David Epstein is a world-renowned author, creator, and speaker. He wrote the #1 New York Times best seller ‘Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World‘, and ‘The Sports Gene‘, both of which have been translated in more than 20 languages.
With a background in science reporting and investigative journalism, Epstein has authored articles for publications such as Sports Illustrated, ProPublica and The Atlantic. His work covers topics such as the science of performance, genetics, health and disability.
David recently sat down with me to discuss his book, ‘Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World’, and how the findings within can be applied to creative work. Here’s what we talked about.
10,000 Hours to Mastery Is Flawed
We’ve all heard it in TED Talks and read it on motivational posters before, but the notion that it takes 10,000 hours to become a master at something may not be entirely true.
David points out that the original study responsible for inspiring it had some pretty gaping flaws.
Conducted in the early nineties, the research was conducted on 30 violinists who were already pre-screened as world-class talents. The 10 best had each spent an average of 10,000 hours in so-called deliberate practice, meaning effortful and focused training, by age 20.
Reading the details for himself, David noted some problems that could skew the study’s results. The first and most obvious is restriction of range, which refers to the fact that the study only looked at people who had already made it to a certain level of success. That means we don’t know if the 10,000 hours made them more successful or if they would have gotten there regardless.
He also referenced his own personal experience as a college runner. As a member of his team’s 800 meter roster, David was part of a team of men who engaged in the same, exact training, every single day. But despite what might be considered the logical outcome, he noticed that the performance differences between his teammates actually exasperated over time. Some people became better than others, despite spending the same amount of time working out.
The conclusion David drew from this was that it’s not just the amount of time we spend practicing something, it’s how effectively that practice is used. This can vary greatly from person to person, and the only way to really get better is to figure out what works for you and then do it over and over again.
Many pieces of research like the original 10,000 hours study fail to account for the differences in how people learn and practice. They obscure the real story about individual variability and skill building, making it seem as though success is a one-size-fits-all kind of endeavor.
But the truth is, it’s not. We all have different paths to success, and the only way to get there is to experiment, adjust and improve. It’s a process of continual learning and refinement that takes many forms, not just hours spent in deliberate practice. 10,000 hours might get you there eventually, sure. But it won’t guarantee it—and it doesn’t mean it’s the only way.
Specialist vs Generalist
When it comes to career strategies, there are two main ways of going about it. The first is to become a specialist, someone who focuses on a particular skill or area of expertise and really hones it down to an art. The second way is to become a generalist, someone who has an assortment of skills and knowledge, only in a less-intensive and more broad-based way.
The difference between the two is a concept David has been fascinated with for years, having originally read about research examining the importance of early specialized training for developing athletes. That specific study had posited that while elite athletes do spend more time in deliberate practice, they spent less of their early deliberate practice on the sport in which they would eventually become elite.
This allowed them to gain a broader set of general skills and learn their own interests and abilities before ultimately deciding to specialize in something later on.
David became deeply interested in this trade-off and began discussing the problem with a friend. They began to realize that the same trade-off is often seen in other areas of life, such as education and even career choices.
Ultimately, the conclusion David came to is that specialization and generalization can both be equally effective in achieving mastery, but is dependent on the discipline at hand. He found that repetitive work – stuff that’s predictable and unchanging over time, is best tackled through specialization and focused training. That explains why masters at chess or coding can excel so quickly, because those tasks are relatively easy to automate and become experts in.
On the other hand, when it comes to creative fields and problem-solving – those that require a wider range of knowledge and an ability to think outside the box – generalists often have the upper hand. This is because those tasks require more creative approaches, and usually involve a broader understanding of different disciplines.
These findings ended up culminating in a book and a TEDx talk David gave soon after, where he discussed the implications of this kind of research on careers and life in general.
Go Deep, But Expand at the Same Time
Further in our discussion, David and I touched on the relevance his research has for creators, who operate in one of the most fluid environments of all time.
What we ended up concluding was that one of the most important things for creators is to go deep into their craft, but also expand outwards at the same time. That is, to specialize in a particular area of expertise and then explore other areas too.
With technology constantly changing, what passes as a viable job today may very well be obsolete tomorrow. Remaining open to exploration and learning peripheral skills can give creators the ability to pivot and stay relevant in the ever-changing landscape.
‘Pick and Stick’ Is No Longer the Only Option
A lot of us have parents who’ve ‘known’ exactly what career we’re destined for since birth – maybe a doctor, scientist, or accountant. They pressure us to go into this area of work despite our interests for other passions, maintaining that it’s the only acceptable type of job you can have.
Both David and I believe that there’s a massive misconception here. Not only is this way of thinking limited, but it’s also outdated in regards to today’s reality. There are countless new, exciting, and in some cases more profitable, jobs out there that our parents simply don’t recognize. Sure, graduating with several degrees and moving onto work in finance until 65 was the best way to get ahead in their time, but now, things have changed.
Nowadays, it’s more advantageous to widen your horizons and explore different avenues of work. Following a single career path until retirement is no longer the only option, and even if you do fall into something by chance and it ends up becoming your life’s work, that doesn’t mean you can’t hop onto different interests and explore more exciting opportunities.
The key to bridging this generational divide, David says, is translating your passion into the value that mom and dad are looking for. So, they want you to become a doctor – what that really means is that they want you to choose a career that requires hard work, dedication, smart thinking, professional development, and service. These essential qualities are true across many industries, not just the medical field.
Overall, the conversation with David was incredibly eye-opening and inspiring. His research has shed light on a whole new way of approaching work and life, one that involves getting deep into your craft, but also broadening your horizons to explore other areas.
Listen to the Podcast
David Epstein: One of the questions I got from someone was, she said, "I'm from a culture where parents really want you to specialize very early. And I have this debate with my parents." She's like, "They just want me to be a doctor." And I sort of said, I think you can maintain the values. What I think they're saying is they want you to be smart, they want you to work hard, they want you to think about your future. They want you to develop as a person personally and professionally. And the specifics of the career advice doesn't fit the time anymore. But I think you can connect with your parents about the underlying values of that, which is hard work, continual growth, thinking about your long-term prospects and all those sorts of things.
Chase Jarvis:That bit of brilliance was from David Epstein. David is the number one New York Times bestselling author of the book Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World. This episode will explore career development, peak performance, how to live your very best life. If you're interested in any of these things, follow this episode. Yours Truly and David Epstein.
David Epstein, welcome to the show. Thanks for being a guest.
David Epstein: My pleasure. Thanks for having me.
Chase Jarvis: We are, as we, the audience here who are listeners and watchers are very excited. This has been a long time coming and your work is so spot on for this community that I'm going to handcuff you to your chair and keep you here for six days because we got a lot of ground to cover. Justing aside, I'm hoping that as a kickoff, you can help us understand a little bit about you and your work for those handful of folks who might not be familiar with it. Tell us a little bit about yourself.
David Epstein: Yeah, so I'm, broadly speaking, a science writer and investigative reporter. In my past life, I was training to be a scientist. So I was living in a tent in the Arctic studying climate and soon thereafter was the science writer Sports Illustrated, natural career transition there. And so at SI, focused on science issues and that could range from drugs to human performance and science of pain, which led to a book called The Sports Gene on genetics and athleticism, and how sort of people can tailor training to get the best results. And left SI after that, did kind of a variety of reporting and led in some ways to my second book Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World. That's about the benefits of a broad toolbox and broad experiences. And both of those books took on lives beyond what I expected. So turns out there are a lot more performance nerds out there than I realized. Thankfully for both of us I think.
