Range: Why Generalists Triumph In A Specialized World

If you don’t know what you should pursue, who to become, what to learn, then it is better to be a generalist. 

Why? 

Being a generalist exposes you to a whole breadth of topics. Exposure to experiences, skills, topics, environments, knowledge, people etc. will eventually lead you to find your innate skill. 

Exposure leads to discoveries. 

Being a generalist improves your adaptability. You pick up unrelated abilities that lets you adapt to an unpredictable range of situations. 

An adaptable individual can better survive and thrive in a wicked environment, which life is. 

Wicked environment?

There are two types of environments: wicked environments and kind environments. 

Specialists excel in kind environments, or kind environments produce specialists. In a kind environment there is constant feedback and limited variables. 

Life is a wicked environment. There are many variables and broken feedback loops. 

Generalists think better in wicked environments. 

Danger of specialising too early

If you specialise too early, you get stuck in your specialisation. But that’s great, isn’t it? You get a head start and become more knowledgeable than everyone else about a specific topic, a specific skill.

But your chosen specialisation may not match your innate skill. Others who match, will eventually overtake you.

It is better to be a generalist until you find a specialisation that matches your innate skills and interests.  


This post is based on this podcast, where Malcom Gladwell talks with David Epstein about why a broad range of experience in life is actually the best way to find success.

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