Three Take-Aways: Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World

Reading Time: 2 minutes

“Compare yourself to yourself yesterday, not to younger people who aren’t you.  Everyone progresses at a different rate, so don’t let anyone else make you feel behind.”  – Range (pp. 290)

This book was talking my book, and since I agreed with most of what was being said, I liked it. There were some interesting sections on teaching and learning, sports and athletics, and career trajectory.  

The sports one hits pretty close to home right now since our daughter is nine.  It seems like kids are being required to pick a sport very early these days.  I was glad to see some research suggesting that’s really not a good idea to specialize early.  By the way, I sat next to a three time Olympian on the chairlift the other day, and she told me the same thing.

The book also had a lot of overlap with a couple of my other recent reads – Superforecasting and Principles.  It even referenced Young Men and Fire (pp. 245) – a book by Norman Maclean (of A River Runs Through It fame) which has stuck with me since I read it a few years ago.

Three take-aways from the book:

  1. Learning Should Be Hard

“Desirable difficulties like making connections and interleaving make knowledge flexible, useful for problems that never appeared in training.” (pp. 96)

“All forces align to incentivize a head start and early, narrow specialization, even if that is a poor long-term strategy.” (pp. 119)

If learning is easy, then you are probably doing it wrong.  Or learning in a way that will help you utilize that knowledge in the future.  Learning should be somewhat difficult.  Early wins might be a bad sign.  

  1. It’s Not People vs. Computers, It is People + Computers

“But the centaur lesson remains:  the more a task shifts to an open world of big picture strategy, the more humans have to add.” (pp. 29)

“Our greatest strength is the exact opposite of narrow specialization.  It is the ability to integrate broadly.”

As the world becomes more digital, you should think about where people spend their time and where computers spend their time.  Each is a tool.  And like every tool, it has its strengths and weaknesses.  This felt extremely applicable to both individual careers choices as well as managing people, processes, and companies.

  1.  Identify & Solve Problems

“Like Kranz, Von Braun went looking for problems, hunches, and bad news.  He even rewarded those who exposed problems.” (pp. 259)

“…successful problem solvers are more able to determine the deep structure of a problem before they proceed to match a strategy to it.” (pp. 115)

This one had a lot of overlap to Principles.  Solving problems is one of my best strengths or at least that is what I tell people in interviews.  And it seems like a good area to focus on going forward, as it is a place where people add a lot of value vs. automation.  In order to creatively solve problems, you need broad perspective.  

A few other recent book reviews:

  1. Principles
  2. That Wild Country
  3. Superforecasting: The Art and Science of Prediction
  4. Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less
  5. Fortune’s Formula