Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized Worldby Published 28 May 2019
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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 closer look at research on the world's top performers, from professional athletes to Nobel laureates, shows that early specialization is the exception, not the rule.
David Epstein examined the world's most successful athletes, artists, musicians, inventors, forecasters and scientists. He discovered that in most fields--especially those that are complex and unpredictable--generalists, not specialists, are primed to excel. Generalists often find their path late, and they juggle many interests rather than focusing on one. They're also more creative, more agile, and able to make connections their more specialized peers can't see.
Provocative, rigorous, and engrossing, Range makes a compelling case for actively cultivating inefficiency. Failing a test is the best way to learn. Frequent quitters end up with the most fulfilling careers. The most impactful inventors cross domains rather than deepening their knowledge in a single area. As experts silo themselves further while computers master more of the skills once reserved for highly focused humans, people who think broadly and embrace diverse experiences and perspectives will increasingly thrive.
Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World Reviews
This book absolutely fascinates while teaching new, novel ideas for learning.
The ideas promoted here are totally contradictory to what we were taught in the past about learning.
The new ways of thinking apply not only to the classrooms of today, but to sports, music training, and career preparation and advancement.
The demands of today’s careers (and of future careers) have changed drastically. Critical thinking is now needed above all else.
Specialization is not the way to advance in today’s world. Wide reaching, varied interests and pursuits give us more to draw from, which allows us to apply ideas from one area of learning to an unrelated area.
There is a huge difference between deep learning vs. shallow, surface learning which doesn’t stay with us. It’s important to realize the attainment of deep learning is a very slow process.
We learn not to make too much of quick and easy A’s early on: the importance of head starts has been overestimated. The pursuit of early A’s is seen as a form of instant gratification, which is not conducive to deep learning.
Deep learning makes room for struggling. It is in the struggle that we learn. What is more, making mistakes actually proves beneficial to deep learning.
This book is revolutionary and should prove interesting to anyone looking to prepare for a career in today’s world, or a second or third career. The carryover of skills and experience is seen as beneficial to a later career.
I’ve staked my entire adult life on following the generalist’s path instead of the specialist’s, so I hoped this book would answer my basic questions: What about the role Neuroplasticity plays with keeping the following people analytically extra-sharp: The Polymath, the Multi-Instrumentalist, and those like Noam Chomsky, composer Elliot Carter, Aristotle, Leonard da Vinci, or Bertrand Russell all deeply learned in multiple fields (range), yet known for changing how we understand, hear, or see things? Zero on Neuroplasticity. Ok, then what will David say about how generalists best can pull deep multi-disciplinary analogies through their multiple points of reference? Meh, nothing of note. How about this: Generalists can see the big picture. They can see the forest for the trees. They can tell us deeper stories of our times. They are more apt to see macro. Society is further atomized by specialists, while further integrated by the generalist. How do you make systemic change to avoid extinction without generalists? How do local areas survive economic collapse without generalists? How do you prioritize at the highest level of society without generalists? I’m just making stuff up fast that I wanted to hear but this book had none of it, so what did this book teach me? Some cool facts like:
When you think your favorite Van Gogh’s paintings, you are thinking of only the last three years of his life. Wow. At his death, Michelangelo “left three-fifths of his sculptures unfinished”. Edison had over 1,000 patents, most were unimportant. “Sandwiched between King Lear and Macbeth, Shakespeare quilled Timon of Athens.” Jackson Pollack “was literally one of the least talented draftsmen at the Art Student’s League”. That led him to writing his own rules. Lots of stumped creative teams benefit from bring in outside knowledge like InnoCentive (google them). Iowa, not traditionally known as the hot bed of American music and culture, once had more than 1,000 opera houses! MRI scans of jazz musicians show that during improvising, their internal criticism was suspended, unlike during practice, when they identified errors and corrected them. “There is no entrenched interest fighting on the side of range.” – Well, that is because elites don’t want oppressed masses with “range” out-lobbying corporate lobbyists by sheer endless volume (as Ralph Nader discusses in depth with Chris Hedges on In Contact – RT). If you have true range, you are more likely to want to oppose corporate power, capitalism, militarism, and all undeserved power, because your outlook becomes bigger. Luckily for elites, even though everything from ancient pre-history to today is all at your fingertips, the average American can’t find Europe on a map of the world - there’s today’s range. A lot of this book is telling the reader that, when involving techniques of problem solving, there is no one answer, nor is there one place to look for answers. David uses “quitters never win” as an example. Many top minds quit what they were doing and changed jobs to finally succeed, and so for them, quitting made all the difference. With this mindset, you fail when you don’t have the courage to leave a dead-end situation. In other words, there are strong advantages if you don’t consider your path fixed. Although, some say Einstein was “destined for fame” as a Swiss patent clerk, others say he made a good call in switching.
Premature optimization means, specializing in a field before you know yourself well-enough. For many Americans, their jobs didn’t exist when they were kids and so to reach them they took many paths. As David says, those many paths travelled gave us range.
In conclusion, this book has no stories of activists with range, nor stories of progressive or radical change makers who affected great change by linking many disciplines: MLK linking racism, capitalism, and militarism, Noam Chomsky linking language, power structure analysis, foreign affairs, journalism, economics, and all social and economic and social justice initiatives, Cornel West and Chris Hedges linking Theology to Social Justice, Radical Prophets and Philosophy. David never even mentions Intersectionality once. So, if you are reading this book to learn how humans are right now solving the climate crisis, fending off extinction, or any kind of activism through the range of of generalists, sorry, you are out of luck. Instead, this book is about how generalists help innovation, capitalism, and even the military. In one of David’s stories, a U.S. military team is requested to gain a speed advantage over “the enemy” in Afghanistan. Not “the opponent” but “the enemy”. Let’s invade a sovereign nation and give it the longest war in American history and after refusing to leave, let’s label anyone actively resisting our invasion and never leaving as “the enemy”. One reviewer called this groundbreaking and other called it breathtaking - what nonsense – the subject of this book is so important and yet I see it as a massive opportunity squandered. Range is needed in hundreds of ways to save the planet, why not mention it once in your book?
This is a great defanged book for US elites to exploit – by employing generalists, both the military and multi-nationals can better pry open business opportunities in countries that can’t defend themselves. Each chapter starts with an easy story and there’s some People Magazine worthy quotes inside about tennis players, musicians, chess players, Darwin, Girl Scouts, and the Challenger disaster to keep the average reader quite content. If I wasn’t so busy hugging my American Flag made in China, I be saluting this brave book which, after giving minor nods to art, sports and culture, will keep any conservative or centrist reader on the straight and narrow of focusing on business and military applications (where the money to pay generalists is), without any embarrassing talk about applications for social or economic justice.
I received my copy free through Goodreads Giveaways
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.
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.
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.
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.
Add poker to that list....
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.
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.
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.
The hedgehogs, according to political scientist Philip 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.
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.
I liked the first 10 chapters of this book. In chapters 11 & 12 the author turns it into a 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.