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Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World

Raise your hand if you believe that it is more advantageous to have one defined skill set. Think Tiger Woods. He has a skill that has been practiced and refined daily over the course of many years. He is the very definition of singular focus leading to great success. His whole life was dedicated to golf, and his level of achievement has been rare indeed. Now, who thinks that is better to have a wide range of interests before settling on a profession? Roger Federer is an example of this. Arguably, he has been at the top of the tennis world and achieved a level of fame and fortune similar to Woods. Yet, he didn't take up tennis seriously until later in life. He participated in several sporting activities before getting serious about tennis.

In “Range” Epstein posits that singular focus is not a good indicator of long term success, and instead advocates for a broad range of pursuits. He makes his case by citing example after example of this phenomenon. Not only is it an indicator of success, it is a great way to solve problems. For Instance, conventional wisdom holds that to solve a particularly tough technological problem, get a bunch of experts in a room and have them work on it. Yet in experience after experience, just the opposite is true. Having problems solved by a wide range of thinkers from different pursuits yields a much higher percentage of great solutions.

Epstein tells the story of Vincent Van Gogh, a talented and gifted man that for years thought he had found the “right” profession, only to have success slip through his hands. He failed at several art classes taught by some incredible talent. Yet, for a brief shining moment before his death at age 43, he gave the world a whole new way to look at art. Range gives hope to all of us that are generalists. I can relate. I am one of those. I got a business degree along with a liberal arts education. I spent a number of years doing a number of things. I read broadly and read a book or two per week on a variety of topics. All of that prepares me for what I do now. Some might call Van Gogh a late bloomer. Maybe there is hope for all of us?


David Epstein


Riverhead Books



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