Being a Generalist in a Specialized World

This is a review of the book Range by David Epstein.

This Author wrote The Sports Gene a while back, and he begins this book with showing how the famous 10,000 hours rule for sports and some other specialties can work, but how it mostly is not the way to ensure success in the real world. I’d agree with that overall assumption. I’ve got my 10,000 hours in bookkeeping, but it’s just one small part of the vast array of things I know how to do. And I’m a better office manager because of my wide range of skills.

The Author also goes into the separation of learning environments into “kind” and “wicked”, with kind being an environment where a specialist can thrive, such as golf or chess and wicked being an environment where just practicing what’s already been done will not work. As you can imagine, most of life is “wicked” – requiring the ability to think on your feet and pivot ideas when necessary. This wicked environment is where generalists thrive. I’d say that the entrepreneurial environment is one of the most (if not THE MOST) wicked of them all. This is where being jacks of all trades benefits us most.

I just finished the chapter on “grit” and why too much grit is a bad thing. I AGREE. This is the battle that Nick and I fight regularly. He has too much grit and I have too little. This is how $70k gets lost.

I think that learning to find your match is more important than sticking it out to the bitter end. Matching is a tedious process of trial and error that I’ve done my whole life. Which is why in my 50s, I’m more focused on what really engages me and what I really want to do, which is cook for people. The way for me to accomplish that AND do everything MY way is to open a restaurant.

The issue is that opening a restaurant is, itself, a winding and circuitous venture where grit is NOT your friend. Had we employed less grit and more pivoting, we’d have bailed on this lease in April rather than dumping $40k more into a partial buildout.

Live and learn, as they say. But managing the urge to stick to a bad plan because of what’s already invested is a VERY bad habit. And it’s one that I do NOT plan to entertain ever again. Nick and I will continue to fight about this, no doubt. His Taurus nature makes him stubborn AF and he never ever wants to give up, no matter the odds.

This book also touches on the problems that we, as a society, are having with specialists, especially in medicine. Anyone who’s had any medical care in the past decade has surely run into the horror show of being ping-ponged from one specialist to another, with NONE of them actually helping. Every Doctor is a hammer and if your illness isn’t THEIR nail, then too bad for you. Specialization has pretty much ruined the medical field in all areas from research to patient care.

I found this book to be an excellent read. The Author has extensive end notes with citations and he has done a really great job presenting this information. I highly recommend this book!