The book Range, by David Epstein, is a goldmine of insights for improving skill, innovation, and performance. And there’s a vital takeaway for communications that all can learn from.
Epstein’s work makes the case that generalists, not specialists, are better primed to excel in today’s complex and unpredictable environment. His research shows how generalists often find their path late, and they juggle many interests rather than focusing on one. They’re also more creative, more agile, and able to make connections their more specialized peers can’t see.
That’s an argument that swims against the stream in our hyper-specialized world. Epstein is promoting the value of trying many different things and quitting the unfulfilling ones vs. doggedly sticking to a highly specialized path. You could say that he is making the case for actively cultivating inefficiency. That’s a pretty radical idea in a world that ceaselessly strives to eliminate inefficiencies of every kind.
Range emphasizes that it’s the people and organizations that think more broadly and embrace diverse experiences and perspectives that will increasingly thrive. So why do leaders and organizations communicate in tightly focused and hyper-specialized language? Companies spend so much time and energy evangelizing diversity in thinking and action, yet confine themselves to specialized communications that ignore the broad spectrum of experiences and initiatives that could ignite creativity, learning, and better outcomes. The vast majority of communications lack range – and that’s a problem.
When narratives and messages reflect only a single area of expertise or domain-specific information, they are much less likely to be emotive, memorable, and inspiring. Narrowness in communications is as dangerous as narrowness in thinking. Narratives that fail to include some variety of interests and general appeal will sap vitality and bore listeners. Communicating to influence requires range.
Influence is achieved when we move outside the tightly delineated box of corporate communications. When leaders share stories and personal experiences that deviate from myopic business information and specialized jargon, their range shines through and they increase the likelihood of creating the emotional experiences that their listeners crave. It’s the nonlinear anecdotes and unexpected references (what we at Decker refer to as SHARPs) that make hearts and minds receptive to new ways of thinking.
Range reminds us that it’s the breadth of experiences, the detours taken, and the experiments engaged in that make for creative people and agile organizations. In this age of hyperspecialization, range leads to communications and intelligence that are anything but artificial.