Book Review: Range

What is the most effective path to success in life? It may not be what you think.

If you want to develop a skill, should you become a specialist? Should you devote enormous amounts of time and energy to that one competence? Or are you better off being a generalist? Someone that is good at a wider spectrum of skills.

Best-selling author David Epstein examines this question in his most recent book Range. Epstein is also the author of the New York Times bestseller, The Sports Gene and was previously a senior writer for Sports Illustrated.

In Range, Epstein examines many of the world’s most successful athletes, artists, inventors, and scientists. He discovers that in most fields, especially those that are complex and unpredictable, generalists are more likely than specialists to become most successful.

My favorite example of this comparison is golfer Tiger Woods and tennis great Roger Federer. Tiger Woods first learned to play golf before he was two years old. He was a specialist as he concentrated throughout his entire youth on becoming a world-class golfer. As a professional, Tiger was very successful and won many championships. Roger Federer, on the other hand, played a variety of different sports as a child. It wasn’t until he was in his teens that he decided to concentrate on playing tennis. Federer also grew up to be a champion athlete. Which path, specialization or generalist, is the best?

How does this apply to small business, you may wonder? One of the first decisions that small business owners must make is whether to specialize in selling one particular product or service, or to be more of a generalist selling a variety of products. The answer of course depends on many factors.

The small business owner must also decide if he or she will be a specialist in terms of their role within the business, or become more of a generalist. It has been my experience that many small business owners start off as generalists in their businesses, as they must take on a variety of different roles (CFO, CMO, COO, etc) early on. As the business grows, the owner then typically settles into one or two areas of the business that they are most competent in and hire personnel with specific expertise related to other positions.

I enjoyed reading this book and highly recommend it.