Have you ever wondered how professional athletes, academics, researchers or artists get so good?
Malcolm Gladwell taught us you need to practice 10,000 hours to be an expert at anything in this world. Maybe that number is right. Perhaps it’s not. What do you think?
In the new book “Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World,” David Epstein goes one step beyond Gladwell and argues that embracing range is better than specializing in one thing. While we need specialists in this world, the path to excellence is molded through exposure to a range of diverse ideas and varied experiences.
Epstein makes his point by telling us the stories of Tiger Woods and Roger Federer. Tiger Woods grew up playing golf and nothing else, which made him a champion, but also made him a little weird and obsessive. Roger Federer grew up playing numerous sports and honed his hand-eye coordination by also playing badminton and basketball. Both are champions and GOATs. Both fought off injuries and returned to some level of domination. But Federer is unmatched in his versatility and style of play.
“Federer’s versatility has been described by Jimmy Connors as: “In an era of specialists, you’re either a clay court specialist, a grass court specialist, or a hard court specialist… or you’re Roger Federer.” *
Another example of someone successful with a huge range is Yo-Yo Ma. Everybody knows him as a cellist, but, back in the day, he tried his hand at the piano, viola, and violin. While I’m sure he practiced 10,000 hours on the cello, David Epsteins’ book has convinced me that Yo-Yo Ma’s early exposure to other instruments helped him to develop the depth and complexity of his performance style.
Why Should HR Professionals Read Range?
The war for talent means that we make a lot of assumptions about people that aren’t correct. It’s easy to be lulled into thinking that the most effective job candidates are the ones with a singular, clear path. David Epstein argues that sometimes hiring a candidate with a generalized background can be more effective than hiring a so-called specialist.
In our industry, I think HR professionals who have exposure to employee relations, recruiting, compensation, talent management, benefits, and university—along with a working knowledge of financial concepts, marketing, and even a passion for IT—make the best CHROs. Don’t give me someone who knows one thing and ask her to help motivate a team to achieve big goals. Give me someone who appreciates the entire scope of HR, and I’ll show you someone ready to lead.
If you’re interested in a book that’s a quick read and will help you think about talent and performance differently, pick up a copy of “Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World.” And, bonus points for parents, you don’t have to enroll your kid in one sport from the day she’s born. Give her time to play and experiment when she’s young, and you’ll help her developing the building blocks for a successful life when she’s older.