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Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World Hardcover – May 28, 2019
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“The storytelling is so dramatic, the wielding of data so deft and the lessons so strikingly framed that it’s never less than a pleasure to read. . . . a wealth of thought-provoking material.” —New York Times Book Review
“Range is a convincing, engaging survey of research and anecdotes that confirm a thoughtful, collaborative world is also a better and more innovative one.” —NPR
“For reasons I cannot explain, David Epstein manages to make me thoroughly enjoy the experience of being told that everything I thought about something was wrong. I loved Range.” —Malcolm Gladwell, author of Outliers and The Tipping Point
“It’s a joy to spend hours in the company of a writer as gifted as David Epstein. And the joy is all the greater when that writer shares so much crucial and revelatory information about performance, success, and education.” — Susan Cain, author of Quiet
“For too long, we’ve believed in a single path to excellence. Start early, specialize soon, narrow your focus, aim for efficiency. But in this groundbreaking book, David Epstein shows that in most domains, the way to excel is something altogether different. Sample widely, gain a breadth of experiences, take detours, and experiment relentlessly. Epstein is a deft writer, equally nimble at telling a great story and unpacking complicated science. And Range is an urgent and important book, an essential read for bosses, parents, coaches, and anyone who cares about improving performance.” —Daniel H. Pink, author of When, Drive, and A Whole New Mind
“In a world that’s increasingly obsessed with specialization, star science writer David Epstein is here to convince you that the future may belong to generalists. It’s a captivating read that will leave you questioning the next steps in your career—and the way you raise your children.” —Adam Grant, author of Give and Take and Originals
“Range is a blueprint for a more thoughtful, collaborative world – and it’s also really fun to read.” —NPR, Best Books of 2019
“I want to give Range to any kid who is being forced to take violin lessons—but really wants to learn the drums; to any programmer who secretly dreams of becoming a psychologist; to everyone who wants humans to thrive in an age of robots. Range is full of surprises and hope, a 21st century survival guide.” —Amanda Ripley, author of The Smartest Kids in the World.
“An assiduously researched and accessible argument for being a jack of all trades.” —O Magazine, Best Nonfiction Books Coming in 2019
“Range elevates Epstein to one of the very best science writers at work today. The scope of the book—and the implications—are breathtaking. I find myself applying what I've learned to almost every aspect of my life.” —Sebastian Junger, author of Tribe, War, and The Perfect Storm
“A goldmine of surprising insights. Makes you smarter with every page.” —James Clear, New York Times best-selling author of Atomic Habits
“Range will force you to rethink the nature of learning, thinking, and being, and reconsider what you thought you knew about optimal education and career paths—and how and why the most successful people in the world do what they do. It's one of the most thought-provoking and enlightening books I've read.” —Maria Konnikova, author of Mastermind and The Confidence Game, professional poker player
“A fresh, brisk look at creativity, learning, and the meaning of achievement.” —Kirkus Reviews
“Brilliant, timely, and utterly impossible to put down. If you care about improving skill, innovation, and performance, you need to read this book. ” —Daniel Coyle, author of The Culture Code and The Talent Code
About the Author
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The book does not disappoint. Epstein emphasizes that even though stories like those of golfer Tiger Woods and the chess-master Polgar sisters get all the attention, real life just isn't like golf or chess. Those activities happen in "kind" environments, where rules are few, goals are simple, and progress is easy to measure. Real life operates in the "wicked" domain, where rules are myriad, goals change, and there is no simple measure of progress. In complex environments, those whose brains have trained to deal with a lot of different situations -- i.e. the generalists -- perform a lot better.
In addition to a recap of the science of learning and expertise, Epstein digs up valuable nuggets from the literature on improved problem-solving, the proper fit between talent and career, and optimizing education for versatility. I also loved the stories of the unsung badasses that I'd heard little of, like three-time accidental CEO Frances Hesselbein, and the "figlie del coro" multi-instrumental virtuoso women of baroque-era Venice.
This is a great book and a fun, quick, well-written read. Take heart, ye restless career-hoppers, that many if not most people operating at the highest levels of human accomplishment -- rafts of Nobelists, Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Roger Federer -- were generalists who got a relatively late start at their metier and achieved greatness not in spite of it, but because of it. So keep on exploring.
