Are you a generalist or a specialist?
Three Action Thursday

Do you have “Range”?

Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World by David EpsteinIn last week’s piece, The Importance of Hyphens & Slashes, I told you about the current book I am digesting. The book is called Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World by David Epstein. Epstein states that in most fields – especially the complex and unpredictable ones – it’s generalists, not specialists, who are in a position to excel. The book itself examines the most successful athletes, musicians/artists, inventors, and scientists as case studies.

My favorite quote I’ve seen endorsing the book is by author/speaker Malcolm Gladwell: “David Epstein manages to make me thoroughly enjoy the experience of being told that everything I thought about something was wrong.”

Gladwell’s quote is EXACTLY how I feel about Epstein’s book. Ironically, Gladwell is known for the 10,000 hour rule, which states that 10,000 hours of “deliberate practice” are needed for someone to become world-class in any field. The fact that Gladwell is willing to take a step back from his own principle is pretty amazing!

My book review in two sentences:

It actually goes a little bit too deep (dare I say specializing too much) into the research then I think it should but I understand why the author did it. However, it is a great book that flies in the face of current societal beliefs, and I love that it made me think outside the box.

Three Action Thursday Takeaways:

There are many ways to reach an end result, but the world is currently putting too much emphasis on specializing. Applying 10,000 hours as a principle only works for certain fields (chess, musicians, starting NFL quarterbacks, and maybe golf), and from a career perspective being a generalist may suit more people than we realize. Obviously there is a place for specialization (heart or brain surgeons for example) but forcing ourselves or even our children to specialize in something really limits overall human potential and makes switching or changing to something new even that more difficult.

Life Changing “Aha Moment”:

I really enjoyed the book in that it challenged me to take a look at my own life past and present to determine when I excelled and failed, and whether I could tie that back to operating in a generalist or specialized mindset. I think my overall discovery in reading this book was that if you cannot bring in a novel or new idea to an existing domain, you are limiting your upper capacity for succeeding/thriving/winning. People who choose to learn across multiple domains rather than deepening their knowledge in a single area seem to be increasingly thriving in today’s society.


  1. Watch David Epstein and Malcolm Gladwell discuss their beliefs on specialization versus generalization with a sports-centric lean: Epstein and Gladwell discuss “Range” at MIT
  2. Read Epstein’s book: Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World
  3. Are you a generalist or a specialist? Share with us on Three Action Thursday’s Facebook Page.**

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