured
environments. Even famously precocious
musicians, Yo Yo Ma quit first his
first two instruments, didn’t like them, quit music
for a while and then came back to cello and found his love. And so, you know, I think
it’s we all remember, “The Battle Hymn of the Tiger
Mother” that book which opened with her talking about
assigning violin to her kid and having five hours
of practice. And everyone remembers that
part, but not the part later in the book where her
daughter says, “you picked it and not me” and quits. Right? That part, to her credit
she included, it didn’t stick, but I thought the
figlie del coro one; I wanted to restore their place
in history, they were lost, I think many the composers
became famous, but they didn’t. I think partly because
they were women, partly because they
didn’t have families, partly because Napoleon troops
threw a lot of their records out the window when
they arrived in Venice.>>Anne Radice: Well,
I volunteered to you over the phone, I volunteer
again to go to Venice and we look at the Tintoretto
paintings that are many of them were in the Ospedale,
and I’m sure that a lot of the women in those pictures with musical instruments must
be — members of that crew.>>David Epstein: I’m sure –>>Anne Radice: We’ve got
to figure out who they are.>>David Epstein: I’m sure. I’m sure. There was a painting in the National Gallery
not long ago.>>Anne Radice: Yeah.>>David Epstein: Where
they went unidentified.>>Anne Radice: Yeah.>>David Epstein:
It was just like, the women up in the
balcony playing instruments.>>Anne Radice: Well, I’m
going to I could go on forever, but and I know you can as well. I highly recommend
this book, line five is where he’ll be signing them,
but we have fifteen minutes left and I think it’d be fun for
people to ask questions so. We can hardly see
because of the light, but if there I assume there are
microphones, and if you come up to a microphone
and ask a question. If you want to identify
yourself as a generalists or a specialist we’ll
take that too. But one of the stories that
you got to get the book to read this, is an analysis
of the Challenger Crash, it’s really important
to read this. Anyway, go ahead.>>Guest: Good morning.>>David Epstein: Morning.>>Guest: Girl Scout
eleven years.>>David Epstein: Oh.>>Anne Radice: San.>>Guest: Great. When I speak to teenagers, 18,
19 who are going to college and what their majors
are going to be, everyone says they have no
desire to major in English or history or any of what
I consider liberal arts. And they’re concern is the
amount of money it costs to go to school and that
they have to come out and get a technical
job right away. So I just wonder if you
had any thoughts on that, which I find despairing.>>David Epstein: Yeah. Yeah. I mean I think that’s
troubling for lot of reasons, but let me address one
because it’s concrete. So in the book I write
about research on timing of students choosing majors. And so for example, an economist
found a natural experiment in the higher ED systems
of England and Scotland. And what he saw was that
the systems were very, very, similar, except in England in the period he studied
students had to specialize about fifteen, sixteen
because they had to decide what program they
had to apply to of study. Whereas, in Scotland, they
could continue sampling like the athletes,
like the musicians, throughout the universe
city if they wanted. And he said who win
this tradeoff the early or the late specializers? The one’s who pick and stick
or the ones who go more broad, they end up studying
things that they didn’t know about in high school, they
end up having like more of a variety of classes. And it turns out that the early
specializers do in fact jump out to an income lead when
they get into the work world because they have more
dominion specific skills. The later specializers
get to sample more things, so they have a broader
view of what’s out there. And when they do pick, they have
higher, what economists called, “match quality” which
is the degree of fit between your interests
and abilities in the work that you do. And so their growth rates
are faster and by year six, they fly passed the
early specializers. Meanwhile, the early
specializers start quitting their career tracks
in much higher numbers because they were
made to pick so early that they more often
chose poorly. You know, so I think if
we thought about careers like dating, we wouldn’t
pressure people to pick so early. And but that said,
when they do quit, they then have fast growth
rates because they’re quitting in response to match
quality information. Other work backs this up. So there’s a renewed
emphasis on vocational, specialized vocational training,
which certainly has some uses, but the outcomes are that if
you match their studies research that matches people for
SES, parental education, various test scores, own years
of education, only difference if they get broad
general education or specialized education. The specialized education, they
jump out to an income lead, but they have a much more narrow
skill set, and so they ends up spending much less time
over all in the labor market. So again, they win in the short
term and lose in the long run. But one of the — I think,
to me, one of the themes of my book is that sometimes
the things you can do to cause the most rapidly
apparent short term progress undermine your long
term development. And with that realization, which
is deeply counterintuitive, how can we structure
systems to accommodate that since our psychology is
not set up to accommodate it? And I think only
getting worse, right? Because student debt makes us
more and more and more prone to the sunk cost falls. See, which is where
you start something and you can’t leave it,
even if it’s clearly wrong and you can’t be boarder,
even if you clearly show because you’d preyed
to this feeling that once you’ve started going down an area, you
keep going down. This is what con men actually
do, they know to start with small asks because once
you’ve invested a little, you’ll keep insisting
it’ll work out, even when to an outsider
it can see it’s a disaster. And so I think things are
setting up in the wrong way to incentivize what the research
says is we should develop people unfortunately.>>Anne Radice: Let’s hit