-- Ali Binazir, M.D., M.Phil., Happiness Engineer and author of The Tao of Dating: The Smart Woman's Guide to Being Absolutely Irresistible, the highest-rated dating book on Amazon, and Should I Go to Medical School?: An Irreverent Guide to the Pros and Cons of a Career in Medicine
Returning to “Range,” the author is very wide-ranging. He refers to dozens of books that I have read over the past couple years. In fact, you could read “Range” as a kid of frame for others. I wonder, however, if I would have gotten the same benefit from “Range” had I been less familiar with books like “Peak,” “Grit,” “Late Bloomers,” “Where Good Ideas Come From” or “Super Forecasters,” among others.
The advantage of borrowing
The author freely borrows ideas from all those, which is part of the main theme of the book. Lot of ideas are out there. Generalists find them, compile them and put them into new context. Discovering is important; assembling is too. Generally, assemblers are responsible for more effective innovation.
Innovation cannot be created directly; else it would not be innovation. Epstein encourages lateral thinking and that is best accomplished by broad knowledge and broad contacts. Recall that innovation is not the same as invention. Innovation involves using new inventions but more often by applying existing – sometimes very prosaic – factors in new ways.
Foxes & hedgehogs
Epstein uses the old Izaiah Berlin metaphor of hedgehogs and foxes. Hedgehogs know one thing very deeply; foxes know lots of things but not in detail. Both sorts are necessary. Hedgehogs develop inventions and ideas. Foxes assemble. In settled or limited situations, hedgehogs do better, since they can apply bodies of knowledge and experience. This is where grit pays off. MOST of life is like this. If this was not true, there would be little use in any sort of professional expertise or practice. When board a commercial airline, we hope the pilot and crew do NOT need to innovate, that they will follow well-known and established procedures. The division of labor works and innovation can be overrated.
In new or uncertain situations, however, it is the foxes that excel. Foxes beat hedgehogs consistently when trying to predict uncertain events. Epstein mentions the work of Phillip Tetlock, who did a multi-decade study of experts in political pundits. He found that the experts were no better than random chance in predicting big political events out more than a short time or innovations. In fact, the specialists were often WORST in their own specialties, and the most famous were often worst of all. (I recall this from when the Soviet Union fell. Nobody predicted this, although some have now implied that they did.) Tetlock (and Epstein) speculate that the reason is that famous pundits get famous by making radical predictions and then not backing down when they are wrong. They can also tell better stories. Those experts are hedgehogs.
The foxes do much better because they are willing to listen to broad and new information and to change their minds. Theirs is a more iterative procedure, incorporating new information as available and a willingness to “flip-flop” when it makes sense.
Is grit overrated?
One of the things I liked a lot about the book was that it was wide ranging, but that means that the story line is something a little tangential. Epstein spends a lot of time talking about grit and persistence. He is not against it but says it may be overrated. This is especially true for young people. They have to make commitments to studies or career before they know themselves, before their personalities are formed. It might be a bad fit. Sometimes the best thing you can do is quit and move to something more appropriate.
We tend to double down because of the sunk cost fallacy. The more time or money we spend on something, the less likely we are to abandon it. It is called a fallacy because that is exactly what it is. Even if you spend $1 million on something, if the payoff from additional investment does not pay off, the sunk cost does not matter.
It reads more logically than it was lived
His closing advice is that you have to experiment and try lots of things. Epstein points out that the stories we tell of success and innovation tend to be more orderly than the reality. It is the narrative fallacy. It is hard to tell as story w/o a narrative, which explains it. Stories are more logical and plausible than reality.
I recommend the book. It is well written and the themes appropriately diverse. My only complaint is one I have for almost all such books. They include too many personal stories. They are kind of larded into books. I cynically think they are there to make the book long and heavy enough to be taken seriously, but I suppose readers like the human stories. My problem is that lots of the authors use the same stories or at least the same people. As I wrote, I read a lot of these sorts of books and I have heard many of them before.
Top international reviews
Unfortunately at around 100 pages or so - Chapter 5 or thereabouts - the quality of writing deteriorated significantly with normal conventions on grammar and punctuation seemingly ignored. I gave up soon after that as the writing became so disjointed and irritating.