Chase Jarvis: Yeah. Well, you're talking to one and there's an audience of a hundred thousand or so listeners that would I think categorize themselves in that and either the interested in performance, peak performance or the best version of themselves. And I think a reasonable place for us to start to excavate the work and that little opening salvo there is around, let's go early work and performance. It seems to me just having watched interviews and read your material that one of those universes, the performance one actually led to another one, but that could be me ascribing that just based on some connection that I read on the internet. But I'm wondering, did your study of human performance actually help you then write a second book around the relationship between someone who's a generalist and someone who goes very, very deep?
David Epstein: Absolutely. In many ways, even my projects that seem unlinked are linked by some fundamental question. And the first book again, The Sports Gene was really in many ways driven by a list of questions that had been growing in my head from my own participation as an athlete. So I was a college 800 meter runner and played football, basketball and baseball in high school, and my own questions from watching sports. So the first chapter of The Sports Gene is about why the best major league baseball hitters can't hit softball pitchers. And I said, I would see that on TV and say, "That doesn't make sense to me."
Chase Jarvis: I think, that is hilarious, by the way. It's so funny watching them hit this big slow or even just a screamer, they can't hit them.
David Epstein: Yeah. And it turns out it has to do with how you build perceptual expertise and they don't have the right perceptual expertise to understand those body movements, to know what's coming. And other things, like when I was training in college as an 800-meter runner, I'm living, eating, doing everything with a group of guys. We're doing the same exact training and in some cases we were getting more different, not more the same, from doing the same training. And so I started to say, "Well, that's strange." And so it was just all these questions about how people get good at things and what can I learn from that. And in the course of doing that, I ended up reading a lot of the so-called 10,000 hours literature and stop me if I'm going to too much background here, but the original 10,000 hours study was from the early 90s and it was on 30 violinists who were already so highly pre-screened that they were at a world-class music academy and the 10 best had spent about 10,000 hours in so-called deliberate practice. That's effortful focus practice on average by age 20.
And when I'm looking at this study, I'm saying, "I have a strong science background." It's like, "There's some problems here." The first of which is what's called a restriction of range where the scientists selected their subjects based on people who are already good at something. And so that can cause real problems for your conclusions. If you did that.... I did this in my first book, I looked at the correlation between height and points scored in the NBA. There's a very high positive correlation between height among males in America and points scored in the NBA. But if you restrict the range of the study to only people already in the NBA, the correlation becomes negative because guards score more points. So if you didn't know what you were talking about, you do that study and tell parents to have shorter children so they could score more points in the NBA.
So you can really mess up the results. So it means you can't necessarily extrapolate to people at different levels. That was a problem. But the other thing that caught my eye was there was no measure of variance, so to speak, around the 10,000 hours. It didn't say this is an average. It didn't say, did some people do 20,000 and some 0? And so I started asking these researchers, "How different is this for different people?" And they didn't really have sufficient answers. Eventually they said, "Well, big difference." Some people practiced way more and some people practiced way less. Some people at the highest level spent less time practicing than people at the lower levels. So by taking this average, they had obscured the real story about individual variability and skill building. So I started looking through all this literature. Like chess is a big area of research and expertise building, and it took 11,053 hours on average for people to reach international Master status. That's one down from Grand Master.
But some people had made it in 3,000 hours and some people were being tracked at 25,000 hours and they still hadn't made it. So you could have an 11,053-hour rule but didn't really tell you much about the reality of human skill acquisition. So I started writing about some of these issues in my book and that very quickly when it came out, I was thinking this was just my side project, but again, learned that they're a lot more performance nerds. And I say that in a very loving way, identifying as one. It brought me into, I got invited to a debate at the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference with Malcolm Gladwell to talk about this stuff in athletic development. And he's a very clever guy and I'd never met him, never talked to him, and I didn't want to get embarrassed.
So I started reading his work and seeing that he argued how important headstart in deliberate practice was for developing athletes. And I went and looked at the research and saw that elite athletes do spend more time in deliberate practice, but that when scientists actually followed them across their development path, they spent less time early on in deliberate practice in the sport in which they would eventually become elite. They had a sampling period where they did a variety of activities, some of those in lightly structured environments where they were more sort of driving the activity themselves rather than a coach. They gained these broader general skills, physical literacy, so-called that scaffold later technical knowledge. They learn about their own interests and abilities and delay specializing until later than peers who plateau at lower levels. And so at the debate, I brought this up and when we're coming off stage to his credit, he says, "That doesn't fit with what I've been thinking and saying." We had both been national level runners, we were in Boston.
He said, "We'll both be back in New York tomorrow. You want to run and talk more about this?" And so long story short, this thing that we called the Roger versus Tiger problem, like Tiger, very early specializer, Roger, early sampler, Roger Federer. We started talking about while we were running together. And so every weekend we'd run together and pretty soon we started saying, "Well, what about music? Well, what about technological patenting? What about all these other areas? What's the pattern of development for people that go to expertise? Is it early specialization or not?" And so in many ways, the first book led to this debate with Malcolm Gladwell, which led to our discussions on runs. And so I was doing homework to prepare for our conversations on runs and just got so enthralled by this topic of the trade-offs between early specialization and generalization. And that became the second book, that was the super long version. But again, thinking for a performance nerd audience, I feel like maybe that's...
Chase Jarvis: Oh, this is why we're here, who can't get enough. And I'm wondering just to capture the hearts and minds of our listeners, is this you focused on sports? I confessed in our conversation before we started recording that I'm a athletic nerd, longtime athlete, identify as an athlete. I've played sports at a high level. And so this is all very native to me, but I'm wondering if for the sake of expanding the bullseye for our listeners, did you find these things to be true outside of sports as well?
David Epstein: Absolutely. I mean, that's what essentially led to the book. I saw... If it had only been in sports, I think it would've been interesting and I would've written an article. But what really compelled me to do the book project was this question again that sort of got set up on these runs with Malcolm where it was, "Okay, this Roger versus Tiger... There's many, huge individual variability in how people make it to expertise. But the typical pattern is this early sampling, broader base and delayed specialization. Is that an analogy to other fields or not?"
And the answer was, in most cases it is in other fields. And that's what kind of led me to do the book. And it led to this kind of fundamental question of, there are these two famous groups of researchers that were studying expertise, the sort of one that's more like the 10,000-hour school and one that was quite different. And one of my questions was, why are some of these people finding that this earlier specialization works in some areas? Like in chess, you actually do have to, there's huge individual variability, but if you haven't started studying these patterns that you have to memorize by around age 12, your chance of reaching international Master status drops from 1 in 4 to 1 in 55. So you do want to specialize early. Golf, I think, there's an argument to be made also there that early specialization works, but I think it's a little unclear.
The problem is we extrapolate those stories, like golf and chess stories are at the heart of a half dozen 10,000 hours bestselling books. And the problem is golf turns out to be almost a uniquely horrible model of almost everything else that humans want to learn. It is. It's the epitome of what psychologist Robin Hogarth called a kind learning environment, meaning next steps and goals are clear, rules never change, patterns repeat, not a lot of human behavior involved, feedback is quick and accurate, work next year will look like work last year. On the other end of the spectrum, and that's chess also based on this pattern recognition.
