David Epstein: Wide or Deep? – Invest Like the Best

Check out the Invest Like the Best Episode Page & Show Notes

Key Takeaways

  • The 10,000-hour rule is a myth….sort of
  • People need a sampling period early on in life where they can dip their toes in different areas to find what fits them best
  • At the college level, professor evaluations (especially in the STEM field) are inversely related to how well students do later on
  • Learning hacks:
    • Test yourself before you study the material because it primes your brain to look for answers to retain
    • Leave space between periods of practice
    • And just know – “Difficulty isn’t a sign that you aren’t learning, but ease is”
  • Think about careers like dating – go and get more data before committing to one thing for life
  • “We learn who we are in practice, not in theory”
    • Do more things that are essentially little experiments

Intro

Books Mentioned

Is the 10,000-hour rule a myth?

  • In David’s first book, The Sports Gene, he critiques the 10,000- hour rule – the idea that to become great at a skill one needs to practice for 10,000 hours, and gives an alternative solution called “talent transfer”
    • This is when a person who isn’t excelling in a certain area is transferred to a different area that better suits their skill set and strengths, and then goes on to dominate that new field without having put in the 10,000 hours of practice
    • David debated Malcolm Gladwell about this very topic
    • It turns out that many elite athletes have something called a “sampling period” early on in their childhood where they sample a wide range of sports – they delay specialization later than their peers
      • David calls this the Roger Federer vs Tiger Woods story
        • Tiger was golfing before he was one-year-old, while Roger played a dozen different sports as a kid and didn’t solely focused on tennis until much later on in life
          • It turns out the “Roger model” is much more typical of elite athletes
  • The 10,000-hour rule is based on a study about a group of well-trained violinists, which causes a restriction of range
    • It’s like studying a group of NBA centers and saying they all practiced a lot as kids and that’s how they got good enough to play professional basketball (instead of looking at all NBA players and saying centers need to practice a lot AND be 7 feet tall)
    • When David looked at larger developmental music studies, he saw that many violinists also had sampling periods where they tried different musical instruments before specializing with the violin
  • People need a sampling period where they can dip their toes in different areas and see what fits them best

Nature vs Nurture (and David’s writing process)

  • When deciding to write a new book, David doesn’t write anything for the first year
    • Instead, he first tries to read 10 journal articles every day to learn about the topic and gather research
      • The majority of the journal articles David reads don’t end up in his book, but that doesn’t mean it was a waste of time – reading all of those articles gives David a competitive advantage because he was able to connect dots that most people wouldn’t have seen
      • A lot of journal articles may be written by smart people with PhDs, but many of them make conclusions that aren’t supported by their data
        • (David keeps a statistician on retainer to double check the data in certain articles)
  • When it comes to medicine and exercise, no two people have the same response
    • One person may need three Tylenol while another needs only one
    • Some people may need to exercise less to get into the same shape as some who exercises more
  • Genetics plays a large role in the 10,000-hour rule
    • Some people are just learn better/have more muscle/are faster etc.

David’s New Book: Range

  • Most things in life are like playing Martian tennis: You see people out there playing a sport, you don’t know the rules, and it’s up to you to deduce them (and they can change at any moment)
  • One of the most surprising studies David discovered was about students in the Air Force Academy that were taught three levels of math by different teachers: Students were given the same exams, but at each level the students were randomized to find out what effect the teachers had – this was done on thousands of students
    • The results: Teachers that taught a narrow curriculum were better at teaching students that subject, but because they didn’t give the students a broader framework, students were systematically disadvantaged in regards to that specific subject going forward
      • By specializing early on, teachers were essentially handicapping the student’s future learning ability – meanwhile, teachers who taught more conceptual and abstract lessons had students perform worse in the short-run but better in the long-run
        • “What you really want to teach them is how to match a strategy to a type of problem”
  • At the college level, professor evaluations (especially in the STEM field) are inversely related to how well students do later on
    • When you give incentives for students to do well on short-term tests, you get strategies that focus and reward short-term learning
      • What you really want is to teach students to think widely and be able to retain information for the long-run
  • IQ scores around the world have been going up about 3 points per decade since the beginning of 20th century –
    • Since the world is becoming more complex, people constantly have to think abstractly and transfer knowledge between domains

Learning Hacks

  • Test yourself before you study the material because it primes your brain to look for answers to retain
  • Leave space between periods of practice
    • In one study, group A was taught a new language for 8 hours while group B was taught that same language for 4 hours one day and 4 hours a month later
      • Eight years later, they brought both groups back and group B remembered 250% more vocab than group A
  • Interweaving: You want to mix things up when learning, so you learn what strategies work best with which problems
  • And just know – “Difficulty isn’t a sign that you aren’t learning, but ease is”

Additional Notes

  • Match quality is the degree of fit between your interests and the type of work that you do
    • A certain kid might not love practicing the guitar and only plays for 30 minutes a day, but if they find match quality with a piano, they can end up loving it and in turn spend more time practicing
      • It’s not that the kid didn’t have grit, they just weren’t in the right match
      • Invest the time to explore who you are and what you’re good at
  • Think about careers like dating – go and get more data before committing to one thing for life
    • Your personal experience in both areas is extremely limited as a young adult and you’re also experiencing a change in personality from your teen to adult years – be open to trying new things and see what you like/dislike
      • “We learn who we are in practice, not in theory”
        • Do more things that are essentially little experiments
  • A lot of business books (and other books) suffer from extreme survivorship biases
    • David looked at a study that examined what made certain comic books successful and tracked their value over time
      • The results: The number of different genres a creator had worked across, on average, improved the comic book’s performance, value, and the likelihood that the creator would make a massive blockbuster
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