20 in 2020: Range by David Epstein

Range-Header20 books worth talking about (in Rich Gassen’s opinion)

I read a lot. I didn’t use to; it really started as I completed a degree five years ago at the age of 45 and then filled my study time with practical things like professional development and reading. I usually have two or three books going at once, sometimes more.

I am a supervisor at UW-Madison’s Digital Publishing and Printing Services, and also the chair of a community of practice on the UW campus called Campus Supervisors Network. Because of these two commitments, I research and read about leadership more than I had in the past.

Anyway, 2019 had me inside several great books about productivity, managing staff, self-improvement and more. I felt it was time to share some of them with you!

My first mention is of a book called RANGE by David Epstein.

rangeABOUT THE BOOK (from Epstein’s website)

What’s the most effective path to success in any domain? It’s not what you think.

Plenty of experts argue that anyone who wants to develop a skill, play an instrument, or lead their field should start early, focus intensely, and rack up as many hours of deliberate practice as possible. If you dabble or delay, you’ll never catch up to the people who got a head start. But a closer look at research on the world’s top performers, from professional athletes to Nobel laureates, shows that early specialization is the exception, not the rule.

David Epstein examined the world’s most successful athletes, artists, musicians, inventors, forecasters and scientists. He discovered that in most fields—especially those that are complex and unpredictable—generalists, not specialists, are primed to excel. Generalists often find their path late, and they juggle many interests rather than focusing on one. They’re also more creative, more agile, and able to make connections their more specialized peers can’t see.

Provocative, rigorous, and engrossing, Range makes a compelling case for actively cultivating inefficiency. Failing a test is the best way to learn. Frequent quitters end up with the most fulfilling careers. The most impactful inventors cross domains rather than deepening their knowledge in a single area. As experts silo themselves further while computers master more of the skills once reserved for highly focused humans, people who think broadly and embrace diverse experiences and perspectives will increasingly thrive.


I was intrigued by this concept, and drawn to read Range.

My career, while mostly in the field of graphic design and prepress, has taken me on many different side ventures over time. I have moved into variable data printing and the data management associated with that area of print, photography to support my design and for my own pleasure, and much more. I’ve learned web development and web design, complements to graphic design these days, and along with building web sites at the UW and in my freelance career, I started a community of practice around using WordPress on campus for others to share information with their peers.

As a small business owner, I learned about marketing techniques to market my business as well as help others communicate their message effectively. I have used that knowledge more recently to advertise the Campus Supervisors Network events I facilitate. Because of CSN, I started doing presentations, group facilitation, and event planning on a regular basis. I run book clubs with managers to learn together about topics. Again, totally outside of the range of prepress work.

In management, I have explored all different facets of leading others from vulnerability and empathy to recognition and appreciation. I’ve read and spoke to groups about intrinsic motivation, doing less to achieve more, being brave, building better habits, and being transparent. We’ll talk about all of those topics in another article, but the breadth and range that I have taken regarding printing and leading others have helped me be more well-rounded as an individual. I get involved in different things that interest me and I find them helping me in other areas of my work or personal life to solve other problems all the time.

Epstein covers this quite well, and also the idea that specialists are not always looking wide enough at a problem to come across the solution. He references situations where people from completely different fields provide answers to complex challenges in medicine, science, music, sports, space travel and more. While there is value in striving for mastery in a specific area, keeping an open mindset and exploring other ideas is not only helpful but crucial, in Epstein’s opinion, to succeed. With few exceptions which he points out, the range you have is key.

I even see this in the production area I oversee at the print shop: those who are intrigued by other areas of our shop, or other equipment they can learn, tend to excel in their own area of specialty more. Knowledge of the whole process and being more well-rounded not only makes you more of an asset to the organization, but it can keep your interest levels higher, make you more productive in your own area, and more empathetic toward your peers and teammates. For this reason, I have promoted the idea of cross training and shadowing while I have been a manager, and have seen great results from this initiative.

Here is a TED talk from David about this topic.

I hope you found this short review helpful and I would love to hear what you think of the book! Check out David’s bio for a lot more on him and the idea of RANGE. I’ll be posting more book suggestions soon.

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