Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World

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...

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Title:Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World
Author:David Epstein
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Edition Language:English

Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World Reviews

  • Katy

    I received my copy free through Goodreads Giveaways

  • Michael Perkins

    The story of the new U.S. Open golf winner illustrates part of the thesis of this book. A range of experience is sometimes better than over-specialization. In the book, Roger Federer is another example.

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    This passage describes a key finding that is central to the book....

    James Flynn, is a professor of political studies in New Zealand

    Flynn’s great disappointment is the degree to which society, and particularly higher education, has resp

    The story of the new U.S. Open golf winner illustrates part of the thesis of this book. A range of experience is sometimes better than over-specialization. In the book, Roger Federer is another example.

    =======================

    This passage describes a key finding that is central to the book....

    James Flynn, is a professor of political studies in New Zealand

    Flynn’s great disappointment is the degree to which society, and particularly higher education, has responded to the broadening of the mind by pushing specialization, rather than focusing early training on conceptual, transferable knowledge.

    Flynn conducted a study in which he compared the grade point averages of seniors at one of America’s top state universities, from neuroscience to English majors, to their performance on a test of critical thinking. The test gauged students’ ability to apply fundamental abstract concepts from economics, social and physical sciences, and logic to common, real-world scenarios.

    Flynn was bemused to find that the correlation between the test of broad conceptual thinking and GPA was about zero. In Flynn’s words, “the traits that earn good grades at [the university] do not include critical ability of any broad significance.”

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

    As a patient, I see this in medicine. My father practiced medicine for 40 years. He used to say that medicine was as much an art as a science. The art is gone. No doctor I've encountered knows how to take a good patient history. Many times, as a result of my own research, I've asked my doctors "what about X?" "Oh, good idea!" Shouldn't they have the ability and knowledge to bring these issues up themselves? But this is true in many fields.

    I have a friend who has been teaching a Western Civ course (among others) for many years now. He tries to make it entertaining to keep the attention of the students. They learn factoids about Socrates and Napoleon (that are likely to be quickly forgotten after the final exam), but not how to think. Meanwhile, the longer he has been at this the more he has lost his own critical thinking capacity and been cut off from the real world.

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    in late 2014, a team of German scientists published a study showing that members of their national team, which had just won the World Cup, were typically late specializers who didn’t play more organized soccer than amateur-league players until age twenty-two or later. They spent more of their childhood and adolescence playing non-organized soccer and other sports.

    It's not about the mythical 10,000 hours. The reason that elite athletes seem to have superhuman reflexes is that they recognize patterns of ball or body movements that tell them what’s coming before it happens. As the greatest hockey player in history, Wayne Gretzky, said: “I skate to where the puck is going, not where it has been.” Same is true of Steph Curry, who views the basketball court as a rapidly moving chessboard. He sees several moves ahead.

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    When we know the rules and answers, and they don’t change over time—chess, golf, playing classical music—an argument can be made for savant-like hyperspecialized practice from day one. But those are poor models of most things humans want to learn.

    Meanwhile, advances in artificial intelligence have already shown that rules-based human jobs will be the first to go the more A.I. is implemented. This reality was made shockingly obvious when a computer defeated the world champion Gary Kasparov in chess.

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    RE: parents, psychologist Adam Grant noted that creativity may be difficult to nurture, but it is easy to thwart. He pointed to a study that found an average of six household rules for typical children, compared to one in households with extremely creative children.

    Darwin's father was a doctor who wanted his son to become a doctor. Darwin lasted only half a semester in med school. He turned to the church. He was a Bible literalist at the time, and figured he would become a clergyman. He bounced around classes, including a botany course with a professor who subsequently recommended him for an unpaid position aboard the HMS Beagle. After convincing his father that he would not become a deadbeat if he took this one detour, he experienced perhaps the most impactful post-college gap year in history. Decades later, Darwin reflected on the process of self-discovery. “It seems ludicrous that I once intended to be a clergyman,” he wrote.

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    A recent international Gallup survey of more than two hundred thousand workers in 150 countries reported that 85 percent were either “not engaged” with their work or “actively disengaged.” In that condition, according to Seth Godin, quitting takes a lot more guts than continuing to be carried along like debris on an ocean wave.

    The trouble, Godin noted, is that humans are bedeviled by the “sunk cost fallacy.” Having invested time or money in something, we are loath to leave it, because that would mean we had wasted our time or money, even though it is already gone.

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    There is “perverse inverse relationship” between fame and accuracy. The more likely an expert was to have his or her predictions featured on op-ed pages and television, the more likely they were always wrong. Paul Ehrlich's "Population Bomb" is an infamous example. He appeared on Johnny Carson's "Tonight Show" (20x), gave congressional testimony, and his theory was heavily sold in a cover article in The New Republic. The end result of this crisis, Ehrlich asserted, would be global nuclear war.

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    The hedgehogs, according to Tetlock, “toil devotedly” within one tradition of their specialty, “and reach for formulaic solutions to ill-defined problems.” Outcomes did not matter; they were proven right by both successes and failures, and burrowed further into their ideas. It made them outstanding at predicting the past, but dart-throwing chimps at predicting the future.

