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Range: A new perspective

I am currently reading the book Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World by David Epstein. The book argues that having a broad range of knowledge and skills is more valuable than deep specialization in one area. This is because generalists are better able to think conceptually and solve problems in new and unexpected ways.

I find this argument to be particularly relevant to my own situation, as I am about to enter my sophomore year of college. In college, students are often encouraged to specialize in one particular area of study; however, I believe that it is important to maintain a broad range of interests and knowledge. Especially as the world is becoming increasingly complex, we need to possess the ability to adapt to change. I feel like my generation has been instructed to find one interest and be really good at it. For example, if one was a finance major, they might join a finance club, only take finance classes, and also filter the news to finance-related topics only. That person would overload on their chosen specialty so that they can succeed solely in finance. But the problem with specialization is that a person is technically only succeeding in one aspect of life which I think means they aren’t succeeding at all. This is because one person can be well versed on financial topics but lack the other skills that can make someone truly succeed. For example, in order to be successful in the long run, a person who specializes in finance would also need to understand the broader economic landscape, psychological relationships with customers and employees, the political climate, and the environmental impacts of financial decisions. My point is, no matter what career you choose, isolating yourself from other topics will only prove harmful. 

There’s a specific quote in this book that sparked this epiphany: “[We] must be taught to think before being taught what to think about.” In this example, “thinking” refers to conceptual or analytical thinking. Most people have heard of the term “book smart” which can explain someone who is intellectually educated. Thinking doesn’t have to be learned in an academic setting; instead, we must be able to think analytically and contemplate ideas without relying on learned patterns or facts in books. Because as times change, the way we think will too. School education is great when we pair it with our own human curiosity. The problem arises when we forget about the power of common sense and make it inferior. Someone who is “book smart” is often praised; however, they may all of a sudden be rendered “useless” in a few years if AI takes over their specialty. This stresses the importance of general knowledge, as versatility provides opportunity. Thinking needs to happen naturally and not only in academic or career settings in order for humans to wonder and become inspired. 

While specialization may be needed in certain careers, it is not the only option. Instead, we can choose to be really good at something. And also good at something else too. As silly as this sounds, having knowledge of multiple topics is possible. Now I’m not suggesting to be an expert on a large range of topics; however, I can see the power of holding knowledge in multiple facets of life. While the quote “quality over quantity” is something I’ve always valued, I’m beginning to realize that this advice won’t help me out in the workplace. As the book Range explains, we don’t live a life with rules or a playbook, so learning patterns and becoming an expert on one topic won’t help us when the world starts to change. “Range is a life hack” (Epstein). 

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