5 Lessons In "Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World"

Aatir Abdul Rauf


Aatir Abdul Rauf


Sep 26, 2022

5 Lessons In "Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World"

Continuing on the topic of generalization vs specialization, here's a fascinating book that I recommend:

"Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World" by David Epstein.

Apart from making a case for why generalists prevail, it's also a book that you should read if you:

  • Feel immersed in self-doubt about starting too late in a career or venture or
  • Believe your lack of deep expertise compared to peers will put you at an indefinite disadvantage

David Epstein people argues that you don't need to hyper-specialize in a certain field from the start to succeed. In fact, exposing yourself to a range of experiences gives you a massive edge in the long-run.

Sharing my personal takeaway notes here:

1- Head starts are overrated

Starting at an early age on a career path may seem like an massive advantage but there are plenty of examples where late entrants, who explore multiple avenues before settling, do equally well. (if not better)

Ex: Roger Federer played a variety of sports before taking up tennis full-time. Brian Acton moved into entrepreneurship in his 40s.

2- Fast vs slow learning

Deliberate, self-paced learning creates the best retention. The lessons you tend to remember the most are those where you discovered you were wrong about something you were very confident about.

3- Abstraction & Analogical thinking

To be able to crack hard problems in the real world, you need to be able think in abstraction. This implies recognizing the underlying patterns of anything that works and building mental models around it that are easier to manipulate.

Ex: recognizing that scarcity is a driving force in both an e-commerce platform as well as a hotel rentals portal.

With that abstraction in hand, you need to be able to port & cross-pollinate ideas from other domains.

Ex: disrupting the laundry market by building an Uber-like on-demand service.

4- Experimentation is healthy

Trying out new things that may seem tangential to your core work isn't always a waste of time if the learning is intent-based. Dabbling into other domains like art, poetry, history and architecture can augment the angles you think in.

Ex: Steve Jobs learnt a lot about storytelling and design from his time at Pixar.

Product Managers run experiments all the time to see if a hypothesis checks out.

5- Quitters are not always losers

The author challenges the long-standing adage "winners never quit and quitters never win". While determination is essential, one must also identify criteria on when to quit (dead ends) and move on to something more productive.

Ex: Gandhi quit his job as a lawyer to pursue a larger cause.

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