Book Review: Range

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Range: Why Generalists Triumph in A Specialized World is an outstanding book. It’s just not about why generalists triumph in a specialized world. Author David Epstein says this in the conclusion to the book.

“The question I set out to explore was how to capture and cultivate the power of breadth, diverse experience, and intra-disciplinary exploration within systems that increasingly demand hyper-specialization and would have you decide what you should be before first figuring out who you are.”

In the introduction, Epstein outlines what he calls the “Tiger Model” and the “Roger Model” of achieving career success.

The “tiger” is Tiger Woods. In the Tiger Model, you specialize early and engage in deliberate practice, honing your skills and expertise.

The Roger Model is named for Roger Federer. In the Roger Model, you delay selecting a specialty until you learn more about yourself and what you do well. You have a “sampling period” where you try many things. Then, you specialize.

The business and self-development press loves the Tiger Model. The Roger Model is out of fashion. But the Roger Model works for more people and in more situations.

I was predisposed to like the Roger Model because of what I saw at my class reunions. On the day we first met, my classmates and I had plans about what we were going to do. As far as I know, only one of us stayed with that original plan and succeeded. Everyone else wound up doing something different than what we thought we would do, way back then. The rest of us switched specialties, tried different things

Range is not about how generalists succeed. It’s about learning, choosing a life’s work, and solving difficult problems. Here’s how the book is laid out.

In the first three chapters, Epstein makes his case for the Roger Model. You’ll learn about how the Tiger Model works great if you’re talking about a “kind” learning environment. In a kind learning environment patterns repeat, feedback is rapid, and there are proven methods of training. You learn to play the violin in a kind environment.

The Roger Model is best for a “wicked” learning environment. There may or may not be rules or guideless. Results are often delayed and not easy to measure. Learning to be a good manager or parent happens in a wicked environment.

Anders Ericsson’s deliberate practice is perfect for kind learning environment. In a wicked environment you must change your idea of practice and redefine feedback.

Chapters four and five are about thinking and learning. You’ll pick up a lot here about how to learn effectively. The skills will help whether you’re learning a subject, like history or the best way to structure your day.

Chapters six and seven are about development, or what happens when you move beyond learning to learning as a part of making choices for yourself. In these two chapters, you’re introduced to the concept of “match quality” and how it applies to making life choices. The ideal, in Epstein’s view, is to find something that is a perfect fit for you.

In chapters eight through twelve pull things together.  You learn how take what you’ve learned and apply it to problem-solving, product development, and decision-making.

In a Nutshell

You’ll love Range if you think the world is becoming over-specialized. You’ll pick up lots of ammunition for your arguments. You’ll love this book if you want to learn and think more effectively. You’ll love this book if you feel like the advice, to specialize, practice, and never give up doesn’t work for you.

You can check out some of my highlights and notes from this book on my GoodReads page.


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