What We Are Reading
August 2021

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

Look at Duckworth’s “Grit”, Ericsson’s “Deliberate Practice” or Mishcel’s famous “Marshmallow Test”, and the lesson seems to be that to excel at anything, you must start early, focus intensely, practice a lot, get loads of feedback and most of all, stick with it. Range author Epstein says, yes that’s fine for what he terms “kind” environments where patterns repeat over and over and feedback is timely and accurate - endeavors like golf and chess and yesterday’s more “procedural” jobs, like typing, filing, and working on assembly lines. But how much of what we want to learn and do are really like chess and golf? Today, most of us work in a complex, interconnected and rapidly-changing world where problem-solving and collaboration are critical. Modern work demands the ability to apply knowledge to new situations and domains, and relying on the experience of familiar patterns can backfire horribly. Epstein laments how our society and particularly higher education continue to push narrow specialization. Our greatest strength is the exact opposite. It is the ability to integrate broadly. Range is an important new contribution to the canon of high-performance.

HIGHLIGHT(S): When it comes to developing executives, Epstein would seem to argue more for rotational and “stretch” assignments where leaders are allowed room to experiment and even fail, and less for rigid competency models and other mechanistic modes of hiring, promoting and training.

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