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Range summary

David Epstein

Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World

4.3 (575 ratings)
21 mins

Brief summary

"Range" by David Epstein challenges the idea that specialization is the only path to success, showing how generalists who cultivate diverse experiences and skills are often more adaptable and better problem-solvers.

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    Starting early and specializing is fashionable, but has dubious merit.

    At the age of ten months old, Tiger Woods picked up his first miniature golf club. At two, he showed off his golf drive on national television. Later that same year, he entered and won his first tournament in the under ten category. Tiger Woods embodies a now popular idea that the key to success in life is to specialize, get a head start and practice intensively.

    This trend toward specialization doesn’t only show up in the sports world. In fact, it’s also true of academia, our complex financial system and medicine. Oncologists, for example, now rarely focus on cancer alone. Rather, they specialize in cancer of a particular organ. The writer and surgeon Atul Gawande notes that when doctors joke about right-ear surgeons, we shouldn’t be so quick to assume they don’t actually exist.

    But is specializing really the way to go? Simply put, no. In many walks of life, building up experience in just one field doesn’t help performance. In a 2009 paper, psychologists Daniel Kahneman and Gary Klein explored the connection between experience and performance.

    Klein shows that experience counts in certain fields. For firefighters, for example, years of focused experience trains them to recognize patterns in the behavior of flames, which enables them to make 80 percent of their on-the-job decisions instinctively in seconds.

    But Kahneman found that in other areas, experience counted for nothing. Studying the assessment of officer candidates in the Israeli Defence Forces, he found that recruiters’ predictions of a recruit’s future performance, based on physical and mental abilities, were no more reliable than guesswork. Crucially, as the recruiters received more and more feedback after multiple recruitment rounds, they didn’t get any better at making predictions. Kahneman concluded that there was a complete disconnect between experience and performance.

    Some fields of life resemble golf or firefighting. While not necessarily easy, they offer recurring patterns or simple rules that govern decision-making. But there are many more fields of life, like army recruitment, that are much more nebulous and require the creativity and flexibility that generalization offers.

    Let’s find out how this works.

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    What is Range about?

    At a time when many see specialization as the route to success, Range (2019) shows that having broad interests and taking your time to find your focus in life lead to excellence and innovation. Drawing on examples from business, sports, science and human psychology, Range urges us all to stay open-minded and curious.

    Range Review

    Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World (2019) explores the value of broad experiences and diverse skills in today's society. Here's why this book is worth reading:

    • With compelling research and examples, it challenges the idea that specialization is the only path to success, offering a refreshing perspective on career and life choices.
    • The book encourages readers to embrace curiosity and exploration, highlighting the benefits of a wide range of interests and experiences in fostering creativity and adaptation.
    • Through its engaging storytelling and thought-provoking insights, the book ensures that readers won't find it boring, making it an enjoyable and enlightening read.

    Best quote from Range

    The popular notion of the Tiger path minimizes the role of detours, breadth, and experimentation.

    —David Epstein
    example alt text

    Who should read Range?

    • Individuals searching for a purpose in life
    • The intellectually curious
    • Those seeking an unconventional path to success

    About the Author

    David Epstein is an award-winning journalist and author with wide-ranging expertise in science and sports. He’s worked for ProPublica and Sports Illustrated as a senior writer. His TED Talk on the science of athletic performance has seven million views and was shared by Bill Gates – the greatest endorsement of his work since Barack Obama bought his first book, The Sports Gene.

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    Range FAQs 

    What is the main message of Range?

    The main message of Range is that generalists, rather than specialists, are more adaptable and successful in a rapidly changing world.

    How long does it take to read Range?

    The reading time for Range varies, but it typically takes several hours. The Blinkist summary can be read in just 15 minutes.

    Is Range a good book? Is it worth reading?

    Range is worth reading because it challenges the belief that specialization is always the key to success. It offers valuable insights to broaden our perspectives and adaptability.

    Who is the author of Range?

    The author of Range is David Epstein.

    What to read after Range?

    If you're wondering what to read next after Range, here are some recommendations we suggest:
    • The Sports Gene by David Epstein
    • The Practice of Groundedness by Brad Stulberg
    • Black Box Thinking by Matthew Syed
    • Late Bloomers by Rich Karlgaard
    • Bounce by Matthew Syed
    • Quiet by Susan Cain
    • Supercommunicators by Charles Duhigg
    • How Highly Effective People Speak by Peter Andrei
    • Predictably Irrational by Dan Ariely
    • Why We Make Mistakes by Joseph T. Hallinan