Chase Jarvis: Yeah, totally.
David Epstein: Also, why it's relatively so easy to automate. So if you're in areas that are really amenable to that approach, you may not want to be there that much longer. In the wicked learning environment is the other end of the spectrum where next steps and goals may not just be given to you all the time. Rules may change, patterns don't just repeat, lots of human behavior involved, situations are dynamic, feedback could be delayed or inaccurate, work next year may not look like we're last year. And what I saw in the research literature was that the more wicked the domain, the more drawbacks there are to narrow specialization like something called the so-called Einstellung effect, which means people solve a problem a certain way over time to repetition and they will keep using that solution even when the problem has changed.
So they become rigid and inflexible and in these more wicked domains where you have to adapt and make dynamic decisions and do what psychologists call transfer, which is using your skills and knowledge and applying them to new problems, that's where having this broad base, this whole toolbox full of strategies that you can use and experiences pays off the most. So in many ways sports was the least of it and just ended up serving as an analogy for other fields from how people learn math to technological innovation.
Chase Jarvis: Well, if we're talking about wicked, I think the fields of creativity, of innovation, of the audience that is listening and watching the show, this is the most wicked environment of all time. The ability to stand out amongst your peers and to create something unique and valuable, whether that's a piece of art or a piece of technology, the people that would identify as creators and listeners and watchers of show, that is where our audience lives. So I'm going to tell a little story on my end here.
Year and a half ago, Chase is reading Range, I think it came out in April. And I'm like, "Got to have David on the show. Got to talk about this." Because I had a hypothesis at the time and I still believe it to be true, and I'm hoping to throw this out on the table and you can chop it up in little bits and tell me where I'm right and wrong based on your opinions that are obviously largely informed by your scientific aptitude and your experience in the field.
Okay, so here's my hypothesis that being a generalist in the creative, the entrepreneurial universe, because to use your word, it is wicked. The range is off the charts of what you need to do with the fact that practice yesterday doesn't look like practice tomorrow at all. It's always changing. The goalposts are moving, the techniques are evolving, technology's being introduced that basically it is hyper volatile, I would say. And yet, the people, and also I'll put a pin in that for a second and say, my background is as a photographer and a filmmaker and I came from sports, specifically action sports initially and then branched out.
So I've had the privilege of working with Federer and Serena and many of the world's very, very top athletes across every different discipline. So having put myself in that space as a young soccer player and then living amongst these people professionally and having many of these friends become, or people become my friends, getting to see the difference between someone who truly is the best in the world is very captivating and seductive. But it also gave me a chance to dissect a little bit.
And what I hypothesize, this is we're getting to the punchline here, is that being broad and having the ability to apply what you know in a bunch of different ways is the valuable skill. However, you can really only maximize your ability to be good at lots of things after you've become excellent at one, at least one thing. So the way I talk about it in short form is to become a master in one thing unlocks basically the ability to be really, really good at lots of different things because you understand what mastery looks like, what it smells like, the geography, the topography of mastery. So that's my hypothesis.
Now do a David Epstein on that. Chop it up and tell me if I'm right or wrong or how you would augment that theory?
David Epstein: No, I think there's a lot of wisdom there and a lot of nuance. And I think there's also a fundamental semantic tension that you're getting at, which is what the hell is a generalist anyway? And in looking at, and that's a challenging question itself. So when I would go through research that those definitions are operationalized differently depending on the area of research. So in research about comic book creators, it's how many different genres have they worked in? And in research on tech patenting, it's how many different classes of technology have they worked in as classified by the patent office?
So there's no sort of singular definition of broader narrow. But I think, let me touch on a few things that I think are wise about what you said. One, in the book, I cite this study done in the UK that followed performers in sports and music and a few other areas, but primarily what they were looking at was why do some people who are a great athlete or the first violin in a major symphony, why are some of those people then successful when they go on to become say the CEO of the symphony or a great surgeon who becomes the CEO of the hospital or an athlete who becomes a manager or coach and others are total disasters?
What's the difference? And the difference there was that those people who made the transition, they did have that area of deep expertise, but as the author of this work described, he said they also saw their career as an eight-lane highway instead of a one-way road. They would expand their contacts and other interests and sort of dabble in other interests along the way and accumulate different interests and experiences and contacts even as they were going deep in their area. And that gave them this tremendous amount of power to see what they do could fit into all these areas, what other areas they could benefit from that maybe somebody that had a little more tunnel vision in their area couldn't see. And so I think you're describing the type of person that was described in this research who has this very deep area and then they are able to explode it by also having this sort of broader view of things of all the places where that skill they've developed can fit, other places they can benefit from and those and those sorts of things.
And in that research, at least, it suggested that sort of a career long process of cultivating that view of other places where it can fit. But they were certainly benefiting from having this deep area of expertise. And if I think about... To take us, I think it's useful to talk in specific examples. So one company I find very interesting is 3M in Minnesota, and I didn't find this company but I'll tell you why I found them interesting is I was reading World Innovation Rankings where companies rank their peers. And I recognize the ones that are in the top five year after year, I would recognize Apple, Google, they're names you know. And then there'd be 3M and I'd be like, "What? The post-It?"
Chase Jarvis: Right. "Post-its or Scotch tape?"
David Epstein: Yeah. Because I didn't realize they have 7,000 inventors that every year they're supposed to make a quarter of their revenue from products that didn't exist five years ago. They're in aeronautics to surgery. They're in everything. And they did a study internally looking at which inventors were producing the most value. And they used that sort of tech classification from patenting say, okay, we have generalists who have worked in a large number of different tech classes, they make contributions. We have specialists who work in one or a small number, they make contributions.
Then we have these two other classes of people, Dilatons who are not that broad or that deep and don't make very much of contributions. And then Polymaths who will go in and out of areas of depth, where they come in with an area, they get deep on it, but then instead of going even deeper, they sacrifice some depth to come up and go into another area and then go into that with some depth and come up and go into another area.
And what they end up doing is merging expertise from one area to another in a way that people that aren't sort of moving around don't see, they don't see those opportunities. So in that case, it was those people accumulating certain levels of depth, but at a certain point sacrificing more depth for taking what they know into another area. And in many cases, they would take knowledge that was taken for granted in one area that everyone knew and bring it somewhere else where all of a sudden it's like this huge creative stimulus.
And when I was reading this literature, I started thinking about my own career and I said, Oh, I left grad school in geology to go literally again, I was working in a tent in the Arctic and I end up as Sports magazine as a temp fact-checker five, six years older than the people I'm doing low level work for saying, "Well, I'm behind, but at least I'm on a path that is more interesting to me now." But pretty soon realized that you take those, I was probably shaping up to be a pretty typical scientist. You take those pretty typical science skills and you bring them to a sports magazine and it's like, you're like a Nobel laureate all of a sudden. Because it's so unusual in that setting. So I don't think there's a perfect answer to what you're saying, but I think there's a lot of wisdom in that.
