Many experts say that if you want to learn something, like playing an instrument, writing or playing a sport, you should start early. In the book Range, Why Generalists Succeed in a Specialized World, author David Epstein refutes this thesis.
Changing career paths, taking different university courses and trying new things can help you see synergies between completely unrelated subjects and improve your lateral thinking skills. Lateral thinking means, for example, the ability to find new uses for a product or thing.
Being a generalist can make you more flexible, innovative and agile. An example in the book of how a generalist thinks is: what if I take something old and create something new? Gunpei Yokoio, a generalist working at Nintendo, suggested that they use old technology to create a new game that commuters could play on their way to work, which led to the invention of the first Gameboy.
I think we writers benefit from being T-shaped people. T-shaped people are generalists who have one or more specialist skills. Knowing a bit about everything makes it easier to give our characters life and credibility. If we have tried different things ourselves, such as careers or sports, we learn things that we can later apply to our writing. I myself have worked as everything from a warehouse worker to a customs administrator before I started working in communications and marketing. Who knows when I’ll be able to use the things I learned in those jobs.
Another thing generalists often do is find their “calling” late in life. By jumping around, trying many different things (which you later find useful), you may find what you are really good at and want to continue doing in your old age. And that’s okay! All the experience you gain can be useful, whether you want to write books, become a doctor or a math teacher.
What I like about this book is that it reminds me that it’s not too late to try a new career, get an education or start following a dream, no matter how young or old you are.
It is a book that I recommend everyone to read.