Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World

by David Epstein

Hardcover, 2019

Publication

Riverhead Books (2019), 352 pages

Description

Business. Psychology. Sports & Recreations. Nonfiction. HTML:The #1 New York Times bestseller that has all America talking: as seen/heard on CNN's Fareed Zakaria GPS, Morning Joe, CBS This Morning, The Bill Simmons Podcast, Rich Roll, and more. â??The most important businessâ??and parentingâ??book of the year.â?ť â??Forbes â??Urgent and important. . . an essential read for bosses, parents, coaches, and anyone who cares about improving performance.â?ť â??Daniel H. Pink   Shortlisted for the Financial Times/McKinsey Business Book of the Year Award 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, youâ??ll never catch up to the people who got a head start. But a closer look at research on the worldâ??s top performers, from professional athletes to Nobel laureates, shows that early specialization is the exception, not the rule.     David Epstein examined the worldâ??s most successful athletes, artists, musicians, inventors, forecasters and scientists. He discovered that in most fieldsâ??especially those that are complex and unpredictableâ??generalists, not specialists, are primed to excel. Generalists often find their path late, and they juggle many interests rather than focusing on one. Theyâ??re also more creative, more agile, and able to make connections their more specialized peers canâ??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 experienc… (more)

Media reviews

Corriere della sera
Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World Scritto nel 2019 dal giornalista investigativo David Epstein, il secondo libro consigliato è Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World. Disponibile in italiano con il titolo Generalisti. Perché una conoscenza allargata, flessibile
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e trasversale è la chiave per il futuro (Luiss University Press), è un lungo elogio della capacità di mantenersi versatili e multidisciplinari in un mondo che, al contrario, sembra prediligere la specializzazione. Portando gli esempi più disparati – da Roger Federer a Charles Darwin, fino agli esperti di Unione Sovietica ai tempi della Guerra Fredda – Epstein dimostra come questa sia la strada da seguire per fare la differenza nel mondo del lavoro. «Penso che le sue idee aiutino a spiegare alcuni dei successi di Microsoft – riflette Gates –, perché abbiamo assunto persone che avevano una reale ampiezza di conoscenze all’interno del loro campo e attraverso altri settori. Se sei un generalista a cui è capitato di sentirsi messo in ombra dai colleghi specializzati, questo è il libro che fa per te».
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User reviews

LibraryThing member Jerry.Yoakum
I loved it, but I'm biased since I have always been more of a generalist. :-D
Anyway, Range is packed with information. I found myself stopping a lot just to ponder what I had just read. I loved all the stories that were referenced as examples and food for thought.

The "Learning to Drop Your Familiar
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Tools" chapter was just brilliant. The description of the smokejumpers who just couldn't fathom dropping their tools is poignant and heartbreaking. Even though there are a ton of books on NASA culture and the Challenger and Columbia disasters, I'm certain that I would read a book on this topic if David Epstein wrote it.
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LibraryThing member LisCarey
We hear a great deal, over the course of our educations and careers, about the importance of specialization, concentration, focus, and drill, drill, drill.

And specialization is not a bad thing. In many areas it's not just valuable, but essential. If you need surgery, you want not just a doctor, but
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a surgeon, and really, not just a surgeon but one who has done that particular procedure many times before. It's your best guarantee of a safe and successful outcome.

But not every field is surgery. Not even any medical field; a doctor with a more varied background and a CV that shows some flitting among different medical areas is a lot more likely to be a good diagnostician. Why? Because that doctor with the varied background has a much broader background to draw on when considering the patient's symptoms and comments. David Epstein looks at why this is so, in areas as different as athletes, musicians, inventors, and scientists.

Generalists see connections specialists can't, because the specialists have never encountered the information from fields outside their own--even, sometimes, when the fields are seemingly very close and both could benefit from more interaction. Epstein gives us interesting and absorbing stories of Nintendo growing from a playing card company to a major videogame company due to the playing around in his spare time of an electrical engineer years out of date on his skills and with no computer programming background at all. Also all the things Vincent van Gogh failed at before more or less stumbling into the painting, and the style, that made him one of the greatest of artists.