I think there are people, I wrote about the guy who turned Nintendo into a video game company where he, in many ways, didn't have a deep area of expertise but had such a good knowledge of what other people could do and capabilities that he could bring people together to make things that they didn't otherwise realize. And even one of the inventors I profiled in the book at 3M named Jayshree Seth who just won the biggest award in the world for female engineers, she kept not liking the area she did her masters in and not liking the area she did her PhD in. So she would go away from it and people would tell her, "Don't do that, you'll get behind."
And she gets to this company where there's a huge number of people with different skills and she starts doing what she called her mosaic building process, where almost like an investigative reporter, she would go start talking to colleagues who weren't talking to each other and start figuring out, "Oh, you all are revolving around certain questions or here's some technology that if it were available would help all of you with your different problems."
And when she'd filled in the tiles of mosaics, she'd get them in a room and pitch them and saying, "If we all work on this together, you're all looking at the same problem but not together." And would build these great teams and ended up having this incredible career doing nothing that really was in her field of training. So I think you can get at this a lot of different ways. I think particularly in the music and sports world, what you're saying is even particularly true though, where that deeper area, understanding that landscape of expertise and then seeing where it kind of connects is particularly true.
Sorry, I keep... I'm going on it very long.
Chase Jarvis: This is... No, I've been, I've waited 18 months for this, so you can go as long as you want. This is very exciting. So I'm going to hold onto that music thing out here aside.
David Epstein: Okay.
Chase Jarvis: And I'm going to sort of put another thing on the table that I would like you to dissect, this is very helpful. Because these are large hypotheses of this show across the 13 plus year arc and hundreds and hundreds of episodes. Patterns have emerged in what we talk about, what the audience wants to hear and so that piques my interest and there's this that what I think is a healthy and interesting relationship and dynamic between me, the host and the creator and people who are following the show.
And what I have come and I wrote about in my book, Creative Calling, was I've come to believe that the ability to combine things, as you said, you take expertise in one area when you might be sort of normal and you're following what are called best practices, which these are terms that I don't really care for, but I appreciate contextually and if you can take those out of that thing as you just said, and take them into, in your case, sports writing, you described yourself as an average scientist, I don't believe that, but you may end up in the middle of the road on science, you bring that into Sports Illustrated and you're a super genius.
Similarly, this is what I want you to refute or throw rocks at. The way I have thought about this is if you become an expert in a thing or you learn a lot about a thing, in your case, science or in my case, sports performance, and then you bring that into an area where you have a very unique set of interests. This is the you part, this is why I think this is effective is because each of us have had a different life experience. While you may be a scientist at the daytime, this is not true, but say you have 10 kids at home and you were raised in Africa and your mother was an astronaut, and you start to think about all these different inputs that you have, which very few other people on the planet would have.
And it's by looking sort of inward, you take this thing, you've mastered it or you are good at it, you bring it, you look at it inside your body and say, "What are the unique characteristics that I have? And what are my weird intersection of all these different things?" And if you go deep there, that is like a catapult because so few other people have your life experience. So this is really about the individual in my hypothesis here. So as a scientist, it's got to make your skin crawl because we're trying to hypothesize things that are provable across lots of humans. So what would you say to this hypothesis that it's through combining a unique set of your life experiences, taking expertise in one area and mashing it into all this stuff where the best stuff has the potential to happen?
David Epstein: Yeah, I'm going to go on here again, so feel free to interrupt me because you've stirred a couple things for me. And by the way, it doesn't make my skin crawl. I think what I was going to say, when we're talking about performance, we have to step to the edge of human knowledge and peer beyond and do some guessing and speculating. That's the fact, right? We can't wait for life to be done on a placebo randomized controlled trial. So I think this is necessary what we're doing. We should be informed by the available information, but I think this is the responsible way to do it. And I love that you're framing this hypotheses because there's a good research literature that shows it, like asking specific questions that you can test and poke at is really generative. Creatively, it helps you improve your thinking.
And I think we can talk about why I think hypotheses are important for personal career development also. So put a pin in that one. But you reminded me of something, I've heard some people refer to something like what you're describing as skill stacking where it's like you have proficiencies, you may or may not be the best at any one particular thing, but you can, like I did, overlap those things. You have these life experiences, these skills, these ideas, whatever. And when you overlap them, if you do that thoughtfully, you can make this Venn diagram of just you. So to add to what I mentioned at Sports Illustrated, when I got there and had this oddball background, turned out to be a source of power, whereas I thought it was something to just push into the background.
And then once I realized that, "Oh, this means I can make my own turf to compete on, I don't have to be the 40th person in line trying to be the next Peter King to do the same thing that he does, but probably not as good, not as well. And instead if I can wield this weird background, I can just create an area where I'm competing with nobody." And that's what happened. So I created this science beat there and then I started thinking about this constantly of how can I take my skills to a new type of problem or bring new problem or bring new skills to a problem I'm already working on.
So then I started career zigzagging in a way where I looked for people that places where things that I had were less like what they already had there. And I've noticed this in companies that I think do a really good job of building sort of long-term development pipelines. Sometimes you just got to hire people to hit the ground and square peg for square hole today. But the companies that I think are progressive in building their own internal development pipelines, which is a huge conversation now because everyone's struggling with retention. They will go in many cases and instead of hiring for the stuff they're already good at, they'll say, "What things do we want that we are bad at, that would be very hard for us to teach here or generate? And let's go find people with that and then we can coach them up on this stuff that we know really well."
So I was in Scotland a few months ago with, they're like most successful investment company by far, this one called Baillie Gifford. They might have taken it to an extreme where they actually, I think this is too extreme, they wouldn't hire someone with a business degree. That was a rule. That I think is too extreme. I don't think you should rule people out as a rule. But they wanted all these other types of thinking skills, some qualitative, some quantitative. And so they would say, "Let's get them and we can coach them up on the finance stuff. That's our wheelhouse. That's the thing we're most equipped to give them. So let's get the stuff that we can't give them."
So that took a little startup time to develop that pipeline, but once you've got the pipeline going, then people are coming in and out of it and it works. And so I think that uniqueness that you're talking about can be a real asset, but I think we have to recognize it too. I think there's incentives or a feeling sometimes that you should actually push those unique experiences that may not feel directly relevant away. Since this is a performance crowd, they'll be familiar with him, the Pat Tillman Foundation, endowed for the football player who left during his NFL career, joined the army and was killed in Afghanistan. And for a few years, I've been on selection committees. I'm like the Joker, it's like three-star generals in me, but they want some outside eyeballs, where it's incredibly competitive because they get significant money awards and it's very prestigious and they get to be part of a cool community.
It's for soldiers, veterans and military spouses, scholarships for career development. And every year in the final selection committee, we'll get, even I sometimes when I look in applicant's, and this is a finalist, resume will say like, woo, that person really bounced around, even because I'm still human even though I wrote this stuff in Range. And then we'll learn more about them. And the people who win the scholarship primarily who the committee rates the highest, a typical applicant will be someone say they went to graduate high school or college and take a job and they don't find it fulfilling, they don't like it. They join the service, they end up in some remote area administering healthcare or whatever. They learn that they have skills they didn't know they had, they learn they might be bad at things they hope to be good at. They learn that there are problems they want to address that they didn't know about before.
