Should Your Startup Be Hiring Specialists or Generalists?

Managers love to reward hyper-specialization. But is it better to hire for general problem-solving abilities?

John Belizaire
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Photo: 10'000 Hours/Getty Images

AAbout a month ago, my wife and I hosted our first book club. It was nothing fancy, just some pizza, wine, and one fascinating book: Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World, by David Epstein.

In it, Epstein makes the case that hyper-specialization — something instilled in all of us since grade school — might be overrated. Instead, he believes we should encourage range.

Through vivid examples and research, he illustrates that some of the greatest minds (CEOs, scientists, business people, and athletes) have achieved their success through a process of meandering, experimentation, and cross-disciplinary learning (Epstein calls it “sampling”) — until they find the perfect match.

Range refutes the thesis of Malcolm Gladwell’s pivotal book, Outlier, which made a case for specialization with Gladwell’s famous “10,000 hours” rule.

While we discussed Range at length with our guests, I couldn’t help but think about the implications Epstein’s book has on building teams and finding leaders in startups. I began wondering, should CEOs be hiring generalists or

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John Belizaire
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Writer for

CEO of Soluna. I am learning to be a better CEO — and getting 1% better every day. I share my stories from 20+ yrs experience on ceoplaybook.co.