Range - David Epstein

ByEnrique Kessler Martínez|
April 18, 2021
934 words
4 minutes

Range is one of the latest books by David Epstein, who is commonly known by giving TED talks about performance science and most recently psychology and specialization in today's world.

We have been taught by our celebrity seeking society that success comes from people that start out very early in their specialization topic of choice, and through deliberate practice —a.k.a 10k hours of practice— they reach mastery and are able to live out of it.

In this other amazing book: Early Retirement Extreme, Jacob Lund explains the concept of mastery, creating a series of stages which are some of the stages we go through in order to understand, incorporate and produce information about a certain topic.

After years of research, we know that these cases are the extreme. Most people that reach a certain level of "success" —What is success anyway? In my book success is fulfillment by having the inner need of doing things right, according to your values and the societal measures that you have been breeding over the years— have done so by changing their path multiple times, benefiting from the switching process. These people —again, the majority— are called the Generalists.

Learning environments

When learning, having a supporting environment is key. We can classify these in kind and wicked environments. The first are the ones on which most of the celebrity performers thrive, as they are the ones that can benefit from hours of practice. Some examples are chess, golf and more.

On the other side, wicked environments are the ones that no longer benefit from experience, hence drawing on the big picture that humans are able to bring to the topics. A.I is able to infer tactics for kind environments, and they are already good enough to beat humans at it. In order to beat the computer, our best bet is outsource tactics —strategies inferred after years of experience— while focusing on the big picture, which is contrary to specializing.


Considering both learning environments, the Education topic had to come up. In our modern Education System, there are two types of professors. The professors that have a predisposition to give the students everything already prepared for them to study, and the professors that focus on problems that make the students think and learn on their own. The former are the ones that receive better reviews on the yearly polls, but guess which is better for long term learning?

By creating a wicked learning environment, the latter are able to ensure that the students create the connections necessary to long term learning and memory. These making connection problems could also be called "Fermi Problems". An example of these Fermi problems (see Enrico Fermi, he is a pretty cool guy) could be:

How many windows get cleaned each day in New York?

The idea is that using some of the common knowledge information, i.e the number of people per house, or average windows per house or apartment, get an answer that gives an insight on our broader thinking.

Analogical thinking

Kepler has been famous to have thought about problems, both common and complex in the same way: through analogies. Analogies can spark new connections that we may benefit from when thinking about a problem.

Our brains are powerful enough to withhold information, in order to avoid overcrowding our thoughts —our mental bandwidth. Through analogical thinking, our brain is able to seek patterns in the same trains of thought, hence helping the problems.

Yes, striving to accomplish a single overarching goal means you have grit, determination and resilience. But the ability to pull yourself together mentally and physically in competition is different from the new challenges that await you. So after you retire, travel, write a poem, try to start your own business, stay out a little too late, devote the time to something that doesn't have a clear end goal.

Foxes and Hedgehogs

According to David, there are two types of personalities, specially in the information world.

Hedgehogs are people that are usually well versed in their space of expertise, and have long years in the field. Instead of being able to rethink their views —through active open mindedness—, they are prone to sticking to their time funded opinions.

Foxes on the other side, focus on facts for different themes, NOT opinions. They are able to differentiate the time where their views are not totally correct, and adapt to the situation and their current passions. Contrary to hedgehogs, even though they may or may not have the sufficient knowledge to cherry pick details to support their theory, they are comfortable with change, not being tied to their work as their identity.

Tech industry

The current trend of interesting Tech Companies is to propose a certain culture check in order to be able to work for the company, "just to check" whether you are worthy employee.

Even though we are fed that these types of hiring processes are what sets apart good from bad employees, evidence shows the contrary. Cultural values, principles, are taught to be proportional to individual success, but it is not necessarily true.

There was a recent study that showed that managers benefited from identifying the major cultural mode that the organization —or team— was on and pushing backwards based on fake Harvard Study. This creates a movement of in-congruence, that keeps people on their feet, while benefiting from the shift of cultural processes and rethinking.

Building in crosschecks balances the risks of Mindless Conformity and Reckless Deviation.



I ended up enjoying the book —I find the topic to be mesmerizing— but I did find it to be cumbersome to get through. Even though David succeeds at effectively summarizing the information, there are countless pages are not really that interesting.

On the other hand, the topic of the book is one that we can benefit from these days, considering the push for specialization that we are seeing in the industry world. Maybe it is not a bad book to keep your mind fresh on the topic, to avoid falling on the pitfalls he mentions.

"I would recommend score": 6/10.