Book Review: “Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World” by David Epstein

If you’re a golf or sports fan, you’ve probably seen the video of a 2-year old Tiger Woods showing off his skills on a late-night TV show.  And when you think of a violin prodigy or young chess champion, you probably assume they’ve spent 8 hours a day for years practicing their craft.  And you’d probably be right.  For decades, the message has been clear: you (or your kids) must start early and specialize to be highly successful in a field or sport.  But as David Epstein points out in Range, that line of thinking only applies in certain cases.  And given today’s rapidly changing world, there’s a strong argument for focusing on breadth rather than depth.  Fans of Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers, of which I’m one, will be interested to read Range.

Here are a few snippets from Epstein’s book:

  • Eventual elites typically devote less time early on to deliberate practice in the activity in which they will eventually become experts. Instead, they undergo what researchers call a “sampling period.” They play a variety of sports, usually in an unstructured or lightly structured environment; they gain a range of physical proficiencies from which they can draw; they learn about their own abilities and proclivities; and only later do they focus in and ramp up technical practice in one area.
  • …highly credentialed experts can become so narrow-minded that they actually get worse with experience, even while becoming more confident—a dangerous combination. 
  • “If you’re working on well-defined and well-understood problems, specialists work very, very well,” he told me. “As ambiguity and uncertainty increases, which is the norm with systems problems, breadth becomes increasingly important.”

There’s a reason this book earns 4.7 stars out of 5 on Amazon.  Check it out!  (Hat tip to my friends Phil and Jill for recommending this book to me.)

 

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