I tried dipping in to later chapters and the quality of writing had seemed to improve but there was so much rambling that by the time the point of each description had been reached I didn't care.
I was disappointed since I have long been a believer in what was said in the early pages but the book just didn't do it justice.
It is important to do a sampling a range of related things in your field before you choose a specialisation. It helps to develop an overall competence so that the skills learnt in other fields act as an added advantage and boost your final skill in your chosen field. Also, you will know which field suits you the best and for which you have a passion which will help you in the long term to achieve excellence on par with the best in the world.
The age of sampling should be typically between 6 to 16. In these formative years you can experiment freely and as your body is flexible and ur brain plastic, you can learn many skills naturally.
Thirdly, not all specialisation needs sampling and range. For eg Golf, Chess and Coding need a lot of practice and pattern recognition rather than different set of skills. So, in such fields u can simply go for a specialisation without wasting time on sampling period.
This book is about getting range, not depth – at least not too quickly. Citing the works of Daniel Kahneman, Philip Tetlock, and many others, Epstein proffered the view that it is better to be the fox that knows many things rather than the hedgehog who only knows one big thing.
In science, Epstein, citing James Flynn, noted that, ‘students learned the facts of their specific field without understanding how science should work in order to draw true conclusions’. ‘One good tool is rarely enough’ he writes, ‘in a complex, interconnected rapidly changing world’. Epstein, however, is not against specialization, but is voicing thoughts of a wider range.
Range is a very welcome antidote - well argued and looking at a range of research as well as illustrative stories: offsetting Tiger Woods with Federer or the German Football team, creativity in science, mastery of multiple instruments.
I was fascinated to read for example how Darwin was a massive collaborator, not just the barnacle super-specialist I had assumed; or the struggles of Kepler as he reached to conceive of new possibilities.
A really good book, and I hope it has the impact it deserves.
The thesis of "Range' is that some people are specialists from an early age while others come to their specialisms later.Sampling and experience of others professions or activities can be beneficial rather than harmful. And that really is it. There are passages on how much groups/ people make decisions which has been covered by other authors in recent years. There are a series of case studies, some more interesting than others, which all illustrate the main point repeatedly.
It's not a bad book, but in the end I felt there was nothing really new here, and that the main thesis is so obvious that it doesn't need to be argued or proved.
Without spoilers - the joy of the book is in the stories that take you there - the succinct idea is that there are kind and wicked environments; the former are the finite games with finite rules (read chess, music, sports) whilst the later are the majority of things in life where the player, rules and landscape can change at any point.
What you need in the latter - wicked - isn't specialization, but a breadth of skill and analogous thinking that means you can think your way through problems you've never seen; where often new ways of seeing things, outsider thinking that will see it's way through problems the experts have become stuck on.
You'll never feel bad again about quiting something futile; about starting something later than others; and feeling like you're already behind, because in truth, you may just be at an advantage.
So good, one of my favorite books ever!!
Hard part, putting it to practice, good luck!
Excitedly, I devoured page after page of Epstein's material. He really hit a stride with this book. Neither of the other two titles I've read by Epstein resonated with me like this one. In true confession, I had to stop reading about a third of the way into my reading. Like some cosmic brain transfer, I was finding the content of his book sounding very much like the book I was writing.
Sadly, I had set Range down and until I published my book. I wanted to finish my book without the influence of Epstein as I could see we were headed in the same direction. Once I published my book, I went on to finish Range. Weird to recognise parallel thought development so aligned with one's own thinking. I shared the same experience when I read Dan Pink's A Whole New Mind.
I laughed at seeing principles I’ve identified being portrayed in Epstein’s own language and style. In fact, I loved it. I was also inspired by Epstein’s references and the near-total absence of regurgitated material on his subject. So many of these type books have been written that I often feel they are just expanding on previous iterations of an idea. What a joy it was to not find that in Range. Of course that is apart from the eerily similar references I deployed in my book.
By itself, I give this the top rating. I loved it. Perhaps a part of that high praise could be that he and I are on the same wavelength. My copy of Range is far too heavily flagged with great bits to comment on specifics, but I would like to share my favourite quote:
An enthusiastic, even childish, playful streak is a recurring theme in research on creative thinkers. (p 273)
This is a vital read for anyone interested in leadership.