Book Cover - Book Review: Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World

A world with more generalists like Roger Federer and less specialists like Tiger Woods.

The subject of expertise attracts much attention and numerous books and articles are published on the subject every year. My reference on the subject is Peak, written by leading researcher Anders Ericsson, famous for what Malcolm Gladwell had regrettably named the 10,000 hour rule.

Deliberate practice was revealing but may lead to the conclusion that early specializers have a huge advantage when it comes to reaching expertise. That was what I thought before reading Range.

In this hyper-specialized world where becoming an expert takes more and more time, a few continue to value range. These late specialists use the power of breaths, diverse experience, and lateral thinking to succeed where hyperspecialization cannot. Roger Federer is the most illuminating example. Federer started playing at the age of 8 and credits his hand-eye coordination to the wide range of sports he played as a child, including badminton and basketball.

The book is full of stories, developed at some length to conclude each chapter with a new insight leading to a new question answered by the following chapter. Range is very different from other books like Peak or Mindset (my new trio to demystify expertise). David Epstein is a journalist, and he did a remarkable research work to assemble this compelling collection of anecdotes. In the end, main ideas can obviously be reduced to a few pages, but I loved being challenged with new ideas told as stories.

As a developer, I think we have a lot to learn from this book. Several decades ago, the first hackers demonstrated range, whereas today, specialization is more and more omnipresent among programmers – Frontend/Backend/Full Stack developer, DevOps engineer, Automation engineer – how to create a large impact when your attention keeps on shrinking.

I loved this book and I’m so glad to have read it to challenge earlier hyperspecialization as the only path to expertise. That’s not the end of deliberate practice. But success must not depend only on our ability to learn quickly and easily. And career change must not be wasted. Enter Range.

About the author

Julien Sobczak works as a software developer for Scaleway, a French cloud provider. He is a passionate reader who likes to see the world differently, to better understand the extent of his ignorance. His main areas of interest are productivity (doing less and better), human potential, and everything that contributes in being a better person (and a better developer).

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