Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World
By: David Epstein
Sarah Ball, Software Developer
Specialization is big across industries. From athletics, to medicine, to technology, people are told to narrow their expertise and build their careers accordingly. Those who follow the "cult of the head start" like to point to success stories like the Polgar sisters, raised to be chess prodigies, or Tiger Woods, who started golfing before he was two. Their claim is that mastery requires 10,000+ hours of practice, so dedication early without divergence is needed to stand out in one's field.
Epstein's book turns this on its head and instead unpacks how generalists can often outperform their specialist counterparts. Chess and golf might favor the specialist, but they are not representative of all fields. In "kind" environments where similar challenges occur repeatedly—such as chess and golf—experience can be key to success. However, most environments are "wicked", and instead offer novel situations, where the rules of the game are unclear or incomplete. For example, to cure cancer requires novel thinking, and that's where generalists thrive.
I really enjoyed the variety of examples Epstein offers across industries of how knowledge from one field enriched another. The book also includes advice for how to improve one's generalist skills and watch out for the pitfalls of specialization. A great read and highly recommended!
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