Generalise, don’t specialise: why focusing too narrowly is bad for us

The 10,000-hour rule says intense, dedicated practice makes perfect – at that one thing. But what if breadth actually serves us better than depth? By David Epstein

Let’s start with a couple of stories from the world of sports. This first one, you probably know … The boy’s father could tell something was different. At seven months, he gave his son a putter to fool around with, and the boy dragged it everywhere he went in his little circular baby walker. At 10 months, he climbed down from his high chair, trundled over to a golf club that had been cut down to size for him, and imitated the swing he had been watching in the garage. Because the father couldn’t yet talk with his son, he drew pictures to show the boy how to place his hands on the club.

At two, he went on US television and used a club that was tall enough to reach his shoulder to drive a ball past an admiring Bob Hope. That same year, he entered his first tournament, and won the 10-and-under division. There was no time to waste. By three, the boy was learning how to play out of a sandtrap, and his father was mapping out his destiny. He knew his son had been chosen for this, and that it was his duty to guide him. He started prepping his three-year-old to handle the inevitable media attention that would come. He quizzed the boy, playing the role of reporter, teaching him how to give curt answers, never to offer more than precisely what was asked.

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Generalise, don’t specialise: why focusing too narrowly is bad for us