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David  Epstein

David Epstein

Best-Selling Author on the Science of High Performance


Best-selling author and science writer David Epstein has made it his mission to uncover the keys to achieving high performance in any domain, and to debunk popular myths along the way. His top 10 New York Times best-seller, The Sports Gene, took readers inside the surprising science of extraordinary athletic performance. (It has been translated in 21 languages, and was read by both President Barack Obama and former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.) In his latest book, Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World, he examines the world’s top performers, from professional athletes to artists, scientists, entrepreneurs and Nobel laureates. Named as one of Wharton professor Adam Grant’s “New Leadership Books to Read in 2019,” and by the Washington Post as one of the “10 Leadership Books to Watch For,” Range has received rave reviews from the likes of Daniel Pink (“Range is an urgent and important book, an essential read for bosses, parents, coaches, and anyone who cares about improving performance.”) and Malcolm Gladwell (“For reasons I cannot explain, David Epstein manages to make me thoroughly enjoy the experience of being told that everything I thought about something was wrong.”) Read More >

Epstein brings bold new insights to business, education, technological innovation, healthcare and other industries on the best approach to career development. His conclusion: In most fields, especially those that are complex, unpredictable, and difficult to automate, generalists, not specialists, are primed to excel. Sharing fascinating examples from the career trajectories of Duke Ellington and Roger Federer to a preeminent CEO who took her first job around the age her peers were retiring, Epstein shows that at every stage of life, from the development of children in math, music and sports to students fresh out of college trying to find their way, to midcareer professionals in need of a change and would-be retirees looking for a new vocation after moving on from their previous one — generalists triumph as the world around them becomes increasingly specialized.

Epstein has spoken on the science of high performance and novel uses (and misuses) of data on five continents, to organizations from NASA to the Pat Tillman Foundation and at a diverse array of events from the World Knowledge Forum in Seoul to the open-source software community’s Hadoop Summit. In 2014, his main stage TED Talk was one of the 20 most viewed of the year and has since been viewed nearly seven million times. It was recently touted by Bill Gates.

Epstein’s writing has appeared in numerous national and international publications, from The New York Times and The Atlantic to National Geographic. He was previously an investigative reporter at ProPublica, where his work ranged from an investigation into the DEA’s complicated pursuit of Chapo Guzman’s rivals, to a This American Life episode about a woman with muscular dystrophy who discovered that she shares a mutated gene with an Olympic medalist.

A former Sports Illustrated senior writer, Epstein authored or co-authored several of their most high profile investigative pieces, including the 2009 revelation of Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez’s steroid use. He has master’s degrees in environmental science and journalism from Columbia University, and was twice NCAA All-East as an 800-meter runner

Merging stories from the worlds of sports, business, medicine, and education, Epstein sheds light on the paths to peak performance. From how to best prepare for our specialized world to how to optimally incorporate AI into our workplaces, Epstein unpacks the science of success — leaving audiences with actionable takeaways to improve how they live, work, and prepare for the future. Read Less ^

Speaker Videos

TEDTalk: Are Athletes Really Getting Faster, Better, Stronger?

Juggling Through Implicit Learning

CLSA Investors' Forum 2014

Appearance on Good Morning America

2014 Sports Summit with Tony Hawk

Epstein Versus Gladwell: The Sports Gene Versus 10,000 Hours

The Future of Youth Sports

Speech Topics

0.5%: The Margin between Good and Great, and How to Find It

As sports have become high stakes, global competitions, the performance margins that differentiate good, great and legendary have shrunk dramatically. Fortunately, cutting edge science has shone a light on the best path to peak performance, and it contradicts the most popular notions about skill acquisition, like the famed “10,000-hours Rule.” That argument says that only accumulated hours of practice matter to success. In fact, though, future experts start off practicing less in their eventual discipline than their peers. David Epstein explains just what it is that future elites are doing during that time that primes them for later (and greater) success. He also dissects how — once at the top competitive level — athletes are using “small data” to find what factors most matters for performance, and which of those they can change in the pursuit of the final 0.5% of performance. The conclusions from elite sports can guide any individual or team in the search to find their personal 0.5%.

Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World

What’s the most effective path to success in any domain? It’s not what you think. Plenty of experts argue that anyone who wants to develop a skill, play an instrument, or lead their field should start early, focus intensely, and rack up as many hours of deliberate practice as possible. If you dabble or delay, you’ll never catch up to the people who got a head start. But a closer look at research on the world’s top performers, from professional athletes to Nobel laureates, shows that early specialization is the exception, not the rule. David Epstein examined the world’s most successful athletes, artists, musicians, inventors, forecasters and scientists. He discovered that in most fields—especially those that are complex, unpredictable, and difficult to automate—generalists, not specialists, are primed to excel. Generalists often find their path late, and they juggle many interests rather than focusing on one. They’re also more creative, more agile, and able to make connections their more specialized peers can’t see.

From Wicked to Kind: Easier Learning in a Changing Environment

Today’s rapidly evolving knowledge economy has created a major challenge for every business: employees have to keep learning and evolving on the job. Traditional training approaches — lectures and workshops that are separated from the work experience — aren’t enough. The typical result: after an initial learning period, most people tend not to get much better at the most complicated parts of their work--the parts that entail what psychologists call “wicked” learning environments. A wicked learning environment has too little feedback, and what feedback does exist is either delayed or incomplete, which severely undermines learning. In this talk, David Epstein shares the science of how to build in feedback mechanisms that facilitate on-the-job learning in a constantly changing environment.

AI & Watson & You & Google Flu

Since Deep Blue defeated Garry Kasparov in chess in 1997 — leading to the ominous Newsweek cover, “The Brain’s Last Stand” — every sector has had to grapple with how (and whether) to incorporate AI. As it turned out, though, Deep Blue’s triumph was not nearly the brain’s last stand. A similar cycle of promise and hype has proliferated in the wake of Google-owned AlphaZero’s staggering success. Unlike Deep Blue, AlphaZero taught itself how to play chess, and promptly destroyed the competition. And yet, AlphaZero has not sealed the brain’s last stand — not even close. In this talk, David Epstein will use real-world examples — from chess and self-driving cars to IBM’s Jeopardy!-winning Watson and Google’s flu prediction project — to discuss the opposite strengths and weaknesses of humans and computers, and how you can use that knowledge to smartly incorporate AI into any workplace.

The Few True Learning Hacks

Mass media is rife with “learning hacks” and “brain training” exercises that promise to speed up your ability to assimilate important information and skills. The bad news is that the vast majority of them are total nonsense and have no scientific backing. The good news is that there is a short list of true learning strategies that are among the most rigorously supported findings in all of cognitive psychology, and they work from grade school to grad school. And yet, they are virtually ignored. In this talk, David Epstein details the most effective known strategies for learning, and how they make new knowledge durable (it sticks) and flexible (it can be applied widely). From how to use tests as the ultimate educational tool to how to order learning experiences for maximum retention, science-backed strategies may not be as fast as the shiny new learning hack in that Medium post you read, but they have one major benefit: they work!

How Elite Teachers and Learners Act

As athletes have gotten better, and as the performance gaps between elites have narrowed, sports have become far more than simple physical competitions — they have morphed into learning contests. Sports scientists search furiously for any way that skills can be taught and learned more rapidly and more completely, and much of what they’ve found applies in any teaching arena. Read More >

Epstein shares with audiences specific tips and tools that can applied right away to bolster learning like:

  • Chunking: the practice of contextualized learning that makes chess masters appear to have photographic memories, when really they’ve just learned how to quickly analyze groups of pieces the way you can analyze words in a language you speak fluently.
  • Self-regulatory behavior: a pattern of reflective self-analysis — which can be taught — that sports scientists have used to accurately predict which 12-year-old children will avoid dreaded learning-plateaus and go on to become professional athletes in sports from hockey to soccer. Amazingly, self-regulatory behavior also predicted which students would outperform their peers in the classroom!
  • Implicit learning: sports scientists have found that rigorous technical instruction for young learners often backfires, slowing the rate of learning. Instead, they have developed systems to help performers “learn like a baby,” and enhance their rate and depth of learning with strategies that make use of indirect instruction.

These are just a few of the cutting edge findings from the science of skill acquisition in sports that Epstein will share. With the concrete instructional examples he includes, any teacher will walk away with something new to try. Read Less ^