The Song of Lateral Thinking with Withered Technology
Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World by David Epstein
Riverhead Books, December 1, 2019
"Don't feel behind," urges David Epstein in his wonderful new book, Range. Drawing on examples from sports, education, industry research, the arts, organizational behavior, and science, Epstein makes a powerful case for encouraging our students – and ourselves – to be patient, to try many things and not one thing, and to "learn by living." Epstein recounts how, for example, in the mid-1960s a young electronic tinkerer named Gunpei Yokoi joined Nintendo, which began as a playing card company. Hired to fix machines, Yokoi employed "lateral thinking with withered technology," or mixing applications to generate products that relied on reimagining existing technologies in new uses. Over the coming decades Yokoi invented dozens of devices, including the Game Boy which sold over 100 million units. As Yokoi recounted, "I don't have any particular specialist skills. I have a sort of vague knowledge of everything." This is what Epstein wants us to cultivate: by emphasizing ambiguity, discouraging consensus for its own sake, and learning to "drop our familiar tools," we will discover what we truly love to do. Much of what Epstein argues flies in the face of the early specialization our students experience, which is exactly why this book is so important.