And they come back and they sort of want to change direction based on that. And the people that win, they have these zigzags, but they describe it as a narrative of pivoting based on their learned experience. "And I went this way, I learned some unexpected things, that's why I then went this other way and then I learned I was good at this other thing and that could be applied in this other place." And so they turn what could be a liability of zigzagging into an asset where we say, it's like you see a light bulb go on in the committee. Well, of course we want people to respond to their lived experience by then taking it to a place where it's going to be more impactful. So if you envision the scoring of the committee as an inverted U-curve, the lowest scores will be some of the zigzagers who don't explain it or push it away. And the highest scores will be the zigzagers who do explain it as this coherent sort of narrative.
And so I think what you're talking about, I think it's not just important, I think it's really important to do that storytelling to yourself because experiences are not wasted to keep saying, what about these things in my personal background, what about these skills? When I first went to SI, I thought of my science background as, "Well, that was a waste of time except for the fact that I realized that's not the career I want." Eventually then I realized like, "No, all this weird stuff, I can wield this stuff. I can wield those contacts, I can wield those experiences." So I think it's important to proactively think in the way that you were describing and not just leave that up to chance, I guess, so to speak. Does that make sense?
Chase Jarvis: Not only does it make sense, it makes me feel whole. It makes me feel seen. These are things that I have been processing for a long time and having mastered photography as in my example, and then done some things well by applying what I learned in that universe to other universes and having that not go well in others helps me like, okay, cool, it's not universally applicable. And yet there's a phrase that I use which I'm going to attach to something you said, "it's not wasted" was your word. And I have a phrase that is very popular on the show called no effort is ever wasted because we largely are taught culturally where we have these impressions that are put upon us by our parents and our career counselors, grandparents, people who don't understand why would you want to be a YouTuber? I just don't get it.
Why don't you go get a job as an accountant, for example? That is a popular phrase from one generation trying to coach another, and whatever you're doing now is you're wasting time. And my philosophy is like no effort is ever wasted if you are grabbing data and looking at your own life experience and then applying that. So there's this sort of, I think the things that were seemingly the most out of my lane that I was able to make the most use of when I found my lane.
So I'm asking you now, this is the question. Can you put this what we've been sort of talking about or excavating or peeling the layers of the onion, can you put this into context? Because you said we're going to put a pin in this career choice thing, which is why I want to go back to it. So help sew this little tapestry that we've been sort of cutting chunks of cloth out and help people understand through your lens, lens of your research and your point of view, based on what we've been talking about, apply this to someone who's listening right now and is like, "How do I find my sweet spot in my career, hobby, life?"
David Epstein: Yeah. And the sweet spot, if you look at research literature about it, it's called match quality. So what it's called match quality, which is the degree of fit between your interests and abilities and the work that you do, turns out to be very important for your sense of fulfillment, your performance, how resistant you'll be to burnout. When people have really high match quality, they're way less likely to suffer. Doesn't mean it's impossible, but they're a lot less likely to suffer from burnout. And what I think something important that I want to highlight in what you said is you are describing, you clearly are what's called a self-regulatory learner. You are going through, you're thinking about your own thinking and learning. That's the issue with hypotheses. You're making a hypothesis, and you take your photography expertise or whatever it is to this other area.
"Here's what I think is going to happen. And then you evaluate that. "Did that happen or did that not happen? Why didn't it? What surprised me? What was unexpected? What can I take from that to learn next?" That's like being a scientist of your own career instead of pinballing around. It turns out that most of us, maybe this comes naturally to you, but most of us are not as good at doing that kind of reflection, that self-regulatory learning as we should be. So for me, I keep what I call a book of small experiments to do it. I keep it on my desk. See, it's Alice from Wonderland peeking behind the curtain there. I guess people that are just listening, you can't see that, but believe it.
And so I'll say, before I wrote Range, okay, I was doing some investigative reporting on drug cartels right before I started Range and some more sort of traditional stuff. And that kind of writing was very quote heavy. Lawyers definitely want you to put things in other words if you can, and in other people's words. And writing Range was just not working for me. It was not right. And I was like, "I need different ideas about writing." So I'm trying different things. I took an online beginner's fiction writing class 101. Nobody cares what you've done and you had to do exercises like write a short story with only dialogue. Write a short story with no dialogue at all. And that was a light bulb moment because my hypothesis going into that was that I was going to learn different types of structure for writing. That's not exactly what I learned, but it made me realize I was overusing quotes to paper over things I didn't understand well enough or just being lazy.
Whereas usually you can explain things better in your words and usually needs a quote if it's particularly interesting basically. I went back and revised every page of the manuscript of Range and so that came out of this conscious personal experimentation that I'm always doing where I'm saying, "I'm going to take my skills and address this problem. Here's what I expect. Here's my hypothesis." And whether you're totally wrong or totally right, having that hypothesis and going back and reflecting on it, "What am I trying to learn? What am I trying to learn or do? Why? Am I sure I want to do it? Who do I need to help me do it?" And then what met expectations and what didn't. Doing that process through each of your experiences, I think is really important. And most people don't do it intuitively. It sounds like maybe you do.
I mean, I don't know how you arrived at that process, but some people do it intuitively. But that habit of mind, that self-regulatory learning, that's sort of saying, "Here's who I am right now. Here's my skills and interests. Here are the opportunities, I'm going to try this one. Maybe a year from now, I'll change because I will have learned something about myself." was the hallmark in this research at Harvard called the Dark Horse Project that studied how people find fulfilling careers, how people find high match quality. That was the hallmark of their behavior.
All these people... No, not all of them, the large majority. Some people had followed a normal kind of linear career trajectory to fulfillment, but most did not. The reason it became named the Dark Horse Project is they would come in for their initial orientation interview and say, "Well, I did this one thing and it wasn't what I thought and then this other thing, and then I realized I had this certain skill and blah, blah, blah. And so don't tell people to do what I did because I kind of came out of nowhere to what I am."
And that turned out to be the large majority of what people said. That's why it was called the Dark Horse Project, coming out of nowhere. That is the typical path for people that find high match quality in work in this day and age. Now, I think advice from some of our parents and grandparents, to pick and stick, so to speak, I think that's well-meaning, and I think that was good advice when we were mostly an industrial economy where work next year more often looked like work last year and lateral mobility was very limited. That's just not the world anymore. They may be giving advice in many cases that do make sense for the world that they worked in, but that don't make sense for the world where you have to do transfer and where lateral mobility is tremendous and even if you stay in technically the same job, it's probably not going to look the same years down the road.
Chase Jarvis: Yeah. If our parents had one job and we will have five, the next generation will have five at the same time. And so what kind of a universe are we preparing ourselves for if we're listening to the career counselors and parents? Well-meaning. This is the part that's confusing for people is these are people who you love and trust and care for you and you know they care for you and they're giving you this advice that frankly is terrible advice. And so it's extra confusing. We have developed a set of trust around this and they're blowing it and we're blowing it by letting them articulate how we should think about this stuff.
David Epstein: I mean, someone recently, I was in a session with managers at Electronic Arts. If we have a sports audience here?
Chase Jarvis: Yeah, sure.
David Epstein: Yeah. It's in the game. And one of the questions I got from someone was she said, "I'm from a culture where parents really want you to specialize very early. And I have this debate with my parents and they still..." I thought it was funny first of all that she has an amazing job at Electronic Arts and her parents are still, she's like, "They just want me to be a doctor." I'm like, "That's funny. Doctors are awesome, but also one of the doctors...
