Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized world


“Desirable Difficulties”, first coined by Psychologist Robert Bjork.

Increasingly, I find myself unable to focus, distracted by many possibilities. Creating a podcast, learning Zoom, MS Teams, Collabultra, Kaltura. Skype? Not any more.

As an educator in Covid-19 world, I have had to learn new tools, and suddenly a world of technology tools to engage my students emerged. I can now ask Questions, and my students will respond via “Chat” function. They are not as shy as I thought, but not willing to be rude to interrupt a class with their hands raised. Chat function is different. I can choose to look at their comments when I’m ready. They’re not interrupting anyone.

Soon I began to discover other tools such as “Wooclap”, “Padlet”, “Nearpod”, “Mentimeter”, “Sli.do” “Google Forms”, “Kahoot”. And I’m able to test their learning, instead of having my students be passive. Open your mouths, let me pour the knowledge in.

Gamification, the new best friend of Education. Where teachers can set up friendly competitions to test knowledge of their students. But what if in the midst of all that fun, students are merely clicking at answers. Not processing them through pen and paper.

First, struggle helps. Move aside rote learning.

Cognitive Psychologist Nate Kornell found that students who struggle to generate an answer on their own, even a wrong one, enhances subsequent learning.

(P85- Kornell and psychologist Janet Metcalfe tested sixth graders in the South Bronx as well as repeated an experiment on students at Columbia University found that “being forced to generate answers improves subsequent learning even if generated answer is wrong.

Second, solve unexpected problems.

Education Economist Greg Duncan, a foremost education professor in the world opined that focusing on “using procedures” problems worked well forty years ago when the world was flush with jobs that paid middle class salaries for procedural tasks like typing, filing and working on an assembly line. Increasingly jobs that pay well require employees to be able to solve unexpected problems, often while working in groups.

Third, broad application to different scenarios

These shifts in labor force demands means knowledge needs to be durable but also flexible – sticky and capable of broad application – known as “interweaving”. We need people who can hunt for and connect contextual clues.

Dedre Gentner, Northwestern University Psychologist and one of the world’s foremost authority on analogical thinking, ie practice recognising conceptual similiarities in multiple domains or scenarios that seem to have little in common on surface. Analogical thinking takes the new and makes it familiar. As well as take the familiar and apply under new light and allow humans to reason through problems they have never seen in unfamiliar contexts.

Example explaining light as billard balls or Einstein explaining relativity using train travel.

Fourth, MORE

Creativity researcher Dean Keith Simonton showed that the more work, eminent creators produced, the more duds they churned out, BUT also the higher the opportunity of a “supernova success”. Thomas Edison held more than a thousand patents, BUT rejected for more.

There is a chinese saying, the more you do, the more mistakes you make. Do nothing, no mistakes. As leaders, when we pick out mistakes, rather than applaud those who try, we inadvertently, encourage a “Fixed mindset”, rather than a “Growth Mindset”.

We learn who we are, by doing, by trying new activities, building new networks, finding new role models. – Hermina Ibarra, Professor of Organisational Behaviour, INSEAD

Her timeless advice: Test and learn vs Plan and Implement. Which among my various selves should I start to explore now? Create tiny experiments for yourself today.

Plan experiments from technological innovation to comic books. That experience is not wasted. Be willing to learn and adjust as you go. Allow mental meanderings and personal experimentation. Accept interdisciplinary exploration and diverse experience building.

#range #specialist #generalist #experiment #problem solving #21st century competency #competency

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