Has it ever happened to you to not manage to land your dream job because you did not fit perfectly the job description? Or maybe you had enough experience in that particular programming language? Or perhaps you did many things in the past, and your background sounded “too diversified”? It’s a familiar feeling, I guess. But don’t worry. In the end, things will turn around, and here’s why Generalists will beat Specialists in the long run.

Many of my job-seeking friends or people I talk with on Reddit share this feeling of not being specialist enough to succeed in the job application process. Often companies look for people who have done the same job, in the same industry and possibly at a competitor. On the other side, job seekers may be looking for new experiences in different sectors.

Source: Gates Notes

I will try to assume that specialised skills are preferred to general in today’s culture. But are they preferable? In his book “Range: Why Generalists Will Triumph in a Specialised World”, David Epstein tries to point out why generalists will beat specialists in the long run.

You may wonder if simply the job market has turned more “picky“, and thiat’s a fair question.

As reported from reuters.com, we’re in the middle of “The Big Recession“. n 2021, almost four million Americans left their job to find better work conditions, and at the same time, job openings have continued to rise drastically.

Another trend you may have noticed in the job market currently is that everybody’s hiring, but nobody’s getting hired, as reported by Vox.com. The ratio of job openings to hires is at its highest peak. FlexJobs, a jobs website that focuses on remote and flexible work, reports that 41 per cent of the respondents couldn’t find enough openings in their preferred profession.

Range, and why generalists will beat specialists in the long run

David Epstein examined the world’s most successful musicians, athletes, artists, inventors, forecasters and scientists to claim that early specialisation is hardly the key, starting from the case of Tiger Woods and Roger Federer.

Unless you have lived on a different planet for the last 20 years, you will know that is considered among the great athletes ever respectively in golf and tennis discipline. Tiger Woods started devoting his life to golf at two and compounded an immense training in the specific field. On the other hand, Roger Federer tried many different sports before starting, such as skiing, swimming, wrestling, basketball, et cetera. When he was 12 years old, he decided he took the final decision that led him to 20 Grand Slams.

The author suggests that Roger’s path to achievement is rarely told and advertised, but there are many examples of that, and probably it’s a case of human bias, as discussed for Black Swan’s before.

Why is specialisation not always better?

What are the factors that make specialisation suboptimal in some contests? Epstein claims that you should be aware that learning paths vary depending on being in a fast or low feedback environment.

If the discipline is easy to test, gives fast feedback, and let you iterate repetitively in a short amount of time, focused effort helps you improve. For instance, if you play chess:

  • You can play many matches every day.
  • Goal, tactics, strategies and tasks have been the same since ever.
  • Every move you make can be evaluated immediately by someone more expert or a computer.
  • You can also study your match right after it and find better strategies not to commit the same errors.
  • Anything that happens on the chessboard is 100% under your influence, and no external factors can change the result of the match.
  • You can easily measure progress and improvements.

That’s what Laszlo Polgar grasped when he decided to create to make all his three daughters master chess players.

A general world

But that’s not the case of many jobs you can apply for, in which:

  • There’s no immediate feedback on your action.
  • The type of problem you solve constantly changes.
  • Your contribution is a tiny part according to the size of the organisation.
  • Market and industry trends account a lot for the performance of a firm.
  • The metrics evaluated are at the end of a long chain of causes and effects.
  • Feedback on your job may need years to arrive. For instance, Satya Nadella management of Microsoft took years of investing in capabilities and not shining financial statement before making Bill Gates creation breaking the two trillion dollars wall of market capitalisation.

According to the author, generalists make the difference in a low feedback environment because they can integrate different domains, have a bigger picture, have more lateral thinking capacity, be more creative when experiencing new situations, and apply diversified skills to solve problems.

Now what?

The book may convince you that Generalists will beat Specialists in the long run, but you also have to deal with the request to show specialisation in some domains. A good compromise is to strive to be a so-called “T-Shaped person“.


“The vertical bar on the letter T represents the depth of related skills and expertise in a single field. Whereas the horizontal bar is the ability to collaborate across disciplines with experts in other areas and to apply knowledge in areas of expertise other than one’s own”.

Try to invest in going deep with something you like and keep the extent of interest, passions and craft wide, and you will see that generalists will triumph at the end.


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