Chase Jarvis: They want to have your job.
David Epstein: Yeah, I know. I'm like, "Most of the world wants your job." And I sort of said, I think you can maintain the values. What I think they're saying is they want you to be smart. They want you to work hard, they want you to think about your future, they want you to develop as a person personally and professionally. And I think what you can tell them is that those values that they want to impart, you are embracing. Like you're at this session because you're looking for professional growth. You've gotten to where you are because you're oriented that way. And the specifics of the career advice doesn't fit the time anymore. But I think you can connect with your parents about the underlying values of that, which is hard work, continual growth, thinking about your long-term prospects and all those sorts of things.
Chase Jarvis: You gave me permission to interrupt you at the beginning. I'm going to take this moment and say, ladies and gentlemen, rewind what David just said and get that, memorize that script and deploy that script anytime someone in your life is not understanding your vision for this career, respecting the values, understanding their concerns, actually seeking to carry the concepts forward, but explain to them that the world is different, that the way that you think about your career development and that you're even having this conversation, that there's all kinds of value embedded in that process. That to me is, what we just heard there is something that you got to put in your backpack because when I look at people wanting to leave the career that they thought they were meant for to go do something new, they have difficult conversations within their family or with their partner or spouse or with their manager, there's just a lack of vocabulary for articulating this point of view.
And that is where most of this breakdown happens. That's where we have midlife crises and we have all this stuff because we are not articulate in what we're actually trying to do. And so I would invite you to rewind, bookmark, and put that in your backpack. So thank you very, very much for putting it in such clear terms. You also said something a little bit earlier about how you've referenced a couple times like things are changing, what it looked like last year is not what it's going to look like next year. How true is that for the particular culture that we're in right now? Could it be said that the rate of change is accelerating and therefore our ability to live in, to be dynamic when it comes to career choices, when it comes to self-regulated learning, these are skills that we have to increase in order to be performant, successful, and I'll say, fulfilled in the next chapter? Is that a reasonable statement?
David Epstein: Absolutely. Absolutely. I mean, there's an argument among economists about our things changing more rapidly than they used to because maybe I'm getting too in the weeds here, but if you think about technological change, if you took someone, one of your ancestors from 1860 and dropped them in a house in 1940, they wouldn't even know how to use the house. Refrigeration, car, telephone, electricity, indoor plumbing. But then if you went 80 years forward from that, 1940 to 2020, they more or less would know how to, they would recognize the telephone. Obviously, there'd be some stuff that car they would recognize. So that's been an argument that in some ways there hasn't been as much change. But I think on the factors that really affect people's careers in different ways, the change has accelerated where starting really in about the baby boomer generation, actually the number of different jobs that people would have irrespective of level of education was passing like a dozen by their mid to late forties, already by the baby boomers, and then that picked up going forward.
At the same time as all sorts of other signals of change, like in the mid 20th century, the average lifespan of a company that had been listed in the S&P 500 was like 50 years or something. And by 2010, it was like 17. And I think McKinsey's projecting it's going to be less than 10 pretty soon. So even if you can make an argument about these sort of large scale technological changes, but in the individual level, the need to relearn over the... The period of... The life where you have a discreet period of learning stuff and then you stop that and then you have a discreet period of 60 years where then based on that learning, you work, that period is over for most people. Where you have this small, totally separate period of learning stuff that you then just act on for the rest of your career. That world's basically gone.
So these self... So I kind of think like higher ed should become a subscription service where, like so much of the stuff I did in college was wasted on me then that it would be more useful for me. Now, I want to like to be able to go into virtual classes now. But I think we have to be attuned to that self-regulatory learning if we want to. And I highly recommend, by the way, Peter Drucker, the famous management guru saw this coming with the change to the knowledge economy. And so he wrote a great essay that seems pretty prescient now called Managing One's Self.
That was about how in this new economy that was developing, the best, the biggest rewards would've come to people that understood how they worked and how they succeeded and could take accountability for getting themself into those kinds of environments basically. And it's free essay online, you can check it out. And I think we need to do that. I think that should be skills that are really taught. There was an OECD report recently that showed kids start limiting what they think their prospective job options are at age seven because of how people talk to them, which is bad for a number of reasons.
One of which is this psychology finding called the End of History Illusion. This finding that everyone, if you ask everyone like, "Hey, have you changed a lot in your life based on the experiences you've had and what you've learned?" "Of course." Everyone says yes. But then they say, "Yeah, but now I pretty much know who I am." And it turns out that we underestimate future change at every time point in life. We're like works in progress, constantly claiming to be finished. And that has to do with what you want to see in the world, what you value in friends, how you like to spend your time, what you think your biggest strengths are, et cetera, et cetera, interests that you have.
And the fastest time of that change, it never stops and we always underestimate it, but the fastest time of that change is about 18 to your late 20s, which is typically the period when we're telling people, "You got to have it figured out now." what they should be doing there is jumping into things that will give them a large signal about what fits them and what they're good at and what they're not, and those sorts of things. But this is a lifelong thing. The world's changing and you're changing. So I view this search for match quality over career as a lifelong thing that means that doing that kind of informed hypothesis testing and reflection is a crucial skill for taking accountability for your own learning and career development.
Chase Jarvis: It would be of no surprise at this point that you don't know this about me, but I built with hundreds of talented, hardworking people, an online learning company called Creative Live, which has since been acquired, but it was specifically based on my experiences and realizing that the future of learning is largely decentralized. It's largely self-directed. And you're going to have to be able to take one skill, apply it across a vast array of others, and you're going to have all sorts of curiosity points that are going to pop up and how can you learn quickly and in those areas such that if you see something you love, you can go deep. So we had thousands of classes and tens of millions of users.
David Epstein: Oh cool. Yeah, no, I didn't know that.
Chase Jarvis: No, but you can see how I'm trying to make sense of my life looking backwards and excavating, "Oh, this led to this", and which is where I want to go with the conversation. Why I share that is because you said something about a personal narrative earlier. And as I've thought about my own desire to take things from one area and pursue something that I'm curious about, I have instinctively as a storyteller, found joy in looking back and making, crafting a narrative about my passion. For example, let's say my passion in sports. Let me understand what hard work looked like, what dedication. And at the same time, I always felt that the people is one of the reasons I had a chance to go on and play professional soccer, but didn't because everyone was so focused on just one thing and that didn't satisfy my interest.
So my grandfather passed away and gave me his camera. So I have crafted this narrative that makes sense to me, and I find it empowering. You talked about being able to tell one's self a story, and I'm wondering if you can give it, I love asking scientists to do this. Sometimes they get weirded out by it, but I think you will not. And so I'm asking you to give advice. Give advice to the listeners that is around the point that you put a pin in earlier about personal narrative in career and how that actually helps them manifest or build the future that they want for themselves.
David Epstein: Yeah, and I should say, I'm not a scientist but science-minded person. I'll take that as a compliment anyway.
Chase Jarvis: Oh, okay. All right.
