"The Tiger Path, or The Roger Path, that is the question."
Tiger Woods’ life and career might seem to lead us to believe that he is the prototype for proficiency. Consider his extremely early life specialization in golf and the meteoric rise to reign the sport that soon followed. Our culture may have taken it for granted that the key to success is doing what he did, getting the 10,000 hours author Malcolm Gladwell (Outliers: The Story Of Success) believes it takes to become world class caliber at something in as early as possible. The formula is so simple it has to work: Pick what you want to get good at before you emerge from the womb and apply yourself to that and only that until you are the best in the world at it. Stay on course and settle at nothing less until that happens.
As David Epstein, author of Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World, explains further in this recent talk, however, real life is not much like the predictably patterned game of golf, it is far more chaotic and complicated. The rules and play of golf are remarkably “kind,” while the types of problems real life presents are said to be much more “wicked” in nature. If that is the case, then we may be overprescribing the specialist’s path to virtuosity. One noticeable undesirable outcome of this tendency includes our recent epidemic of surgeries for young people to repair sports related injuries.
Enter Roger Federer. Roger followed more of a generalist’s path to tennis mastery, trying many different activities before becoming a tennis champion. This more experimental method, with a higher degree of tolerance for error in types of activities pursued is actually more reliable in producing successful individuals. He maintains that we should encourage both approaches to developing mastery to reach a more balanced and innovative society.