it over to this gentleman.>>Guest: Yes.>>Anne Radice: And we
have ten minutes left and we have people standing. So short and sweet.>>David Epstein: Sorry. I’m very digressive.>>Anne Radice: No. That’s all right.>>Guest: You mention your —
the individual on the other side of their continuum, Gladwell,
with respect to 10,000 hours. And I think you referenced
it in your book as well or the sports lines book that
you wrote as well, with respect to hockey players and specifically
when they were born. That the month their birth and
as well as school years as well.>>David Epstein: Yeah.>>Guest: Depending upon a
September born individual versus let’s say a
March born individual. Part of it is because of
their body weight or part of it is just to how
their minds work as well. I’d like you to talk about that. As well as within the context
of Range, you brought up chess, and I remember that one chapter where this one family
just had chess champions after chess champions, and I was
curious as to that dichotomy, with respect to golf or with
respect to any other type of let’s put it this way, an
academic environment as opposed to necessarily a
sports environment.>>David Epstein: Great. Great question and there are
a couple of things in there. Two things I want to mention because I think they’re
important. The famous 10,000 hour
study, the original study, a replication attempt
was published last month and it did not close
to replicate, okay? So that original study is now
considered not to be true, so that’s one import thing, and probably the most
influential paper in the history of expertise. Malcolm and we were on a panel
in March, it’s on YouTube, and towards the end he says, I now believe I’ve
conflated two ideas. “The idea that a lot of practice
is important to get good at something” which is true,
with the idea that in order to become good at X thing,
you should do X and only X from as early as possible,
which I now believe is false. So he and I are on
the same ground now. The other question you asked is
about the relative age effect. And this is defining both
in school and in sports that the earlier you push
selection of something, the more likely you get
kids who are just born early in the selection cohort. Because whether it’s
a teacher or a coach, they will mistake being, you
know, seven or eight, or nine, or ten months older than their
cohort for talent as if it’s, you know a trajectory instead of
a cross section and it’s wrong. So kids who are born
late in their cohort are like three times more likely
to get diagnosed with ADHD, but actually they’re just
acting like younger kids, and you see the same
thing in sports. And so hockey’s a famous
example; selection occurs at seven so you see like the
whole Junior National team will be born this January or February because they’ve had these
compounding advantages, so called, “Matthew effect” but
at the top level it disappears, which suggestions to me that
you are deselecting an enormous amount of people who
would go to the top if you gave them a chance to not
get kicked out of the pipeline. So some countries that have
realized this, like the UK and Australia in sports
developed their pipelines to just diversify the
entry points and try to keep people in longer. They said our secret is going
to be just not kicking people out as soon so that they can
pull themselves up, you know, by their bootstraps,
if they can. And they both got world
record out of those people who would have been
deselected earlier. The other question
was chess, okay. That’s important because this
gets to a fundamental part of my book early on where
I set up, why are golf and chess different —
why has it been wrong to extrapolate them
to everything else? Now, I talk about
Tiger Woods and then about the Polgár Family,
where the father trained from a very early age his
three daughters in chess. And said, “chess doesn’t
matter, the point is I’m showing that any kid can become a genius
in anything if they are started in hyper specialized
practice early. Chess is just my
practice ground.” And two of his daughters became
Grand Master chess players. The problem is chess
is what is like, how does Robin Hogarth calls
a kind learning environment. A kind learning environment
is one where patterns repeat, rules are clear and
never changed, work next to you will
look like work last year. The grand masters advantage is in fact repetitive
pattern recognition. You get feedback when you do
something that is immediate and completely accurate. Most of the things that we do
are what Hogarth would call, “wicked learning environments” where nobody’s told you all the
rules, the rules might change. Work next year might not
look like work last year. You may get feedback
that’s delayed. You may get feedback that
teaches the wrong message. So he talked about this famous
New York doctor who became rich and famous because by palpating
patient’s tongues or feeling around their tongues,
he could tell when they had showed no symptoms that they would develop
typhoid in several weeks. And as one of his
colleagues later observed, using only his hands, he was
a more productive carrier of typhoid than even
typhoid marrying. [Laughter] so there,
the feedback was delayed and reinforcing the
wrong lesson. And one of the arguments
I make in the book is that by far the things
most of us are engaged in are these wicked environment where actually breath
early is the trick, not specialization early. And you don’t want
to be in the areas where super specialization
right way is good because there’s a reason why
chess is so easy to automate because it’s such a kind
learning environment. So that’s not really
actually where you want to be, so I think it’s been a
big mistake extrapolating from sports and games
to everything else that people want to learn.>>Anne Radice: Okay. We have a question on this side. And then after your question,
we’ll have time for one more.>>Guest: Yes. Thanks very much. It strikes me as I
listen to the anecdotes, that there’s an aspect
of the way that the structures side has
changed from industrialization, to now the information economy that you’re describing
how people respond to that changing environment. So I wanted to take and it
