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Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World

David Epstein · 8 HN comments
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The #1 New York Times bestseller that has all America talking: as seen/heard on CNN's Fareed Zakaria GPS, Morning Joe, CBS This Morning, The Bill Simmons Podcast, Rich Roll, and more. “Fascinating. . . . If you’re a generalist who has ever felt overshadowed by your specialist colleagues, this book is for you.” —Bill Gates “The most important business—and parenting—book of the year.” — Forbes “Urgent and important. . . an essential read for bosses, parents, coaches, and anyone who cares about improving performance.” —Daniel H. Pink Shortlisted for the Financial Times /McKinsey Business Book of the Year Award 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.
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All the comments and stories posted to Hacker News that reference this book.
> What is a healthy amount of pushing vs too much?

David Epstein somewhat tackles this question in Range[0]. The issue come down to the type of 'learning environment' of the activity you are trying to get the kid into.

'Kind Learning Environments' are ones like golf or chess. The rules are clear, the feedback is rapid, standings are knowable, and the skills are uniform. For Kind learning environments, you just grind out the hours. Here you can use Gladwell's 10,000 hours to shine.

'Unkind Learning Environments' are ones like tennis, business, or poker. The rules are murky, the feedback is delayed, standings are at time undiscernible, and the skills are varied. For unkind learning environments, you have to graze on a lot of other disciplines to shine. Just grinding out the hours won't result in great results.

Epstein specifically uses Ospedale della Pietà as an example of greatness in music. He says that concert musicians use the learning styles of Kind environments, while jazz musicians use Unkind styles. A great union of the Kind and Unkind was in Venice at Ospedale della Pietà where female orphans became some of the best classical musicians in history due to the unique factors at the orphanage.

So the answer, per Epstein, to your question is that it depends (sorry!).

Do you want an orchestra music playing child? Use the Kind learning environment techniques of grinding away 10,000 hours.

Do you want a more jazz music playing child? Use the Unkind learning techniques of many other disciplines and getting through the 10,000 hours in fits and spurts.

Epstein's book goes into waaaay better detail than my comment's haphazard and poorly remembered accounting. If you're serious about the question, I'd buy it and read it.



Thank you for the book recommendation. I haven’t read it yet, but from the description and your comment, it seems like it puts its finger right on something I’ve contemplated for years.

The general ability to excel in a lot of different things, because of exposure to a variety of things, without necessarily being a 10,000 hour master in any of them, goes a long way. Particularly, being able to combine multiple aspects from multiple disciplines to solve a problem from a different perspective.

Edit: To just expand my thoughts a bit further, I think it comes down to sometimes “you don’t know what you don’t know.” Being exposed to more things goes a long way.

Specialisation is the exception, not the rule.

> Everyone should read "Range By David Epstein"

> In most fields, especially those that are complex and unpredictable. Generalists, not specialists, are primed to excel.

Epstein goes through many other examples of learning environments in the book, most of which I found to be very entertaining and informative. To be clear, Range is not an academic article, and is very much in the 'pop-psych' genre like Gladwell or Talib. That said, it's well worth a Christmas vacation to read through. Gates had it on his best books in 2020 list for a reason (though it was published in 2019). Pick up a copy yourself from the local library (if open/online) or you can buy it yourself:

Have a look at "T shaped" skills and see where that takes you. I know Microsoft looks at this when team building so they have wide breadth in addition to specific depth.

Also, if you have time, there is a fantastic book on this subject "Range: How Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World", by David Epstein.


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"The Man Who Solved the Market: How Jim Simons Launched the Quant Revolution"

"Hacking Darwin: Genetic Engineering and the Future of Humanity"

"Biased: Uncovering the Hidden Prejudice That Shapes What We See, Think, and Do"

"Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World"

"The Spy and the Traitor: The Greatest Espionage Story of the Cold War"

"Trick Mirror: Reflections on Self-Delusion"

"Talking to Strangers: What We Should Know about the People We Don't Know"

"Prediction Machines: The Simple Economics of Artificial Intelligence"

Excellent counterpoint resource on Tiger-styled learning
> There's a growing body of evidence that early specialization produces less champions. Kids are encouraged to participate in other sports well into their teen years.

This is the subject matter of the book "Range":

I suggest you read David Epstein's recent book Range:

His basic point is that our culture highly values the Tiger-Woods-style success story, where a person just beavers away at one thing their whole life. But there are a lot of successful people who specialize later or not at all. It definitely made me feel better about my similarly diverse resume, and has given me some good ways to think about what I want to pursue next.

Thanks! Will read.
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