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    the opposite of flexible intelligence is cognitive entrenchment.....

    Researchers in Canada and the United States began a 2017 study by asking a politically diverse and well-educated group of adults to read arguments confirming their beliefs about controversial issues. When participants were then given a chance to get paid if they read contrary arguments, two-thirds decided they would rather not even look at the counterarguments, never mind seriously entertain them.

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    I liked the first 10 chapters of this book. In chapters 11 & 12 the author turns it into business book with some extremely tedious cases studies that they do in MBA programs. It reminded why I don't like and never read business books. So this a caveat for this book that removes one star from the rating.

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    I'd like to recommend this excellent companion book which is some aspects is better than the one above. But both go nicely together.

  • Peter Mcloughlin

    Covers the idea of having a wide range of knowledge outside one's specialty helps people succeed. Often new ideas come from thinking analogically about things unrelated to what one is looking at. Has lots of case studies that make the argument that having a wide range of experiences can help with one's endeavors.

  • Lou

    Some non-fiction can be boring and even useless, but this is a work of non-fiction that everyone should read; I certainly got a lot out of it and feel many others will too. Offering a wide-ranging wealth of information and research Epstein shares data, as well as his opinion, on how to become and stay successful in a constantly evolving world. What surprised me a lot was how compulsively readable it was and despite being a work of non-fiction Epstein can sure engage you in an almost mesmerising

    Some non-fiction can be boring and even useless, but this is a work of non-fiction that everyone should read; I certainly got a lot out of it and feel many others will too. Offering a wide-ranging wealth of information and research Epstein shares data, as well as his opinion, on how to become and stay successful in a constantly evolving world. What surprised me a lot was how compulsively readable it was and despite being a work of non-fiction Epstein can sure engage you in an almost mesmerising way with his narrative.

    For many years we have been told that specialisation in a certain area, whilst foregoing most or all others, is the key to success — theories such as the 10,000 hours rule prevail for now, but this book goes some way to rebutting and changing that view. Citing the latest research and referencing famous figures the author pens a thought-provoking and essential read for our times.

    It's an intensely engaging and fascinating book packed with accessible tidbits of knowledge and Epstein explains things in an understandable and eminently readable fashion. Range is a book I will remember for it's helpful, novel ideas and its important message that all is not lost should you not have spent those hours plugging away in a specialised field. Highly recommended. Many thanks to Macmillan for an ARC.

  • Mark

    Disclosure: I won this pre-release copy in a drawing from the publisher.

    The book wasn't badly written, but for me it was something of a slog. I've enjoyed similar books in this genre more, the sort of pop-psychology-self-help mashup including books like "Willpower" (Baumeister/Tierney), "The Upside of Down" (McArdle), "The Power of Habit" (Duhigg), among others. There was nothing distracting in the style of "Range" that failed to work for me. But the presentation often left me wanting more, argu

    Disclosure: I won this pre-release copy in a drawing from the publisher.

    The book wasn't badly written, but for me it was something of a slog. I've enjoyed similar books in this genre more, the sort of pop-psychology-self-help mashup including books like "Willpower" (Baumeister/Tierney), "The Upside of Down" (McArdle), "The Power of Habit" (Duhigg), among others. There was nothing distracting in the style of "Range" that failed to work for me. But the presentation often left me wanting more, arguing in my head against the point the author was making. It often felt like being led down a garden path, and asked to ignore things on the edge of the trail as meaningless distractions.

    Part of the challenge confronting the author was in tackling a deconstructed subject. In the opening chapter, Tiger Woods and Roger Federer are presented as juxtapositions in how to become the best in their respective sports. Woods is raised on golf obsessively from an early age, while Federer is allowed to explore all sports, until he settles on tennis much later. Woods exemplifies the narrow specialist, while Federer stands in for the generalist. As a reader, I kept complaining that they were both raised on sports generally, and that both were clearly encouraged to develop talents by sports-obsessive homes.

    And the reading went on in this spirit throughout, with quite impressive, accomplished individuals described in broad outlines, predominantly having achieved success as apparent outsiders rather than very, very narrow specialists who had rarely been permitted to pursue interests beyond the narrow confines. This often felt like an anecdote held up as a contrast to a caricature. The supporting research mentioned frequently felt more vague than persuasive. And as a result, for me the book was mostly frustrating.

    It was not all a loss, however, as the author certainly shows significant benefit of applying far-flung knowledge to unanticipated problems. He clearly demonstrates the tendency of narrow specialists in our increasingly specialized society to become blinkered by their own learning to the point that they can no longer step outside their fields for a fresh view from a different perspective. He also shows how institutions like NASA can succumb to a narrow-minded, specialist group-think.

    I can't say that I regret pushing myself to read all the way through. But I felt I didn't get any particular insights from it, much less suggestions for how to get greater range, or how to make better use of my own more generalist background. Yet it may well benefit readers who've come to believe that specialization is all there is or should be in life.

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