maybe think about it going to the future a little bit,
what have you thought about, as you researched the book,
that might be changing that would take us
off the continuum that you described
or what is changing?>>David Epstein: Yeah. That is something
embedded in the book. And that’s why I was
looking at that research about specialized vocational
training versus general training because our education system
is still very much grounded in taylorism essentially
the, you know, science of management efficiency
that came out of being in an industrialization economy. And specialization made a ton of
sense for an industrial economy because people could expect
work next year to look like work last year, and do
the same thing over and over and they would get
faster and faster. And that meant there were huge
barriers to lateral mobility and all these sorts of things. The problem is that doesn’t
make so much sense anymore. And so if you look at — people always think that
education is getting worse, but if you actually look
at proficiency tests, there is no question that
kids today have a better grasp of basic skills than
their forebears, it’s not even close actually. But the challenge has
moved even faster, right? Work changes so rapidly
now and you have to apply your knowledge
to new problems. And in order to do that we
have to teach in different ways because we want to focus on specifically human
things, right? So when the ATM Was invented, for example, the idea was bank
tellers would all go out of business overnight. And in fact, as more
ATM’s have come online, there’s been more bank tellers because it makes
each branch cheaper so you can have fewer
tellers per branch, but banks open more branches. But it totally changes
the job from one of repetitive cash transactions, to one where the professional
is a financial advisor or a customer service
representative and a marketing professional,
to these much more human skills. And that’s what we’ll see
as these things that based on repetitive patterns will
be more and more automated and so we want to focus
on these broader skills. And some of the ways to do
that is to teach in ways that force people to
build conceptual models and learn what’s called, “making
connections knowledge” instead of using procedures knowledge. And one way you can do that
with things like interleaving, so recent study I’ll try to tell
this one quickly randomized math classrooms to different
types of learning. Some got blocked practice where
you get problem type A, A, A, B, B, B. Others got interleave, where all the problem
types are thrown in a hat and you draw them out at random. Block practice kids think
they’re doing better, rate their teachers higher,
make more apparent progress. Interleave kids frustrated,
rate their own learning worse, rate their teacher’s worse, but
they are forced to learn how to match a strategy
to a type of problem. So then when they all see,
instead of execute procedures, then when they all see
new problems on the test, interleave kids destroy. The effect size was on the order
of moving a kid from the 50th to the 80th percentile
when they see new problems. So I think we need to embrace
these kinds of learning that force people, even though
frustrating and slow at first, to learn these flexible
and conceptual models.>>Anne Radice: And finally,
one final question please.>>Guest: Oh, good
morning everyone. My name is Anthony white. How are you doing Mr. Epstein?>>David Epstein: I’m well. Thanks.>>Guest: Good to hear. How are you doing as well? Well, so this kind of
like my scribble scrabble, but I’ll be quick and
brief as possible. In a world of winners and
losers in our global economy, how might you apply
the Flynn Effect to improve outcomes for leaders. And what does that
look like for — what does that look like for
the how can I say this properly? For those who are late bloomers
in their specialization?>>David Epstein: I think the
Flynn Effect actually says something good about
late blooming. In fact, some of
what has coincided with the Flynn Effect
is what scientist call, “speed of life history”
so basically the slower that the life benchmarks come
along in your development and this goes across
organisms the more cleaver that organism is. And slowing down the speed of
life history for humans seems to have some effect on
making us more cleaver, so we should actually design
things for late blooming. I mean, humans are designed
for late blooming compared to other organisms, but
we should do even more so. And if I were — and
the Flynn Effect means that we have this conceptual
knowledge that allows us to transfer our knowledge
between domains. So we should be looking
for late blooming, right? When I was at a — kind of
an investment conference, the Motley Fool conference
recently, they took something from my introduction and
gave a poll to the audience. What do you think is the
average age of a founder of a text startup that becomes
a blockbuster on the day of founding, 25, 35, 45, 55? These are people who are
interested in investing, 25 was by far the favorite. Then 35, 45, 55, answer’s 45 1/2
and even they don’t know that, but I think if I was leader, the
way I’d use the Flynn Effect is as a gage of gender
equity, for one. To look where women
were being blocked from engaging in modern work. And then I think I would try
to speed it up wherever I could to put the globe on
the same footing. And again, it’s not that one
type of thinking is better than the other, it’s
just one is more adapted to the kind of work we have do. But I think the problem
is once modernity starts to touch a society and they
have to engage if modern work, then the more rapidly you can
get them into that and speed up the Flynn Effect, the more
you can try the get everyone working on the same grounds. I would try to, once modernity
touches someone and it seems like there’s no going back,
I would try to accelerate that in gender equity as
fast as I possibly could.>>Anne Radice: David,
in your book, in your authors discussion
you say, “I got a ton out of doing this” we got
a ton out of this today.>>David Epstein: Thank you.>>Anne Radice: Thank
you so very much.>>David Epstein:
It’s a pleasure. Thank you for having me.

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