Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Review: Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World

Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World by David Epstein
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

In Range David Epstein explains that while specialization can be valuable in some circumstances, “Range” is both important and undervalued. There are many others where having breadth of experience leads to better solutions to problems, particularly in more complex domains that one typically encounters in knowledge work.

The idea of range resonates with the idea of Cross Functional Teams of T-Shaped people (breadth of experience with depth in some areas) which Scrum and Agile advocate. In the context of an agile team, such a team solves the problem of maintaining the flow of work, as you are less likely to find work in your backlog that is blocked because of a local of someone who can do it. Epstein explains that such teams lead to better solutions as well.

The discussion of the importance of “range” goes against many beliefs people have about the importance of having deep knowledge and getting a head start on acquiring it. Consider the push to start training for sports early or to develop deep skill in an academic discipline. Even in hiring, people with a mix of skills don’t seem to fit neatly into org charts, even as work requires a mix of skills, and a desire and ability to broaden ones areas of expertise.

As someone who has a wide range of interests, and who likes to find connections between seemingly unrelated domains I very much enjoyed and appreciated Range. It’s a well written book, with a mix of assertions, stories, and references to data, along with quite a few notes and sources for those who are skeptical and want to dig deeper.

If you are work in a knowledge area, or are thinking about how to influence a child’s learning path, Range is worth a read to help you understand the context of when breadth adds value.

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