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There is no single key that will unlock every kind of door. That is due to a basic principle: when something is specialized, it's not universally useful. This is great when we’re talking about the key leading to your front door. Not so great if it's your skillset. The book Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World discusses the value of having a range of skills versus a single specialization. This can be crucial, especially since:
Take for instance: Tiger Woods and Roger Federer. They have one big thing in common: they’re both star athletes. Tiger Woods showed signs of skill with golf from the time he was a child, practiced golf exclusively, and went on to become legendary. Roger Federer had a significantly different experience. As a kid growing up, he just loved any sport with...
Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World focuses on people who have a range of skills instead of a singular specialization, and how this range can be incredibly beneficial, especially since Specialization is not the only way to excellence. In fact, there are many reasons that specialization can be a huge problem. It creates a reliance on pattern-finding. It can prevent creative problem-solving. Unfortunately, specialization is popularized in society. College students choose majors which specialize in one field, preventing them from developing many important abstract reasoning skills.
How can you develop skills better? Use sampling to develop a sharpened skill.
Now, how can you apply these ideas in business? Don’t let blind optimism get in the way of success. Don’t get trapped in an unsolvable loop due to specialization. Don’t rely on rigid bureaucracy to manage your team. Don’t be afraid to change directions. Use Analogies to Help You Think. Don't forget, it's ok to struggle.
The key takeaway? Don’t be afraid to go slow, to redirect, and to sample new ideas. Even when you move from one area to another, the skills and development gained from that experience are not lost.
David Epstein is an investigative reporter at ProPublica. He is the author of two books: Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World (2019) and the Sports Gene: Inside the Science of Extraordinary Athletic Performance (2013). He previously worked as a senior writer at Sports Illustrated. He and Selena Roberts broke the story that Alex Rodriguez tested positive for steroids in 2003. He graduated from Columbia University with a Bachelor’s degree in environmental science and astronomy in 2002 and master’s degrees in environmental science and journalism.
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