Range: Lessons for Teachers, Parents, Leaders, and Innovators

The quotations hereunder are all taken from Range (How Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World), Published by Riverhead Books (an imprint of Penguin Random House), 2019

Conventional formulae for success usually include some exhortation towards an early depth of specialization. David Epstein subverts this idea in favor of a broader, less specialized approach. On the way, he also has a great deal to say about solving ‘wicked’ problems (those which don’t conform to a predictable pattern), as well as creativity, learning, and even saving lives.

What follows are some quotations from the book which I think parents, teachers, leaders, and innovative people everywhere will find relevant.

‘Range’ is highly recommended, with much, much more to read and ponder, and can be purchased here: Range: David Epstein

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“No tool is omnicompetent. There is no such thing as a master-key that will unlock all doors” (Arnold Toynbee, A Study of History) Range: Epigraph


Eventual elites typically devote less time early on to deliberate practice in the activity in which they will eventually become experts. Instead, they undergo what researchers call a “sampling period”. (Page 7)


… increasing specialization has created a “system of parallel trenches” in the quest for innovation. Everyone is digging deeper into their own trench and rarely standing up to look in the next trench over, even though the solution to their problem happens to reside there. (Page 13)

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The challenge we all face is how to maintain the benefits of breadth, diverse experience, interdisciplinary thinking, and delayed concentration in a world that increasingly incentivizes, even demands, hyperspecialization. (Page 13)


… modern life requires range, making connections across far-flung domains and ideas. (Page 47)


The strict deliberate practice school describes useful training as focussed consciously on error correction. But the most comprehensive examination of development in improvisational forms, by Duke University professor Paul Berliner, described the childhoods of professionals as “öne of osmosis,” not formal instruction. (Page 74)


Improv masters learn like babies: dive in and imitate and improvise first, learn the formal rules later. (Page 75)

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…breadth of training predicts breadth of transfer. That is, the more contexts in which something is learned, the more the learner creates abstract models, and the less they rely on any particular example. Learners become better at applying their knowledge to a situation they’ve never seen before, which is the essence of creativity. (Pages 76-77)


Compared to the Tiger Mother’s tome, a parenting manual oriented toward creative achievement would have to open with a much shorter list of rules. (Page 77)


[On the ‘generation effect’] Struggling to generate an answer on your own, even a wrong one, enhances subsequent learning. Socrates was apparently on to something when he forced pupils to generate answers rather than bestowing them. It requires the learner to intentionally sacrifice current performance for future learning.” (Page 85)


[On the ‘hypercorrection effect’] The more confident a learner is of their wrong answer, the better the information sticks when they subsequently learn the right answer. Tolerating big mistakes can create the best learning opportunities. (Page 86)


Struggling to retrieve information primes the brain for subsequent learning, even when the retrieval itself is unsuccessful. The struggle is real, and really useful. (Page 88)


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[On distributed practice] Space between practice sessions creates the hardness that enhances learning.” (Page 88)


Repetition [is] less important than struggle. (Page 89)


For a given amount of material, learning is most efficient in the long run when it is really inefficient in the short run. If you are doing too well when you test yourself, the simple antidote is to wait longer before practicing the same material again, so that the test will be more difficult when you do. Frustration is not a sign you are not learning, but ease is. (Page 89)


… it is difficult to accept that the best learning road is slow, and that doing poorly now is essential for better performance later. It is so deeply counterintuitive that it fools the learners themselves, both about their own progress and their teacher’s skill. (Page 90)

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The feeling of learning, it turns out, is based on before-your-eyes progress, while deep learning is not. (Page 95)


Knowledge with enduring utility must be very flexible, composed of mental schemes that can be matched to new problems… When a knowledge structure is so flexible that it can be applied effectively even in new domains or extremely novel situations, it is called ”far transfer”. (Page 98)


Exploration is not just a whimsical luxury of education; it is a central benefit. (Page 130)


[On grit and quitting – paraphrasing Seth Godin] Persevering through difficulty is a competitive advantage for any traveler of a long road, but… knowing when to quit is such a big strategic advantage that every single person, before undertaking an endeavor, should enumerate conditions under which they should quit. (Page 136)


Persistence for the sake of persistence can get in the way. (Page 143)


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In wicked domains that lack automatic feedback, experience alone does not improve performance. Effective habits of mind are more important, and they can be developed.” (Page 230)


There are no tools that cannot be dropped, reimagined, or repurposed in order to navigate an unfamiliar challenge. Even the most sacred tools. Even the tools so taken for granted they become invisible. (Page 250)


[Quoting Arturo Casadevall] “Do we really need to go through courses with very specialized knowledge that often provides huge amounts of stuff that is very detailed, very specialized, very arcane, and will be totally forgotten in a couple of weeks? Especially now, when information is on your phone. You have people walking around with all the knowledge of humanity on their phone, but they have no idea how to integrate it. We don’t train people in thinking or reasoning.” (Page 277)









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