David Epstein: Yeah, I mean, I think this comes out of that proactive hypothesis testing. I think they should start their book of small experiments, pick it up. And again, some people do this intuitively, Chase, maybe you do, but I didn't and start setting up something to test and filling in your story with what you learn. And the story comes out of those experiments sort of naturally, if you're doing it proactively. I'm sure there are things that people want to learn right now or that they're curious about. Maybe that's in their organization just about if there's some other team in their organization that can help them with something. It can be as something as simple as that. It doesn't have to be as involved as, like I said, take an online fiction writing class. It could be some place they're curious where their skills might apply, what's a way that you can test that?
Can you talk to someone that an area? Can you get attached to a project that's working in that area? And I think the story comes out of those sort of experiments once you become oriented to the fact that this is your learning journey and you're writing the story and you should think about it that way and then keep telling it and retelling it. Not only yourself either, by the way. So again, I was this oddball, Sports Illustrated, and once I started realizing that, telling this story of how having a different background is helpful, it wasn't just helpful for me. There was a guy who had dropped out of med school and became an editor there and he helped me tell my story and then became sort of a champion of this. And so I think telling your own story, because one of the challenges of people who they have brought interests like Santiago Ramón y Cajal, who's known as the father of modern neuroscience and Nobel Laureate said, talking about identifying creative people.
He said, "They have lots of interests." And his quote was basically, "To he who looks at them from afar, it will look as though they are scattering and dissipating their energies while in fact they're channeling and strengthening them." That these broad interests inform one another and it might look from outside, you're just doing randomness. So one of the most common questions I get is, "I have a lot of interests. I want to build skills." Build skills, like who wants to go to the weight room and lift the same weights the same number of times every day? You might not get worse doing that, but you're not going to get better. If you're oriented toward getting better, you got to do something different.
But they say, but I can't, like the boss, "How am I going to justify that to the boss, basically?" And so I think a really important piece of advice is when you're telling this story, it's not just for you, it's so that when you go pitch why you should be attached to some project or why it should be part of your work, not an extracurricular, to be connecting with people in other areas or silos, how compellingly you can pitch that story of why this is part of a learning journey is the difference between success and failure of whether you're going to... Again, you can, just like with that Tillman committee, Tillman Foundation Selection committee, you can take something that can be seen as a liability and turn it into an asset if you're thoughtful about it. This happened to me at SI actually when I was getting into some investigative work there and my investigative partner there who was very senior to me had left.
And so there was really a gap for me in terms of someone I could learn from. And there was a startup called ProPublica starting that was all dedicated toward investigative journalism and it was going to be run by the guy who had run the Wall Street Journal. So they were bringing big shots in there and I saw they had an internship. I was a staff writer at SI with beautiful office 32nd floor over 6th Avenue and door and window, and I applied for an internship and they accepted it. So I was going to go do literally photocopying and scanning documents and stuff, but that was the place that had a learning opportunity for me. The challenge was how do you, as a staff writer, go to SI and go to your boss and say, "Hey, I'm leaving a little for a little while for an internship."
That doesn't make a lot of sense. Turned out to be one of the best things I ever did, but fortunately that editor helped me tell my story of why is this, why am I going to go... They were almost pushing me to go by the time we sold the story because it was like these skills that I need that I can apply here, I can't get them here. This other place, I'll go off the payroll for a few months, I'll go on the internship salary or whatever, which obviously was a luxury I could afford at the time. They were like, that's great. Absolutely. They're basically going to put you through school for a skill that you can't get here and then you're going to bring it back. And so something that was very much an eyebrow raiser when I first brought it up became like...
Chase Jarvis: The hero's journey. Everyone's pulling for you.
David Epstein: Yeah. I mean, this was ridiculous. They gave me a bonus to do it after that. Because it was like, "Yeah, you're right. You're going to go get stuff we can't give you and come back and be even better." And that is exactly what happened. But...
Chase Jarvis: Oh, sorry. Keep going. This is so good.
David Epstein: No, it was just an issue of something that was at first seen like, "Wait, what? Why are you doing..." Even ProPublica, the intern coordinator called me, he was like, "Do you realize what you're applying for?"
Chase Jarvis: I think maybe you got the wrong code when you applied for this job.
David Epstein: Yeah. But it was really an issue of, again, very much with the help of this editor of realizing that I had a coherent story and that you can pitch it in a very powerful way if you've spent time thinking about it.
Chase Jarvis: Okay, I love this so much. I'm going to do the thing that I've done now a couple times and say, all right, I got another hypothesis. And I'm hoping that you can sort of galvanize with the way that your brain I'm gathering is organized. You can help us craft a very tight narrative that we can, or you can craft a tight narrative and give some advice here. And the way that I think about this is let's look at the people, anyone who's doing this right now, whether you're walking on a walking path or sitting in traffic or commuting or wherever you're listening or watching the show, you can say, "Wow, who are the people, who are heroes in my area of discipline?" And I would say 9 out of 10 of them, this thing I'm about to say applies, which is they did not, if you wrote down the stuff that they did to get to where they are, such that you look at that and say, "Yes, that is amazing. Incredible. I want to do that."
It is not the common prescription. It's not the prescription that you're getting from the same people in your life who care deeply about you or from the textbooks that say, "If you want to do X, you have to go over here and do Y." If you think about your hero, they didn't do that. And so why are we bound then to, when you look up on the internet, how to become a fill in the blank. It gives you a prescription and that prescription does not create the best in the world. Help us, give us some advice on what to do with this information. Now I'm like, Okay, I look at it on the internet, tells me what I got to do and yet I look at my heroes and none of them did that. David sew it together for us.
David Epstein: Yeah, I mean first of all, there's an interesting phenomenon there, which just gets back to the parents' advice where we laud, we turn into saints our best entrepreneurs. And yet it's not very often I think, saved for certain pockets of society, where parents and friends are telling someone like, "Yeah, dive into that."
Chase Jarvis: "Quit college." Yeah.
David Epstein: Kind of partly informed idea startup thing. Look, we laud them in retrospect, but in the early part, Herminia Ibarra, London Business School professor writes about this in her book Working Identity where when people make good career changes, the biggest things holding them back often are their closest circle who cares about them and is concerned for them. And it's sort of people more in the fringes of their network that are like, "You can do this and I can help you." And it's from this area of research called the Strength of Weak Ties. It's like people on the periphery of your network who know things different than you do can help you with new opportunities. But I think there are things, depending on the article, sometimes there are things we can take from those articles, here's how to be this or not. A lot of that stuff obviously is just filling content.
It's easy way to fill content. I see these all the time of how to do writing and people that have these hard and fast rules. And I've done a lot of writing and I still feel like I'm a beginner in some ways. And so when I see people with very hard and fast rules, I'm like, that serves whatever little business or content thing they're trying to run. But sometimes there are interesting nuggets in those rules. So that's where I think you can start to take some of these hypotheses from. If it says, this is the way to become a photographer or a writer, okay, well let me take that and go ask a photographer or writer or someone I admire. So I think you can use those to give you concrete questions to then examine. And I think that's actually a very useful thing. I think the problem is just if you kind of take it as gospel. Because it's...
Chase Jarvis: Hence, not gospel maybe. Hence, not gospel or something like that.
David Epstein: Yeah, giving you hypotheses. And there's so much content on the internet that, for most how to be something content, there's probably a contradictory article out there somewhere. So I think the only responsible way to go about it is taking it as that kind of hypothesis testing. And I know at least for writers, they're usually happy to, if people come in, they're like, "How does the book process work? How does this or that work in writing? I read this..." They're usually happy to talk about it. They enjoy talking about the process in the field and things like that.