Or, contrariwise, the top-down, procedure-oriented, data above all culture at NASA that made it impossible for the engineers to who saw a serious problem with launching the Challenger on the cold day in January, but who couldn't quantify the risk, to be heard by the decision-makers they were talking to.

Some of our most cherished, or at least most drilled into us, ideas about how to succeed are not so much wrong, as inadequate and incomplete. We need specialists. We also need generalists and polymaths. Specialists alone, without generalists, are more likely to result in stagnation.

This book is both enjoyable, and enlightening. Recommended.

I listened to this audiobook via Scribd, and am reviewing it voluntarily.
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LibraryThing member pw0327
This is a long-awaited publication for me. David Epstein wrote one of my favorite books about the nature of sports, The Sports Gene. There had been plenty of publicity regarding his followup, Range.

This book takes on the cult of the specialist, as Epstein puts it. He is specifically targeting the
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societal and cultural domination of the specialist versus the generalist. This discussion seems to be following me around, as I read three books in succession which cites Isaiah Berlin’s essay citing the Greek poet Achilochus when he said that: “The Fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows many things.” Berlin was making the point regarding the Russian writer Leo Tolstoy and whether Tolstoy, and hos War and Peace was writing as a fox or as a hedgehog. One can, and many have, extrapolated the concept to talk about people and their approach to problems and their ability to analyze and solve problems. Epstein comes down squarely on the side of the fox, whereas he sees the world as being predisposed to and is filled with hedgehogs. He does go into a bit of details about how that came to be in the early chapters. The main thrust of the book is to discuss whether the specialist is necessarily the best world view for someone who is operating as a solver of complex problems.

Epstein structures the book simply: he lays out the problem and with each chapter he makes his case by telling stories that are collected together thematically in each chapter. The first few chapters lay out the premise of his argument and each succeeding chapter presents a new theme which supports Epstein’s argument. He is meticulous in presenting anecdotes as well as research results. He does an excellent job of presenting the supporting stories with great story telling skills and allows the reader to become absorbed in the narrative. He also delves into other ideas which are quite recent to bolster his point: he goes into enough details about the Daniel Kahneman book Thinking: Fast and Slow, Angela Duckworth’s Grit, as well as Carole Dweck’s Mindset, delving into the gist of those books and using those concepts to argue his own theme.

He also takes on the popular but misrepresented 10,000-hour rule popularized by Malcolm Gladwell, in fact he has convinced Gladwell of his own argument.

This is a very nice read and causes one to think about each of the chapters separately while never losing track of the overarching theme that Epstein had presented to us. Indeed, this is one of the major reasons that I recommend this book: it never loses track of the main argument, returning to it regularly enough to encourage thought but is never overzealous in reiterating the main theme. The reader feels like they are on a journey through many different topics while also assured that there is a purpose to this journey. It is a very quick read; the writing moves along nicely while it also allows for slower and deeper contemplation of each chapter.
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LibraryThing member TheLoisLevel
This book runs on a bit, but I agree with Epstein's thesis that we need generalists as much as we need specialists. My experience and training crosses several subspecialties, and I frequently feel frustrated that I don't know more, but I do usually know how to find out more. Well written, and I
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enjoyed all of Eptstein's anecdotes.
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LibraryThing member DanTarlin
Really interesting book covering many many domains including sports, chess, art, music, science, business, and academia. The Introduction sets out the premise really nicely: it contrasts the origin stories of two athletes, Tiger Woods and Roger Federer. Woods was an early specializer in golf, a
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prodigy who focused on golf as soon as he was old enough to hold a club. Federer was a generalist, playing multiple sports and not concentrating fully on tennis until he was 17 years old. Both became dominant players in their sport, and the overwhelming consensus in youth sports now (I know, as I've been involved as a parent) is to go with the Tiger model, specialize early. But Epstein's thesis is that the Federer model produces better outcomes in nearly all areas. There are exceptions, in which early specialization is better- golf, chess to name two- but for most modern learning environments it's more important to have experiences in a wide range of areas.

