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Learn the key ideas of the book by David Epstein


Why having a wide range of knowledge is the key to a successful future

Stories of innovation and success are often told as linear journeys, clear paths that lead from A to B, giving us the impression that the only way to achieve anything in life is to specialise and stay laser focused. In his book, Range, Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World, David Epstein shows us that this is not necessarily the case. Not only does Range show us that specialising in a single area is not an effective guarantee of success, but it also reassures us that experimenting in life and exploring many paths is the best way to understand who we are, to becoming personally fulfilled, and to making a more effective contribution to the world we live in.

Read in 18 min.
Listen in 22 min.

Many of us are taught that choosing a specialist subject at a young age is the key to achieving excellence in almost any area: are we really sure this is true?

Tiger Woods and Roger Federer are two very successful sportsmen, who exemplify two different approaches to achieving excellence.

Tiger Woods started learning to play golf when he was just an infant, his father made sure of it, and Tiger was destined to become a champion from an early age.

Roger Federer’s mother is a tennis coach, who didn’t encourage him to take up tennis, but rather urged him to try many different sports. His family had no particular expectations nor aspirations for him; Roger was left to experiment, and above all to have fun. He loved sports in general, and ball sports were his favourite. His approach to sport was light-hearted and curious, and he was always keen to try new things.

By the time Tiger was four, he was already spending up to eight hours at a time on the golf course, and by the time he was eight, he could beat his father, who had a single-digit handicap, and had played college baseball.

Tiger Woods' incredible sports training has been the subject of many studies and bestsellers on skill development. Woods leads us onto the subject of "deliberate training", which consists of repeating the same exercises, under the supervision of a coach, after having received specific instructions on how to do them best, and obtaining feedback to continuously improve performance.

It is the same kind of logic that gave rise to the 10,000-hour rule, which states that to become excellent in any field, you need at least 10,000 hours of practice, of "deliberate training". It follows that the sooner you start, the better. Anyone who starts at a very young age, as Tiger Woods did, has an initial advantage.

We are taught that it is important to focus our efforts very early, to choose the thing we want to become good at, and to do it as early in life as possible.

And yet, it doesn't quite work like this, or at least this is not the only route to success, because otherwise there would be no way to explain Roger Federer's amazing career in the tennis world, nor that of many other athletes, artists, or entrepreneurs, who specialised later in their lives, after trying many different alternatives.


The key ideas of "Range"

Many of us are taught that choosing a specialist subject at a young age is the key to achieving excellence in almost any area: are we really sure this is true?
Knowing how to do lots of different things can be of great help when it comes to navigating the unpredictable world we live in
Using a conceptual Swiss Army knife means using that little bit of knowledge we have to try and guess what we don’t yet know
Efficient long-distance learning comes from inefficient immediate learning
Using analogy to go beyond your usual range
Never be afraid to try new things, and be on the lookout for signs that it may be time to change
As we move through life, we learn who we are, and we will meet different versions of ourselves along the way
Lateral thinking applied to innovation: using the old model in a new way
Experience can be deceptive, and knowledge without breadth can be completely useless
An outsider might spot something that an expert has missed
Take-home message
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