[Image description: a number of professionals from different industries (including a doctor, a chef and a construction worker) are standing together in a line. The image was downloaded from iStock.]
In his book Range, New York Times bestselling author David Epstein explores how to cultivate ‘the power of breadth, diverse experience, and interdisciplinary exploration’, presenting a compelling argument that the key to success is to develop broad interests and skills rather than specialising at an early stage. The reason, he says, is that ‘generalists’ are more creative, more agile, and better able to make connections that their more specialised peers cannot see (they are less prone to tunnel vision).
This notion of ‘developing range’ is familiar discourse amongst career changers, who are often thinking about how their existing career capital can be leveraged towards a new industry. However, the concept is relevant to anyone looking to embark on a professional journey, whether that is a publishing hopeful looking for an entry level role, or someone transitioning from one industry to another. In order to support his argument, Epstein offers a number of examples from successful athletes, musicians and scientists. For example, it was only through broad training in history, medicine and geology that Charles Darwin was able to develop his theory of evolution – the varied training helped him build the intellectual muscle he needed to challenge centuries of dogma.
Most of the examples cited in Epstein’s book relate to outliers, and not all of us are going to be the next Charles Darwin! However, I have been thinking about how the concept of ‘developing range’ might apply to me, and to my classmates, as we approach the end of the MSc and begin to look for jobs.
Applying this mindset to myself enables me to see that my (specialist) legal background has not pigeonholed me as I feared, and I have begun to realise what might be my strengths. For example, one thing lawyers do not like is inefficiency. I have worked in well-oiled machines for a decade. Now that I am outside the bubble, I am able to see that I have carried this extended lesson in efficiency with me and am able to spot ineffective systems very easily. This is likely to be a useful perspective within other industries.
But what does it have to do with range? For me, it is about mindset. I have pushed myself out of my comfort zone, starting with going back into full-time education, but also on a smaller scale: learning how to Tweet (!); recording myself speaking about a magazine; and reaching out to people in the industry whose work I enjoy. I have tested my interdisciplinary skills and explored the ways that I can cross-fertilise my legal knowledge with what I have learned about publishing. I have acquired new skills and learned how to apply existing skills in new domains. I have increased my range.
I have seen a similar mindset in my classmates. As part of the team behind Fortunate Voyager, I witnessed first-hand a number of my teammates volunteer to join teams that were not their first choice, leading them from their chosen choice (editorial) to roles in marketing and production. Pushing themselves out of their comfort zones has enabled them to test their skills and expand their repertoire. Those with an existing strength in editorial now have a working knowledge of how to market a product or manage a production flow. They have increased their range.
I have taken comfort in the themes within Range, not only the notion that people with breadth of experience are more innovative but also that:
‘…everyone needs habits of mind that allow them to dance across disciplines.’David Epstein, Range: How Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World
Not everyone wants to dance across disciplines, but the message resonates regardless – publishing is an industry that relies on collaboration and creative thinking. These attributes are enhanced by diverse experience and cultivation of range.
At the very least, maintaining this mindset is a recognition of the value of our experiences and may prove to be a useful tool as we move forward into the job market.