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Range – is this new concept the secret to success for SMEs?

Range – is this new concept the secret to success for SMEs?

Posted 16th October, 2019 by Sarah

8 minute read

Have you heard of the 10,000 hours rule? Just in case you haven’t, it’s the idea that if a person practices long and hard enough at something they’ll become an expert, regardless of innate talent.

It’s a theory that was propounded by the authors of multiple books in the noughties including Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers, Geoff Colvin’s Talent is Overrated, and Daniel Coyle’s The Talent Code, where the synopsis claimed: ‘Talent. You've either got it or you haven't. Not true, actually.’

Since then, though, the 10,000-hour concept has been put under the microscope and debunked a few times.

In 2014, for example, Princeton University carried out a meta-analysis of 88 studies into deliberate practice and concluded that it accounted for just 12 per cent of differences in performance across a variety of domains.

More than a decade later and a new concept claims that the opposite of the 10,000 hours theory may be true.

The name of this concept?


In this article, we’ll look into range in more detail, from the theory and the psychology involved to real life examples.

What is range?

Coined by David Epstein in his new book Range – How Generalists Triumph in a Specialised World, Range suggests that the best way to excel in any field – from science to business – is to ensure you gain a breadth of experience, take detours, experiment relentlessly and juggle many interests.

Epstein says: “Range makes a compelling case for actively cultivating inefficiency. Failing a test is the best way to learn. Frequent quitters end up with the most fulfilling careers. The most impactful inventors cross domains rather than deepening their knowledge in a single area.

“As experts silo themselves further while computers master more of the skills once reserved for highly focused humans, people who think broadly and embrace diverse experiences and perspectives will increasingly thrive.”

The psychology of range

Over the past few decades, cognitive psychologists have found evidence that a learning strategy called interleaving can help school pupils retain information better than if they learn about topics in silos.

Dimitris Gkiokas defines the concept of interleaving well on the website The Metalearners when he says: “Interleaving is the process of mixing different topics and skills together while learning. Most often, it is either the mix of actually different topics, like math and chemistry.”

Studies have shown interleaving to be beneficial in subjects from maths to music.

Range in real life

You only need to look at the lives and philosophies of some of the world’s most successful entrepreneurs to see range in action.

The most obvious example is Bill Gates. He’s been quoted as saying: “I’ve always prided myself on my ability to teach myself things. Whenever I don’t know a lot about something, I’ll read a textbook or watch an online course until I do.”

The business magnate is also famous for reading a book a week. His annual reading list can feature everything from books on meditation to tomes on genetic engineering. His 2019 list included everything from Infinite Jest, about the pursuit of happiness in America, to Nine Pints, a book about blood.

Richard Branson is also a big believer in the concept of range, although he was ‘believing’ in it before it was actually given a name.

In a blog in March 2017, he wrote: “The best way of learning anything is by doing. I’ve known this ever since I tried and failed to start a business selling Christmas trees, making mistakes and picking up learnings that helped me improve the next time, and time and time again. Having started hundreds of businesses since, and learned thousands of new skills, I’m still learning by doing every day.”

Putting range into action

Of course, you’ll get the most insight into the concept of range by reading Epstein’s book from cover to cover, but the following actions should help you broaden your horizons, too.

Join a networking group

You might think that the purpose of networking is to earn your business new leads, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Joining a networking group that’s not completely specific to your business or industry can give you access to new perspectives and ways of doing things.

Take a look a big networking brands like the BNI UK, which organises regular meetups – also known as chapters – for all sorts of companies around the UK.

Another option is to get involved with the Chamber of Commerce, which has 53 hubs around the country.

If there’s not a business networking group in your area, why not set one up yourself? Take a look at the likes of Lincoln Business Improvement Group for inspiration.

Seek partnerships with other companies

A good example of businesses teaming up is a local restaurant that partners up with a local movie theatre to offer mutual discounts and services such as late night, post-movie, dining times or desserts delivered to the movie screen seating areas.

When you spend time with a complementary business, you’ll get an insight into their ways of working that could inspire changes or innovations in your own company.

Don’t ignore your hobbies

As mentioned above, Bill Gates often gets business inspiration from his books and his meditation sessions. As highlighted in our recent blog ‘How to think like a yogi for better business’ you can learn all sorts of things from taking part in your hobbies that can be transferred to the corporate world.


Taking time off may sound like a cardinal sin to any business owner, but it’s possible to come away from a week abroad with more than just a tan and a tacky fridge magnet.

Especially when you explore slightly more off the radar places, you’ll find other entrepreneurs doing things differently, whether that’s winemakers breaking traditional winemaking rules or street food sellers turning the concept of curb side eats on its head.

Categories: Small Businesses

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