Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World by David Epstein is a research-driven study about learning, education and jobs.

Range is a book about the value of being a generalist rather than a specialist. Epstein argues that many of the most effective people in sports, art, and scientific research find success in that particular field after pursuing other endeavors first.

Epstein opens Range comparing the stories of Tiger Woods and Roger Federer. Tiger Woods was pushed by his father to focus exclusively on golf since his early childhood, while tennis player Roger Federer took a more indirect path to success, trying first many other sports, including skiing, wrestling, swimming, basketball, and badminton before finally focusing on tennis. Federer was initially more focused on the ball than on a specific sport. Though his mother was a tennis coach, she did not coach him, to let him free to choose what to pursue.

Range contains a message for parents. For Epstein, they should encourage their children to develop a broad set of skills and not focus too early on just one narrow pursuit.

Range Quotes

“You have people walking around with all the knowledge of humanity on their phone, but they have no idea how to integrate it. We don’t train people in thinking or reasoning.”― David Epstein

“The challenge we all face is how to maintain the benefits of breadth, diverse experience, interdisciplinary thinking, and delayed concentration in a world that increasingly incentivizes, even demands, hyperspecialization” ― David Epstein

“Like chess masters and firefighters, premodern villagers relied on things being the same tomorrow as they were yesterday. They were extremely well prepared for what they had experienced before, and extremely poorly equipped for everything else. Their very thinking was highly specialized in a manner that the modern world has been telling us is increasingly obsolete. They were perfectly capable of learning from experience, but failed at learning without experience. And that is what a rapidly changing, wicked world demands—conceptual reasoning skills that can connect new ideas and work across contexts. Faced with any problem they had not directly experienced before, the remote villagers were completely lost. That is not an option for us. The more constrained and repetitive a challenge, the more likely it will be automated, while great rewards will accrue to those who can take conceptual knowledge from one problem or domain and apply it in an entirely new one.” ― David Epstein

“If we treated careers more like dating, nobody would settle down so quickly.” ― David Epstein

“breadth of training predicts breadth of transfer. That is, the more contexts in which something is learned, the more the learner creates abstract models, and the less they rely on any particular example. Learners become better at applying their knowledge to a situation they’ve never seen before, which is the essence of creativity.” ― David Epstein

“Whether chemists, physicists, or political scientists, the most successful problem solvers spend mental energy figuring out what type of problem they are facing before matching a strategy to it, rather than jumping in with memorized procedures.” ― David Epstein

“The labs in which scientists had more diverse professional backgrounds were the ones where more and more varied analogies were offered, and where breakthroughs were more reliably produced when the unexpected arose.” ― David Epstein

“everyone needs habits of mind that allow them to dance across disciplines.” ― David Epstein

“The more confident a learner is of their wrong answer, the better the information sticks when they subsequently learn the right answer. Tolerating big mistakes can create the best learning opportunities.*” ― David Epstein

“Our work preferences and our life preferences do not stay the same, because we do not stay the same.” ― David Epstein

“Overspecialization can lead to collective tragedy even when every individual separately takes the most reasonable course of action.” ― David Epstein

“Learning stuff was less important than learning about oneself. Exploration is not just a whimsical luxury of education; it is a central benefit.” ― David Epstein

“Their findings about who these people are should sound familiar by now: “high tolerance for ambiguity”; “systems thinkers”; “additional technical knowledge from peripheral domains”; “repurposing what is already available”; “adept at using analogous domains for finding inputs to the invention process”; “ability to connect disparate pieces of information in new ways”; “synthesizing information from many different sources”; “they appear to flit among ideas”; “broad range of interests”; “they read more (and more broadly) than other technologists and have a wider range of outside interests”; “need to learn significantly across domains”; “Serial innovators also need to communicate with various individuals with technical expertise outside of their own domain.” ― David Epstein

“As each man amassed more information for his own view, each became more dogmatic, and the inadequacies in their models of the world more stark.” ― David Epstein

“Almost none of the students in any major showed a consistent understanding of how to apply methods of evaluating truth they had learned in their own discipline to other areas.” ― David Epstein

“In a wicked world, relying upon experience from a single domain is not only limiting, it can be disastrous.”― David Epstein

“My inclination is to attack a problem by building a narrative. I figure out the fundamental questions to ask, and if you ask those questions of the people who actually do know their stuff, you are still exactly where you would be if you had all this other knowledge inherently.” ― David Epstein

“mental meandering and personal experimentation are sources of power, and head starts are overrated” ― David Epstein

“Whether or not experience inevitably led to expertise, they agreed, depended entirely on the domain in question. Narrow experience made for better chess and poker players and firefighters, but not for better predictors of financial or political trends, or of how employees or patients would perform.” ― David Epstein

“First act and then think…We discover the possibilities by doing, by trying new activities, building new networks, finding new role models.” We learn who we are in practice, not in theory.” ― David Epstein

“Seeding the soil for generalists and polymaths who integrate knowledge takes more than money. It takes opportunity.” ― David Epstein

“While it is undoubtedly true that there are areas that require individuals with Tiger’s precocity and clarity of purpose, as complexity increases—as technology spins the world into vaster webs of interconnected systems in which each individual only sees a small part—we also need more Rogers: people who start broad and embrace diverse experiences and perspectives while they progress. People with range.” ― David Epstein