Chase Jarvis:Yeah, that's why choosing your friend circle turns out to be a pretty important thing, or the people that you socialize or where you get your ideas. Whatever the saying is, that you're the average of the five people you spend the most time with. This has been absolutely brilliant. So helpful for me personally looking back and having wanted to talk to you and also having had many of the guests that you referenced in your literature, including Malcolm on the show. It feels like coming home. So I want to start by saying thank you or I guess wrap by saying thank you for your time. Thank you for helping us understand this very interesting and changing world that we're all a part of. I want to make an explicit plug. This is one of my favorite books that I have read over the past 10 years, Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World.
My hope is that wherever you are right now, that you will pause, pick up a copy. It's the best, like $16 or $18. I think it's on sale at least for my Amazon. Maybe because it knows I've been researching you or something, but the algorithm knows. But before we wrap up, I'm wondering is there anything that you like to... Are there any sort of putting your arms around a bunch of information that you like to do when you wrap up? Having watched your TED Talks, you always have really nice summary. So I'm going to invite you, is there something that you want to share with our audience that either puts a bow on your work or maybe it's a place where you want our attention to go after we're done listening or watching? How would you wrap the show?
David Epstein: Yeah, I mean I think the thing that we've come back to time and again is purposeful experimentation in your career. That there are advantages to gaining breadth of experience of skills. But I think the difference between pinballing around and coherent experimentation is being thoughtful about it and recognizing your lessons. Making a hypothesis going in and then recognizing the lessons coming out and working that into the story you tell yourself and other people, that as you're doing career development. So I think that purposeful experimentation, starting your own book of small experiments is a note that I want to leave people on. But I also want to... Well, first, I just want to say thanks. It's fun to be in a show where you're just allowed to talk at length and then listen at length. Because I know I'm a digressive person. But you mentioned the people you surround yourself with and you mentioned Malcolm, and I have to say I criticized some of his work quite publicly.
I criticized some of the extrapolations of Angela Duckworth's grit research in Range. Some of those criticisms were in her very papers, but then they were lost in translation as it became more popular. And those two people have become two of my absolute favorite conversation partners. And Andres Erickson before that who did the original 10,000-hour study, he and I disagreed vehemently about a lot of things and had an incredibly generative relationship. He made hypotheses that I could then go examine, so we had specific things to argue about. And these relationships of people who I've come into conflict with in professional ways have turned into some of the most generative relationships in my life. I think it's important to have those kind of people.
And I want to give Malcolm, again, since you've had him on, and I think this audience listened to him, a credit for a certain different kind of performance that we usually don't think of, which is in that first debate that he and I had that's on YouTube, he was a big shot and he is a big shot. And I was early in my career then and he could have just crushed me or made me look stupid even though I had really done my homework. Or he could have just walked off the stage and left. And instead he said, "That's interesting. That doesn't necessarily fit with the model that I have right now. Let's talk more about that."
And that launched a whole relationship where we agree and disagree about things often publicly that are really generative for both of us. And some other authors that had written 10,000 hours bestsellers did not react that same way and just said angrily, just reacted with anger and felt that if they had put something in print, they were going to go to the game without changing that idea. And so I think it was up to him to set the tone and he did that.
And that taught me that we have the liberty learned from our critics, from the well-meaning ones, and that can be super important. And so I want to give him credit for that because I write a newsletter called Range Widely on Substack now. And if someone went through some of the archives, you can see he and I sometimes writing posts that are responding to one another explicitly disagreeing. We talked about, one about the best way to develop a talent pipeline in sports. And he wrote one, I responded, then he responded to my response and it's wonderful. It's wonderful and generative. And so I think, it's a little different kind of performance, but it's improved my store of ideas because I have these people now with whom I can have these productive disagreements. And in many ways that's because of the way, because they approach disagreement with a learning orientation.
Chase Jarvis: To me, this is about building community. That's the way that we talk about it here on the show and in my other writings is if you have the ability to get together with other people privately, publicly, create discourse, dialogue. My background is also in philosophy. So this Socratic or maybe even Hegelian, I think of thesis, antithesis, new hypothesis. This is the part, we are social animals and this is one of the functions that being in a community provides. You get like-minded ideas, you get people who think differently. And as you've said a couple times, this sort of generative nature of community is part of its power. So that is very gracious of you to give such a hat tip. And I think it also paints a really interesting picture of what it all means. Why would people be reading your book or listening to this show? So they can learn something, apply it, put it out there in the world, run small experiments.
Thank you so much for being one of my favorite guests that we've had on in the last, gosh, hundreds of episodes. I'm working on a new book right now that has a lot of these ideas at their core, so beware. I may have some follow-up questions. Again, I want to give a vert plug for Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World.
Also, for those folks that are sports fanatics as I am, this other work that you've done with SI, you talked about some other articles, previous book, The Sports Gene: Inside the Science of Extraordinary Athletic Performance. These are all incredible, incredibly valuable sources. So thank you for putting this stuff out in the world. Thank you for being a guest on the show. Anything you'd like to wrap up with before we go?
David Epstein: No, I mean, not to plug my own stuff, but I continue writing about human development at davidepstein.substack.com and it's free. It's all over the place. Sometimes creativity, sometimes sports development. But I think this is the kind of audience that would be interested in that sort of stuff if they're interested. And I really enjoy this. I really enjoy your approach to putting a hypothesis out that's like you have models and you update them as you learn. And I think that is the most important habit of mine that an adult, responsible adult thinker can have. So I really enjoyed this and if I digressed too much, apologies.
Chase Jarvis: No, stop saying that. I'm here for the digression.
David Epstein: I know myself. I know I can get a...
Chase Jarvis: We're not on TV, David. This is a long form podcast. Yeah, you said several times, I don't know if this is intuitive to you. I think you probably gather either through identifying as a creator, but that is very intuitive. But I have, once you intuit something long enough, you look back and you say, this is actually a pillar of either who I am or something that I have come to find very valuable and didn't understand it, didn't have the vocabulary to understand its value. And somewhat like social media, 10 years ago, people said social media wasn't valuable. And now tech companies and social media is obviously where people can measure everything and all the advertising dollars are poured there. So the fact that people didn't find value does not make it something that's invaluable. It's really only when we start to be able to measure it that we understand that there's been value there all along.
And I think that is the same truth with our ability to, as you said, self-educate or yet a much better, more elegant term. But these are going to be skills in the future that we value greatly, the ability to learn and to run experiments. This is what ought to be taught in schools. So again, thank you so much for giving us a vocabulary where we previously didn't have it. And the cool thing about this is as soon as I'm done recording here with you, I'm going to go back and re-listen to it. It's that good. Thanks so much for being on the show, David. Again, check on his Substack. The Sports Gene, his previous book and of course, Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World. Thank you so much. And davidepstein.com, right?
David Epstein: Yeah, that's sort of the main website for more than anyone but my sister wants to know about me.
Chase Jarvis: Amazing. Thank you so much for being a guest on the show, and I'm going to sign off now for David, myself. To everyone out there in the world, I hope you have an amazing day and another podcast coming at you soon. Until then we bid you adieu.
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