The book is very wide ranging, and sometimes hard to follow when it delves into science and academia, but the case is very well made- consider me convinced.
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LibraryThing member Sovranty
The author is meticulous in explaining and exampling the importance of being a generalist vs specialist. While the ability to adapt and evolve to the unknown future environments - personal and professional - is more so dominated by the generalist, I still feel an in-depth knowledge and experience
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of a subject (expert) benefits the topic. If you are looking for personal gain in any aspect of your life, aim to be a generalist. If you are looking to advance a subject, consider being an expert.
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LibraryThing member dmturner
A thoroughly researched and interesting book which asserts that early specialization and intense single minded subject specific focus are, contrary to intuition, less conducive to innovation and problem solving. More effective are breadth of interests, willingness to try out multiple careers,
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interest in play, and openness to ideas from outside the field. Well told stories support the author’s argument effectively.

As a bit of a polymath myself, I know all too well how specialization can stifle thinking and close down possibilities, especially in complex fields like my own (education). My only concern with the thesis is that it is overstated and does not address how very ineffective and unoriginal “outsiders” can be when trying to solve field-specific issues. That kind of limited analogic thinking by people from outside my field, for instance, has produced an endless series of bad solutions to public education, starting with Taylorism a century ago and continuing with all the other various “business” models that are applied to schooling even today.

However, overall it’s a very good book with much food for thought.
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LibraryThing member jpsnow
In a world of hyper-specialization, it is refreshing and even comforting to encounter the best arguments in support of the generalist. Range is readable and compelling. Though there are the lucky stars in any field who followed their dreams sequentially to fulfillment, sometimes starting before
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they could walk, there are many more who found their way through a series of short-term, often disconnected adjustments. Range argues for getting exposure to multiple vocations and learning opportunities as early as possible. The benefits may not pay off as quickly as the specialists’ efforts, but the rewards in purpose, flexibility and success can often be far superior.
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LibraryThing member KimMeyer
There's lots of interesting case studies and new to me concepts in this one!
LibraryThing member out-and-about
Well researched book that encourages you to learn a lot and understand that the more you know, the more likely you are to be wrong about something that isn't identical to the things that you know. Interesting examples. Highly recommended for people who are struggling with the idea of having to "be"
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something - as in "what are you going to be when you grow up". The answer is well read, well loved, and excited to learn more. You don't need to be a certain thing to make those things happen.

Quotes:
"Those who did not make a creative contribution to their field lacked aesthetic interests outside their narrow area. Creative achievers tend to have broad interest."

"for learning that is both durable (it sticks) and flexible (it can be applied broadly), fast and easy is precisely the problem."

"Being fired to generate answers improves subsequent learning even if the generated answer is wrong."

"Dropping familiar tools is particularly difficult for experience professionals who rely on what Wieck called over learned behavior. That is, they have done the same thing in response to the same challenges over and over until the behavior has become so automatic that they no longer even recognize it as a situation-specific tool. research on aviation accidents, for example, found that "A common pattern was the crew's decision to continue with their original plan", even when conditions changed dramatically."
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LibraryThing member vpfluke
I was particularly blown away by Chapter 8 - Outsider Advantage. And the peculiarities of DNA. How Jill Viles and Priscilla Lopes-Schliep had a similarity except for one gene which gave muscles to the latter but both had extremely low fat.
LibraryThing member marcialcambronero
Exceptional topic, it brings forth the idea that over specialization is over rated and mental meandering is an great tool for the current world.

Great book for late starters or people concerned that they haven't "got it figured" yet.
LibraryThing member nmarun
I'll start by quoting this from the book:

"Knowledge is a double-edged sword. It allows you to do some things, but it also makes you blind to other things that you could do."

The book's premise is about developing a range of skills than going deep into a few of them. It shows how specialization
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hinders our growth, though the author admits that specialists are very much required.

Concepts like grit, 10000 hours and deliberate practice are challenged and the advice given is to try a plethora of things early on. It was nice reading about how T- and I-people differ in their contributions to the world.

