12th December 2019
Neon Elephant Award Announcement
Dr. Will Thalheimer, President of Work-Learning Research, Inc., announces the winner of the 2019 Neon Elephant Award, given to David Epstein for writing the book Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World, and for his many years as a journalist and science-inspired truth teller.
2019 Award Winner – David Epstein
David Epstein, is an award-winning writer and journalist, having won awards for his writing from such esteemed bodies as the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, the Society of Professional Journalists, and the National Center on Disability and Journalism—and has been included in the Best American Science and Nature Writing anthology. David has been a science writer for ProPublica and a senior writer at Sports Illustrated where he helped break the story on baseball legend Alex Rodriguez’s steroid use. David speaks internationally on performance science and the uses (and misuses) of data and his TED talk on human athletic performance has been viewed over eight million times.
Mr. Epstein is the author of two books:
- Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World (2019)
- The Sports Gene: Inside the Science of Extraordinary Athletic Performance (2013)
David is honored this year for his new book on human learning and development, Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World. The book lays out a very strong case for why most people will become better performers if they focus broadly on their development rather than focusing tenaciously and exclusively on one domain. If we want to raise our children to be great soccer players (aka “football” in most places), we’d be better off having them play multiple sports rather than just soccer. If we want to develop the most innovative cancer researchers, we shouldn’t just train them in cancer-related biology and medicine, we should give them a wealth of information and experiences from a wide range of fields.
Range is a phenomenal piece of art and science. Epstein is truly brilliant in compiling and comprehending the science he reviews, while at the same time telling stories and organizing the book in ways that engage and make complex concepts understandable. In writing the book, David is debunking the common wisdom that performance is improved most rapidly and effectively by focusing practice and learning toward a narrow foci. Where others have only hinted at the power of a broad developmental pathway, Epstein’s Range builds up a towering landmark of evidence that will remain visible on the horizon of the learning field for decades if not millennium.
We in the workplace learning-and-development field should immerse ourselves in Range—not just in thinking about how to design learning and architect learning contexts, but also in thinking about how to evaluate prospects for recruitment and hiring. It’s likely that we currently undervalue people with broad backgrounds and artificially overvalue people with extreme and narrow talents.
Here is a nice article where Epstein wrestles with a question that elucidates an issue we have in our field—what happens when many people in a field are not following research-based guidelines. The article is set in the medical profession, but there are definite parallels to what we face everyday in the learning field.
Epstein is the kind of person we should honor and emulate in the workplace learning field. He is unafraid in seeking the truth, relentless and seemingly inexhaustible in his research efforts, and clear and engaging as a conveyor of information. It is an honor to recognize him as this year’s winner of the Neon Elephant Award.