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Literature of Leadership - November Book Review

Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World. David Epstein. (2019, Kindle Edition)

In the book Range, author and journalist David Epstein challenges popular theories and beliefs on what it takes to achieve high performance and success. As the title suggests, Epstein argues that within a world that increasingly demands depth of knowledge and hyper-specialization, people who possess diverse experiences and breadth of perspective (i.e., range) should not be under-valued.

Epstein convincingly makes the case that specialists excel in "kind" environments in which the rules are clear and feedback is immediate—such as in professional golfing; whereas more broadly experienced generalists excel in complex, ill-defined "wicked" environments in which out-of-the-box thinking is needed to navigate more volatile and rapidly changing contexts—such as in the practice of medicine. In the words of the author, “When narrow specialization is combined with an unkind domain, the human tendency to rely on experience of familiar patterns can backfire horribly…” (p. 30).

To support his argument, each of the 12 chapters begins with interesting stories on an aspect of "Range" that is illuminated by the accomplishments of renown generalists from across diverse fields—from sports (Roger Federer, tennis pro), to the arts (Vincent Van Gogh, artist), to science (Johannes Kepler, the father of modern astronomy), to business (Frances Hesselbein, former CEO of the Girl Scouts), among others.

Indeed, the strength of this book is the engaging narration and stories told by the author to elucidate his points, along with the supporting research and interviews that underly the stories. The key takeaway for this reviewer is that in today’s complex world, there is a need to value the contributions of both specialists and generalists. One without the other is insufficient. A thought-provoking read on a controversial topic.

Image source: Amazon

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