“Range – How Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World” is a book written by David Epstein, which was shortlisted for the Business Book of the Year in 2019.
It is a common saying that if you practice something for more than 10,000 hours you will become an expert at it. David Epstein argues that this is true if you want to be an expert in a very kind, unchanging field. If you, on the other hand, wish to be an expert of something complex, an unkind environment dependent on human behaviour, you will have to diversify and seek knowledge and experiences in many different fields. This book encourages you to take off your blinders and learn from others, experimentalise, get off the beaten path and gain range. Range of mind, range of sources, range of interests, range of vision and understanding.
The commercial world is very adamant on the notion that hyperspecialized experts drive innovation and growth. But often an outsider will bring the innovation. So many dots in the world are not connected because the lines are fixed into boxes. This book shines a light on the importance of broad experience and lateral thinking, where you connect previous realisations – old knowledge – to new scenarios.
Most modern work – including the events and communications industry – involves the ability to see the context and the bigger picture and applying knowledge to ever-changing scenarios. It requires critical, lateral thinking.
David Epstein’s examples range from athletes, to musicians, to artists, to researchers. The Williams sisters, who practiced ballet and tossed footballs to develop a powerful serve. World renown violinists learning to play ten different instruments before choosing a favourite. Van Gogh, who was an art dealer and assistant teacher before starting to paint. The scientist who came in to work on Saturdays to experiment without supervision and got a Nobel prize at age 81. Slow, challenging, and frustrating learning will benefit you more in the long run than fast, easy learning.
David Epstein writes “Our work preferences and our life preferences do not stay the same, because we do not stay the same.” We are often asked where do you see yourself in five or ten years? If someone had asked you that five years ago, would your answer then match where you are at right now? For me, personally, that is a hard no. The only certainty is change. We are complicated and multifaceted creatures who develop over time and so do our circumstances. Short term planning is key. Know what you want, what you like, what you are good at, pin down the opportunities available to you, and go for the best match, for you, now. Because – why plan the far future for a person you don’t know yet? Instead of setting a steadfast goal and working backwards from there, work forwards from one opportunity to the next.
While writing playfully and with chapter titles such as “The Trouble with Too Much Grit” and “Flirting with Your Possible Selves”, David Epstein’s arguments are built on sound and extensive research (referenced in 42 pages of notes and index). This book is jam-packed with informative and inspiring examples presenting life in the purest form, yet in a way that I have never read before. The argument of this book is so to the point and so clear that you will question why you did not see it before?
This book celebrates the uncertainties of life and encourages adventure in any form. It is liberating for anyone still figuring out where to go next or searching for purpose, while inspiring for those managing their own – and perhaps others’ – development and capability building.
In conclusion, David Epstein writes the following: “Compare yourself to yourself yesterday, not to younger people who aren’t you. Everyone progresses at a different rate, so don’t let anyone else make you feel behind. You probably don’t even know where exactly you are going, so feeling behind doesn’t help. (…) willing to learn and adjust as you go, and even to abandon a previous goal and change directions entirely should the need arise.”
This book encourages being your unique self and valuing others’ uniqueness. Value lateral thinking. Practice active open-mindedness. Avoid repetition. People with range know that there is always more to learn. Stay curious.
Laura Kabell, February 2022