We often think that to become a success in today’s modern world, you have to specialize and specialize early. My guest today makes the case that, actually, the most creative, innovative, and successful people don’t specialize. They’re generalists. 

His name is David Epstein and he’s the author of the book Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World. We begin our conversation discussing two different paths to success as embodied by Tiger Woods and Roger Federer, and why we’re naturally drawn to the former’s specialized approach even though the latter’s generalized approach is in fact the most common way to success. David then explains why our increasingly complex and abstract world requires not only having a depth but a breadth of knowledge, and how our education system hinders us from gaining such. David and I discuss why you shouldn’t expect to know exactly what you’re going to do for your career when you’re young, why you should dabble in lots of different activities when you’re first starting out in life and even when you’re older, and why there’s a correlation between having hobbies and winning the Nobel Prize. We also dig into why intrinsic motivation is often mistaken for grit, why you shouldn’t be afraid to sometimes quit things, and the importance of finding pursuits that fit you if you want to achieve success. We end our conversation, with David’s argument that our increasing specialization is not only stifling individual flourishing, but also getting in the way of scientific advances that would benefit society. 

Show Highlights

  • How a debate with Malcolm Gladwell led to this new book 
  • The differing approaches of Tiger Woods and Roger Federer 
  • Why do we believe in youth specialization in the first place?
  • The domains where early expertise does work
  • Kind vs. wicked learning environments 
  • Why IQ test scores are going up (and why that’s not necessarily an unmitigated good)
  • The correlation between tests/grades and real-world success 
  • Why procedural learning isn’t always best 
  • Classical vs. jazz music, and how those genres are learned 
  • The importance of sampling skills and interests 
  • Why do we overlook the idea of fit?
  • The danger of career selection in one’s teens and early 20s 
  • How David Epstein became Sports Illustrated’s youngest Senior Writer
  • What’s the role of deliberate practice in light of all this?
  • Why you should keep multiple career streams open
  • The important role of serious hobbies 
  • What role does grit play?
  • The broader cultural and scientific effects of downplaying breadth and accentuating specialization 

Resources/People/Articles Mentioned in Podcast

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David’s website

David on Twitter

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The post Podcast #512: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World appeared first on The Art of Manliness.

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