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My puzzled learning odyssey

Updated: Nov 12, 2023

I've delved into two influential books - 'Outliers: The Story of Success' by Malcolm Gladwell and 'Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World' by David Epstein. Why?

Because I've been uncertain about which learning path is right for me: a specialized one or a generalist one. Both books offer contrasting insights on learning, and I find myself more aligned with the perspectives presented in 'Range.'"

Reading “Outliers” first made me ponder over my past, particularly regarding early specialization. As a child of the early 1980s from a middle-income, working-class family, I was the first in my family to receive a formal education in an English medium school. Back then, English was seen as a pivotal skill for higher studies and a successful career.

As an average student without much guidance, I often wondered about my innate talents. My school days revolved around completing homework and acing exams based on memory. Although I found new topics in science intriguing, I never had the opportunity to channel this curiosity into focused experimentation. Perhaps the lack of resources and a conducive environment played a role.

This trend of being a ‘jack of all trades’ continued into adulthood. My education didn’t steer me towards specialization, leaving me longing for opportunities to innovate in a field of my own choosing. Joining a PhD program later in life, I hoped to finally specialize. But by then, my learning style had become casual, random, and mostly self-initiated, without any clear goal or mentorship.

With an MBA by age 24, it seemed almost inevitable that I would become a generalist. My career path led me to generalist roles. I often found myself explaining my job as a CFO, even to professional peers from different countries, leading me to reflect more deeply on the value and nature of my work.

Then, in my mid-40s after reading Outliers and feeling missed out, Epstein’s “Range” entered my life. It reinforced the learning approach. So, not much to worry but Ofcourse there is scope for improvement.

Though my learning odyssey is haphazard, there are instances of structured and mentored learning:

  • Training as a cyclist for national competitions under a dedicated coach.

  • Learning enduring scientific concepts from a memorable school tutor.

  • Exploring photography through dedicated practice, courses, and mentoring.

  • Mastering Microsoft Excel at IIM Indore, evolving from a novice to building complex business models.

  • Navigating ChatGPT through self-learning, structured prompts, and domain research.

Online courses broadened my horizons, especially a course on argumentation, although I found that coached learning had a higher recall value.

Reading non-fiction books provided me with insights into decision-making, bias minimization, and self-confidence. However, my reading habits are contextual. For example, delving into five books on behavioral economics gave me a comprehensive understanding of the field and every book I picked next to read had a personal context - my quest for knowing myself better maybe.

I plotted my skills on the 20-hour graph and realised that most skills, fell under the 20-hour learning category defined by Kaufman in “The First 20 Hours,” None of my skills meeting the 10,000-hour mark as touted by Gladwell.

20-hour rule chart
20-Hour rule chart

I have my own learning experience and the quest continues to be better. What is yours?

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