“Instead of asking whether someone is gritty, we should ask when they are. “If you get someone into a context that suits them,” Ogas said, “they’ll more likely work hard and it will look like grit from the outside.” ― David Epstein

“Compared to the Tiger Mother’s tome, a parenting manual oriented toward creative achievement would have to open with a much shorter list of rules. In offering advice to 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. The parents with creative children made their opinions known after their kids did something they didn’t like, they just did not proscribe it beforehand. Their households were low on prior restraint.” ― David Epstein

“AI systems are like savants.” They need stable structures and narrow worlds.” ― David Epstein

“Modern work demands knowledge transfer: the ability to apply knowledge to new situations and different domains. Our most fundamental thought processes have changed to accommodate increasing complexity and the need to derive new patterns rather than rely only on familiar ones. ― David Epstein

“Everyone is digging deeper into their own trench and rarely standing up to look in the next trench over, even though the solution to their problem happens to reside there.” ― David Epstein

“it is difficult to accept that the best learning road is slow, and that doing poorly now is essential for better performance later. It is so deeply counterintuitive that it fools the learners themselves,” ― David Epstein

“the study suggested that “admonitions such as ‘winners never quit and quitters never win,’ while well-meaning, may actually be extremely poor advice.”― David Epstein

“Struggling to retrieve information primes the brain for subsequent learning,” ― David Epstein

“Exposure to the modern world has made us better adapted to complexity, and that has manifested in flexibility, with profound implications for the breadth of our intellectual world. In every cognitive direction, the minds of premodern citizens were severely constrained by the concrete world before them.” ― David Epstein

“This must change, he argues, if students are to capitalize on their unprecedented capacity for abstract thought. They must be taught to think before being taught what to think about. Students come prepared with scientific spectacles, but do not leave carrying a scientific-reasoning Swiss Army knife.” ― David Epstein

“Mostly, though, students get what economist Bryan Caplan called narrow vocational training for jobs few of them will ever have. Three-quarters of American college graduates go on to a career unrelated to their major—a trend that includes math and science majors—after having become competent only with the tools of a single discipline. One good tool is rarely enough in a complex, interconnected, rapidly changing world. As the historian and philosopher Arnold Toynbee said when he described analyzing the world in an age of technological and social change, “No tool is omnicompetent.” ― David Epstein

“The ultimate lesson of the question was that detailed prior knowledge was less important than a way of thinking.” ― David Epstein

“…he preferred to view his crew leadership not as decision making, but as sensemaking. “If I make a decision, it is a possession, I take pride in it. I tend to defend it and not listen to those who question it…If I make sense, then this is more dynamic and I listen and I can change it.” ― David Epstein

“The world is not golf, and most of it isn’t even tennis. As Robin Hogarth put it, much of the world is “Martian tennis.” You can see the players on a court with balls and rackets, but nobody has shared the rules. It is up to you to derive them, and they are subject to change without notice.” ― David Epstein

“It’s easier for a jazz musician to learn to play classical literature than for a classical player to learn how to play jazz,” he said. “The jazz musician is a creative artist, the classical musician is a re-creative artist.” ― David Epstein

“Specialization is obvious: keep going straight. Breadth is trickier to grow.” ― David Epstein

“The sampling period is not incidental to the development of great performers—something to be excised in the interest of a head start—it is integral.” ― David Epstein

“A team or organization that is both reliable and flexible, according to Weick, is like a jazz group. There are fundamentals—scales and chords—that every member must overlearn, but those are just tools for sensemaking in a dynamic environment. There are no tools that cannot be dropped, reimagined, or repurposed in order to navigate an unfamiliar challenge.”
― David Epstein

“Don’t end up a clone of your thesis adviser,’” he [Oliver Smithies] told me. ‘Take your skills to a place that’s not doing the same sort of thing. Take your skills and apply them to a new problem, or take your problem and try completely new skills.” ― David Epstein

“Ukrainian boxer Vasyl Lomachenko set a record for the fewest fights needed to win world titles in three different weight classes. Lomachenko, who took four years off boxing as a kid to learn traditional Ukrainian dance, reflected, “I was doing so many different sports as a young boy—gymnastics, basketball, football, tennis—and I think, ultimately, everything came together with all those different kinds of sports to enhance my footwork.” ― David Epstein

“cognitive psychologists I spoke with led me to an enormous and too often ignored body of work demonstrating that learning itself is best done slowly to accumulate lasting knowledge, even when that means performing poorly on tests of immediate progress. That is, the most effective learning looks inefficient; it looks like falling behind.” ― David Epstein

“I propose instead that you don’t commit to anything in the future, but just look at the options available now, and choose those that will give you the most promising range of options afterward.” ― David Epstein

“Compared to other scientists, Nobel laureates are at least twenty-two times more likely to partake as an amateur actor, dancer, magician, or other type of performer. Nationally recognized scientists are much more likely than other scientists to be musicians, sculptors, painters, printmakers, woodworkers, mechanics, electronics tinkerers, glassblowers, poets, or writers, of both fiction and nonfiction. And, again, Nobel laureates are far more likely still.” ― David Epstein

David Epstein

David Epstein is an investigative reporter at ProPublica. He is the author of 2 books: Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World, a #1 New York Times best seller; and The Sports Gene: Inside the Science of Extraordinary Athletic Performance, a New York Times best seller. 

AMAZON: Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World



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