The Learning Leader Show With Ryan Hawk

#310: David Epstein

Full show notes can be found at

David Epstein is the author of the forthcoming Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World , and of the top 10 New York Times bestseller The Sports Gene. David has master’s degrees in environmental science and journalism, and is reasonably sure he’s the only person to have co-authored a paper in the journal of Arctic, Antarctic, and Alpine Research while a writer at Sports Illustrated.  David has given talks about performance science and the uses (and misuses) of data on five continents; his TED Talk has been viewed 7 million times, and was shared by Bill Gates.


  • Leaders who sustain excellence =
    • Voracious learners
    • Voracious readers
    • They attack obstacles
    • Extremely interested in people and about themselves
  • The Sports Gene
    • Having great reflexes is a trained skill — Pro baseball players cannot hit a pro softball pitcher because they have not trained their reflexes to understand the arm angle (Albert Puhols could not hit Jenny Finch even though she throws slower than the average MLB pitcher)
    • “Chunking” is what world class athletes or chess-masters do.  They pick up on cues from the person’s body (or the board) and that helps them make quicker decisions — Ex:  A baseball player understands/learns the cues of a pitcher and what pitch is coming and at what velocity
  • Sports is a “kind learning environment.”  It is more black and white than the business world.  In order to translate this to the business world, try to create a kinder learning environment.  Need as much information available as possible.
    • Create an environment where feedback is happening on a regular basis
    • The business world is not as kind of a learning environment
    • The “annual review” is a horrible way to run a business.  Feedback should be happening on a regular basis… Daily.
    • Bill Campbell would go to the meetings of the leaders he coached and gave immediate feedback.
    • Create a feedback loop for yourself from mentors/people you trust
    • “Everyone needs a coach” — David regularly takes writing courses to stay sharp and learn
  • David’s writing process:
    • The first year = Read 10 scientific papers per day.  He reads a TON
    • Advantage David has created = An expansive search function
    • Have a “master thought list” — Storyboard, shift scenes around
    • He did film editing as a form of cross training for writing a book and becoming a great storyteller
    • 29 of 32 NFL first round draft picks in the 2017 draft played multiple sports.  Cross training is critical for long term success
  • David debated Malcolm Gladwell on stage in front of a huge audience and changed Malcolm’s mind.  Watch here.
  • Athletes that delay specialization excel more than those that specializes (golf is the only exception to the rule)
  • The most effective leaders are constantly updating their mental models
    • It should be celebrated when someone changes their mind because better evidence has surfaced
    • Darwin changed his mind
    • Lincoln changed his mind
  • A ‘deliberate amateur’ = Someone who loves an activity.  “I don’t do research, I do search.” It’s a constant experimentation to learn
  • In a LinkedIn study, the results of a review of all profiles of people who made it to the C-Suite =
    • Went to a Top 5 Business School
    • “The single most important factor is they worked in different functions within a company.”  They were generalists.
  • The people who make the most impact with number of patents filed work across classes.  They are wide ranging generalists.
  • Sales is a great entry point for any business — Learning marketing and sales will benefit you in every job you will ever have
  • “Take your skills and apply them to a problem where those skills aren’t being used.”
  • People underestimate how much the world will change — Must be able to adapt and learn
    • “We learn who we are in practice, not in theory.”  — Take action.  Do the work.
    • Work to accumulate experiences
    • Try something, go all in on the thing you are doing in that moment.  100% focus.  Invest everything you have in it.
      • Then reflect on it — “We learn in moments of reflection.”
  • “When you’re 23, don’t worry about getting ahead, get information about yourself.  Focus on learning.”
  • Use the “Get To Know You Document
  • Why joining The Learning Leader Circle is a good idea

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