Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World
What’s the most effective path to success in any domain? It’s not what you think.
Plenty of experts argue that anyone who wants to develop a skill, play an instrument, or lead their field should start early, focus intensely, and rack up as many hours of deliberate practice as possible. If you dabble or delay, you'll never catch up to the people who got a head start. But a closer look at research on the world's top performers, from professional athletes to Nobel laureates, shows that early specialization is the exception, not the rule.
David Epstein examined the world's most successful athletes, artists, musicians, inventors, forecasters and scientists. He discovered that in most fields--especially those that are complex and unpredictable — generalists, not specialists, are primed to excel. Generalists often find their path late, and they juggle many interests rather than focusing on one. They're also more creative, more agile, and able to make connections their more specialized peers can't see.
Provocative, rigorous, and engrossing, Range makes a compelling case for actively cultivating inefficiency. Failing a test is the best way to learn. Frequent quitters end up with the most fulfilling careers. The most impactful inventors cross domains rather than deepening their knowledge in a single area. As experts silo themselves further while computers master more of the skills once reserved for highly focused humans, people who think broadly and embrace diverse experiences and perspectives will increasingly thrive.
Author: David Epstein | Publisher: Riverhead
Rating: 3.5 / 5
“You have people walking around with all the knowledge of humanity on their phone, but they have no idea how to integrate it. We don’t train people in thinking or reasoning.”
Range was an interesting and (mostly) engaging look at the different approaches to learning that we take in society today. I thought the author was clear and conversational, and he used good examples and stories that are relatable to real life.
Epstein’s point is basically that today, people feel the need to specialize in something super early — starting kids at the violin as toddlers, choosing a hyper-specialization in a branch of science as a college freshman (or earlier), etc.
But the problem with this approach is that there are important skills to be learned from adjacent fields (the piano, the guitar, singing; statistics, psychology, cross-functional science) that you miss if you specialize so soon. And so if you’re taken out of your specific vertical for any reason, you’re useless. What if the key to curing cancer requires someone to have knowledge about two different branches of science? The way things work now, those scientists’ work would never cross over.
Epstein also applies this to everyday people’s real lives, talking about how people who change careers, even “late,” tend to be happier in them. He also gives advice about how to broaden your own horizons.
This one definitely made me think about how I approach learning in my own job, plus how it’s never too late to learn a new skill or start a new hobby. I’m glad I read it.