Personally, I've been benefitted by reading a variety of subjects and hence gaining breadth. But then, being in a technology field, I need to go deep in my field as well.
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LibraryThing member Daniel.Estes
For the first few chapters, it seemed like this book was shaping up to be one of those "Doing X is ubiquitous, but it may not be superior to doing Y" non-fiction narratives. Don't get me wrong, I love this type of hook. It's anti-conventional wisdom and occasionally the counter-proponents are right.
LibraryThing member writemoves
I was glad to read this book as it reinforced my belief that the more you know and the wider that your experience or education are, the more valuable you will be in your career and in your life. There are specific occupations where speciality training is critical: doctors, nurses, dentists,
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architects attorneys, scientists, and researchers to name a few. In business, for example, generalists have performed well. The book cites Roger Federer's path to tennis greatness that included participation in a variety of other sports and interests before he settled on tennis. Van Gogh's career path was also circuitous before he settled down to become a renowned painter.

I skimmed through much of the book. The author provided plenty of examples of a variety of people with different career paths who experimented with different jobs before they settled into a job they felt was rewarding and used their past experiences to contribute to their success.

Notes from the book:

I encountered remarkable individuals who succeeded not in spite of their range of experiences interests but because of it…

Do specialists get better with experience, or not?

The ability to apply knowledge broadly comes from broad training.

Even the best universities aren't developing critical intelligence…They aren't giving students the tools to analyze the modern world, except in their area of specialization. Their education is too narrow.

Three quarters of college graduates go on to careers unrelated to their majors.

Sunk cost fallacy-having invested time or money in something, one is loath to leave it.

Seth Godin, author of some of the most popular career writing in the world, wrote a book disparaging the idea that "quitters never win."Godin argued that winners--he generally meant individuals who reach the apex of their domain––quit fast and often when they detect when a plan is not the best fit, and do not feel bad about it. We fail, he wrote, "when we stick with tasks we don't have the guts to quit."
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LibraryThing member Castlelass
There is a commonly held perception that starting young and specializing in a particular area is a key to success. It is easy to find examples of child prodigies, such as golfer Tiger Woods. However, Epstein contends that early specialization is only applicable in what he calls “kind” learning
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environments, where repetition (practice) leads to success. He has found that a journey of experimentation, diversification, and experience across a breadth of disciplines is even more important in most situations, which he calls “wicked” learning environments. These are situations where there are many variables at play, and it is seldom possible to accurately predict outcomes.

Research suggests mental meandering and personal experimentation are sources of power and “head-starts” are overrated. Epstein provides many examples, such as analysis of the space shuttle Challenger disaster, the 2008 global financial crisis, Vincent Van Gogh’s artistic development, and a woman who is leading corporations at age 100. I found these examples extremely engaging. I believe businesses, in particular, could benefit from the messages presented in this book. Consultants are taught to value “subject matter experts,” but Epstein’s research suggests they should supplement expertise with those who have been exposed to a wider range of disciplines. It may take a while to get through this book if you are not already familiar with some of the principles on which it is based.
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LibraryThing member Kavinay
I worry about how much Epstein's writing appeals to me since it often feels like confirming biases and suspicions I already harbour. But if you've ever spent any time invested deeply in long-term development (sports, kids, yourself), so many of the topics covered in Range are likely real issues
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you've encountered. Do I specialize early, am I missing out by not committing down one path, should I even bother with some interest that isn't directly applicable to my work or field of study? There's a lot of pop psych about head-start approaches to development but not much which validates what you come to realize with age is still a valid and useful path to success: breadth and experimentation.

The next time some coach or trainer tells you how imperative early specialization is, this is the book that will help you feel more comfortable at dealing with a culture hellbent on being first rather than growing into skill and talent.
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LibraryThing member mcambroneroa
Exceptional topic, it brings forth the idea that over specialization is over rated and mental meandering is an great tool for the current world.

Great book for late starters or people concerned that they haven't "got it figured" yet.
LibraryThing member kenshin79
The repetion of the same structure in each chapter (anecdote, some studies, anecdotes) gets boring, and I'm not a fan of anecdotes and mostly skipped those, but interesting stuff

Original publication date

2019-05-28

Pages

352

ISBN

0735214484 / 9780735214484
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