Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World


Harry was tonight’s Toastmaster with a theme of “Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World.” He based his topic on a 2019 book by David Epstein called “Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World.” Harry introduced the theme with the question of the day, “What have you specialized in, personally or professionally?,” generating a diverse group of answers.

Harry first discussed how the book mentions the 10,000-hour rule, which states that you need 10,000 hours to specialize in something. To put that into perspective, this could be equivalent to spending 8 hours a day, 40 hours per week at the activity for five years. One example Harry mentioned was the golfer Tiger Woods.

The idea behind Epstein’s book and what Harry shared with the group is that people who practice and specialize early in something aren’t the only ones who can excel. Epstein examined people from different career fields (athletes, musicians, inventors, etc.) and found that generalists, not specialists, are primed to excel. Generalists often find their path late and they juggle many interests rather than focusing on one. Examples of a couple of successful late bloomers are artist Vincent VanGogh and tennis player Roger Federer. Harry also discussed kind vs. wicked learning environments, as two different ways people learn and improve on their skills.

Bill was our first speaker of the evening and his speech was about a mentor who was influential in his life. Bill talked about his career experiences in the 1980s, about how he was first a comparative literature major in college and graduated in 1984. Bill applied to law school and took a temp job as a paralegal in the mid-1980s. He even mentioned that part of that experience was like the movie ‘Wall Street’ with Michael Douglas. Bill met a person named Dara, who would become a mentor to Bill. Dara sold Bill’s Dad a computer, taught Bill spreadsheets and accounting, and offered Bill a job in 1986. Bill worked in New York in the 1980s and learned a lot from his mentor, doing computer programming, writing modules, working with code, debugging, etc., setting him on this career path.

Katherine was our second speaker of the evening with a speech titled “Color Your Home.” Katherine’s purpose to her speech was to bring inspiration and an awareness of what color can do. For example, color can make you feel happy, energetic or relaxed, and can bring in a sense of culture. It can change the energy, vibrancy or emotion of a space. Cold colors, such as blues and greens, invite a sense of calm, while warm colors like red, orange and yellow, can give an energetic feel. Color can be incorporated into the home through paint, art, furniture or textiles. Thanks Katherine, for some useful interior design tips!

Cat was our debate master with a thought-provoking topic: Meat production produces a lot more greenhouse gases than plant-based food. In order to combat climate change, we should become vegetarian. The pro side argued that vegetarianism was important in combatting climate change, while the con side argued that eating meat and meat production were okay. The debate ended in a tie.

Our word of the day was myriad, meaning countless or extremely great in number.

We had 14 attendees, including four guests. Thank you all for attending!