Home, Home on the Range: The Advantage of Generalists over Specialists

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A well-schooled generalist will outshine a specialist at a cocktail party, with an ability to thoughtfully contribute to conversations on any topic. But does that skill translate to better problem solving in all disciplines? That was the question David Epstein set out to answer in Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World. And, as advisors, we should be particularly interested in the answer as it pertains to the discipline of investing.

Everybody likes to be told they’re wonderful. I read Epstein’s Range with more than my usual enthusiasm. I’m a generalist, also called a polymath by those who love them and a dilettante by those who disdain them. I wanted to find out how my mile-wide, inch-deep knowledge of so many subjects is useful in life and admirable as a character trait.

What I got was a web of fascinating anecdotes, woven together by the theme I just stated, without a unifying theory or new way of looking at the world — which is what readers of quality popular-science books seek. Range is an easy, fun read. But, having placed itself in the big-think genre with a provocative one-word title alongside Geoffrey West’s Scale, Jared Diamond’s Collapse, and James Gleick’s Chaos, Epstein’s book does not measure up.

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