The ‘wicked’ world

I’ve begun reading Range by David Epstein, I’m two chapters in and already suspect that it may be the best business type book I read this year. Epstein distinguishes between two types of domains: the kind, and the wicked. That sounds weird, but it’s a very helpful distinction.
A kind domain is like a game. There are constant, understandable rules and boundaries. Chess is a helpful example Epstein uses, it’s confined to the chessboard, there are unchanging rules, the game is always between two opponents, it’s a super structured and narrow environment. A person can develop superior aptness within a kind domain like chess by lots and lots of practice. Practice helps because the arena doesn’t change, you can rely on the rules and systems involved and learn to excel within them. Ideas like the 10,000 hour rule (which says a person will become an expert or reach mastery after 10,000 hours of practice) stem from this idea. Epstein argues that line of reasoning only applies within kind domains (golf, chess, music, etc.), but actually isn’t that helpful for most of us because the world isn’t kind, it’s wicked.
Wicked is the opposite of kind. Where kind domains are constant, confined, structured, wicked means that the rules are constantly changing, the boundaries are always moving, the terms are rarely the same. It means that hours of specialized practice is actually unhelpful because it entrenches a specific unattached way of thinking about the world. People who thrive in the wicked (real) world are adaptable, curious, able to bring ideas together, to look at the big picture, to think strategically. They try lots of different things, they have hobbies, they embrace varying inputs. Even most sports, while including some kind aspects, are mostly wicked. Children tend to do better by experimenting among many different sports instead of specializing in one early on because of the additional benefit of learning varying movements and strategies. The early specializers who find success (eg: Tiger Woods who excelled in golf, a more kind sport) are the exception, not the rule, and probably aren’t the people we should be emulating.
Today, the world is more wicked than ever. Specialized tasks are more and more handled by machines and computers. The ability to think widely has become more and more important. We all must specialize to some degree, we’ve got specific responsibilities, and specific things we need to get done. But don’t be afraid to experiment, detour, adapt, create, and read Range!

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