Welcome back to AirSend’s Book Corner! This week we are covering a fairly recent book published in 2019. The hot-selling knowledge enthrallment that we are covering this week is titled, “Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World,” written by David Epstein. In this week’s book corner, we are going to do something a little different. Rather than giving you chapter analysis’ or several key points of the book, we are going to elaborate on Epstein’s argument. Just a little something to provide perspective. Let’s dive in. 

One of our favorite comparisons by far is Tiger Woods vs. Roger Federer. Don’t worry, this comparison actually comes in handy when explaining the overall argument. So, you are probably asking, or probably not, what is the Tiger Woods vs. Roger Federer comparison? According to our analysis, Tiger Woods and Roger Federer represent two ends of a spectrum. Both sharing a commonality, specialization. However, this type of specialization is seen in two different ways. Specialization is defined as the process of concentrating on and becoming an expert in a particular subject or skill.

Alright, enough side talk. The comparison of both athletes lie in the process of their specialization. Since he was a child, Tiger Woods was a prodigy golf player. He had far excelled in his abilities, resulting in his competing at a young age. Roger Federer on the other hand, actually did not start off as a prodigy child. Instead, he played a variety of sports at a young age. Only after did he discover tennis, did he really start honing his skill in the field.  Epstein claims that though it would be nice to live in a world that is like golf or chess, i.e. a world with predicted consequences and results, and defined rules, we wouldn’t be living for one. Secondly, we wouldn’t be in a society where specialization exists. 

The argument Epstein makes is that we, as a society, should stray from a specialist-only view, in order to become better at it. In a world where specialization exists, we need to carry a holistic or broad perspective of our field, rather than having a narrow scope.

Basically having one foot outside the door. Tiger Woods embodies the narrow focus, where, even as a child, all he did was focus on golf. In antithesis, Roger Federer started with a broad perspective on all types of sports and then narrowed his focus to tennis. Now, I know you will most likely argue that one cannot compare a prodigy to a non-prodigy. That is not the argument we are making here.

The argument we are trying to convey is that Tiger Woods=specialized focus and Roger Federer= broad perspective. Of course, not every specialization can carry a broad perspective. For example, Epstein refers to firefighters and scientists. They too cannot carry a broad perspective in their field. What they could do is implement creativity in their field, which is another form is a holistic view. Without creativity, there is no innovation. 

“The more contexts in which something is learned, the more the learner creates abstract models, and the less they rely on any particular example. Learners become better at applying their knowledge to a situation they’ve never seen before, which is the essence of creativity,”- p.77

The Argument

As reiterated before, David Epstein’s argument is that we should have a holistic style of thinking in specialized focus. Especially in a specialized and industrialist society, as he notes in chapter 2. 

“The more constrained and repetitive a challenge, the more likely it will be automated, while great rewards will accrue to those who can take conceptual knowledge from one problem or domain and apply it in an entirely new one” p. 53

If we were to look back on our college days, we would find that all we knew at that time were what was in our field of study. An English Major could list you the top British Literature, but they may not be able to tell you anything related to changing a tire. An organic chemistry major could tell you all there is to know about their related field, but they probably couldn’t tell you how to file taxes. To the author, this is an issue.

The issue isn’t that an English major doesn’t necessarily know how to change a major, or that an organic chemistry student doesn’t know how to file taxes. Even in college, we have a narrow focus on our specialization that we fail to look at a broader perspective. 


The Architect

Let’s apply this to professions. Take architects for instance. According to d2 architects, an architect should have confidence, adaptability, creativity etc. Now, what if they have the focus of being creative, but do not have the focus on adaptability. For instance, an architect who is easy going and has all the creativity they need to do their job, but they lack the skills to give them range (perspective). A perspective that gives them adaptability. This is a hypothetical example, but one that actually happens in quite a range (pun intended) of fields.

Having a range of perspectives inspires creativity in a world that is heavily specialized. Of course, not all fields can have range, such as science, chess, sports, etc. 

The Real Estate Agent

Let’s take another example: A real estate agent. Real estate agents should have the tenacity, knowledge of the market, and have attention to detail. Let’s say this real estate agent possesses all these qualities.

A client comes in one day, specifying all the qualities they want in their home. The real estate agent understands and picks his/her top three favorite selections. From the three selections, the client chooses none. No biggie, sometimes agents don’t get the house on the first, second, or third try. But let’s say this is the agents sixth time in showing selections. The client doesn’t like any of them. The real estate agent is confused because they used all of their strategies. However, for whatever reason, the client is not happy. Could it be that the real estate agent is focusing too much on what the client wants, and not looking on a broader scale?

Welcome to the TV series, House Hunters. Not everything they show you are true. Perhaps if the real estate agent had a range in perspective they possibly could have found the client’s dream home. Now, not every situation is like this. Half of the time the real estate agent could do everything right, and it is perhaps the client themself who do not carry a range in perspective. The point is, having a narrow focus of what you want/ know does not always lead to success. 

“It’s strange that some of the greatest musicians were self-taught or never learned to read music. I’m not saying one way is the best, but now I get a lot of students from schools that are teaching jazz, and they all sound the same. They don’t seem to find their own voice. I think when you’re self-taught you experiment more, trying to find the same sound in different places, you learn how to solve problems.” 77

So, as you can see, having a specialized focus of something does not always lead to success. However, if we were to take on range, then perhaps, innovation may happen out the wazoo! As the author points out, we should stop living in a wicked learning environment. We need to carry out the task to remind ourselves to have a broad perspective, especially in a specialized field. 

“The more contexts in which something is learned, the more the learner creates abstract models, and the less they rely on any particular example. Learners become better at applying their knowledge to a situation they’ve never seen before, which is the essence of creativity,”- p.77 

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