Why I picked it up: My research keeps showing that people who are curious have better overall outcomes in life. That is, taking in a breadth of information through informal learning appears to give people greater resources from which to draw, helping them in their educations, their careers, their family formation, and their health and well-being. When I heard about this book last year, I immediately put it on my to-read list as it seemed to have a similar finding … it just took me over a year to get to it.
Thesis of book: There is a lot of conventional wisdom that in order to be successful in the 21st century, you have to specialize and go deep in your area of expertise. But that may not be an accurate statement for most of us.
In this book, Epstein suggests that if we commit early and deeply to one thing, we may not actually be playing to our own strengths, and while some will still (luckily) flourish, more won't. But if we have a chance to sample many things, during a period he calls the "sampling period," we can suss out what our own strengths are more effectively, focus later … and have years of experiences from which to draw as we go deep into our areas of expertise. And that cross-pollination matters. It makes for better inventors, innovators, and thinkers as they draw from their different experiences to enhance and create in their own work.
In fact, going deep can make us blinkered if we don't balance it with some breadth … and our work can suffer.
How this intersects with museum research/practice: Museums, being in the curiosity business, are perfectly positioned to give visitors breadth by introducing new topics, ideas, perspectives, and areas of interest. And that is how some museum-goers use museums, especially those that are eudaemonically curious: expanding their minds and making connections between things that seem disconnected (or, in other words, not being "cognitively entrenched").
But many museum-goers use museums differently, primarily for deepening knowledge in their interest areas. Some even resist content that takes them out of their comfort-zone and shares different worldviews.
How, then, can museums be more deliberate about stretching people's interests to new areas, sparking curiosity and expanding worldviews? And how do we do this in ways that even the most resistant visitor welcomes? THAT is a big, tricky question (and one very much on my mind).
Read or skip? In many ways, this is a typical journalistic take on a topic that, on the surface, appears confounding to most. If it pretty formulaic in that way: full of anecdotes and stories, reads easily, a bit repetitive, and refers to scholars as well as practitioners. It is not an academic read. So if you want an easy and enjoyable read on the subject, go for it. There wasn't much (or really anything) my research disagreed with.
But if you are looking for new insights beyond this review, then peruse the book's bibliography and go deep (and broad) as desired. Or email me at susie (at) wilkeningconsulting (dot) com and ask for my running notes.
Full citation: Epstein, David. Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World. New York: Riverhead Books, 2019.
Have a suggestion for my reading list? Email it to me at susie (at) wilkeningconsulting (dot) com.
I respectfully acknowledge that I live and work on the lands of the Duwamish people, whose ancestors have lived here for generations. I thank them for their ongoing care of this land, and I endeavor to help museums bring forward a more complete and inclusive history and culture in their work.