Forgot your password?
typodupeerror
Image

Outliers, The Story Of Success 357

Posted by samzenpus
from the read-all-about-it dept.
TechForensics writes "Outliers, by Malcolm Gladwell, is subtitled "the story of success." It is a book that purports to explain why some people succeed far more than others. It suggests that a success like Bill Gates is more attributable to external factors than anything within the man. Even his birth date turns out to play a role of profound importance in the success of Bill Gates and Microsoft Corporation." Look below for the rest of Leon's review.
Outliers
author Malcolm Gladwell
pages 301
publisher Little, Brown and Co.
rating Excellent.
reviewer Leon Malinofsky
ISBN 978-0-316-03669-6
summary Success comes from external factors or unsuspected internal ones.


Outliers also tries to answer such diverse questions as what Gates has in common with the Beatles; why Asians have superior success at math; and the reason the world's smartest man is one of the least accomplished. All of these things are viewed in terms of generation, family, culture, and class. Outliers — those persons of exceptional accomplishment — typically have lives that proceed from particular patterns.

Chapter 1 is an examination of similar towns in Italy with vastly disparate life expectancies and no apparent reason. Though the towns were only miles apart, the life expectancy in Roseto was surprisingly longer-- longer, in fact, than any neighboring town in the region, making Roseto an outlier. The eventual explanation, namely, the prevalence of multigenerational families under a single roof with the attendant reduced stress of lifestyle, while not one of the book's more shocking revelations, nevertheless serves as an example of an outlier and the sometimes hidden causes of their status.

Chapter 2 seeks to answer the curious question why athletes on elite Canadian teams were all born in the same few months of their birth year. In a system in which achievement is based on individual merit, one would assume the hardest work would translate to the best achievement. The fact this criterion on was wholly overmastered by timing of birth was studied and showed that hidden advantage, namely being older and stronger than persons born later in the year of eligibility brought continuous, cascading, even snowballing advantage, which ultimately produced Canada's most elite players. If everyone born, in, say, 1981 was eligible to begin play only in a single year, then naturally the older boys, being larger and better coordinated, would dominate. Hockey player selection in Canada is shown to be a self-fulfilling prophecy, namely a situation where a false definition in the beginning invokes a new behavior which makes the original false conception come true.

Chapter 3 is far and away the most interesting in the book. It sets forth the so-called 10,000 hour rule, and in its course, shows why Bill Gates and the Beatles succeeded for essentially the same reason. Gladwell begins by noting that musical geniuses such as Mozart, and chess grandmasters, both achieved their status after about 10 years. 10 years is roughly how long it takes to put in 10,000 hours of hard practice. 10,000 hours is the magic number of greatness. Both Bill Joy at the University of Michigan and Bill Gates at Seattle's famous Lakeside school, two schools with some of the first computer terminals, had access to unlimited time-sharing computer time at essentially the beginning of the modern industry and before anyone else. Because both were absorbed and drawn into programming, spending countless hours in fascinated self-study, both achieved 10,000 hours of programming experience before hitting their level. Because hitting that level took place at exactly the time need for that level of computer expertise manifested in society, ability came together with need and unique uber programmers were born. The Beatles played seven days a week on extended stints in Hamburg Germany and estimated by the time they started their phenomenal climb to greatness in England that they had played for 10,000 hours. Subsequent studies of musicians in general in music school showed that elite, mid-level, and low-level musicians hewed very closely to the "genius is a function of hours put in and not personal gifts" school of thought: members of each group had similar amounts of total lifetime practice. This book makes a fascinating case that genius is a function of time and not giftedness, validating both Edison's famous saw about 98% perspiration and Feynman's claim that there is no such thing as intelligence, only interest.

The next chapter tells the tale of Bill Langen, whose IQ is one of the highest in recorded history. However, he was a spectacular failure in his personal life. Prof. Oppenheimer, on the other hand ascended to work on the Manhattan Project though in graduate school he had tried to poison his adviser. The difference is shown to result from an astonishing lack of charisma and a sense of what others are thinking in Langen, and an extreme personability in Oppenheimer, which is said to show that success is not a function of hard work or even genius but more of likability and the ability to empathize.

Chapter 5 tells the tale of attorney Joseph Flom, of Skadden Arps Slate Meagher and Flom. According to Gladwell, Flom did not succeed through hustle and ability but rather by virtue of his origins. Intelligence, personality and ambition were not enough, but had to be coupled with origins in a Jewish culture in which hard work and ingenuity were encouraged, and in fact a necessary part of life. This, along with having to scrabble in a firm cobbled together out of necessity because Jews were not hired by white-shoe law firms, gave the partners and unusual and timely expertise: Flom's firm decided it had to take hostile takeover cases when no one else would, and that turned Flom and his partners into experts in a kind of legal practice just beginning to boom when they hit their stride.

Chapter 6 traces the influence on a person's culture of origin and how it marks him more in the present day then may be generally appreciated. Psychological experiments proved that a so-called culture of honor, such as that found in the South, where people of necessity had nothing but their reputations, caused the products of such a culture to be much more aggressive in defending themselves, their reputations and honor.

Chapter 7 traces the influence of Korean culture and deference to superiors as significant facts in a high number of plane crashes in the national airlines. It was only when cultural phenomena such as the inability to contradict a superior were corrected by cultural retraining that Korean Air Lines began to achieve the same safety levels of the airlines of other countries. This chapter is interesting for its treatment of flight KAL 007 alone.

Chapter 8 will have strong interest for most Slashdot readers. There is an Asian saying that no one who can rise before dawn 360 days a year can fail to make his family rich. The hard, intricate work of operating a successful rice paddy, equal in complexity to an organic chemical synthesis almost, is shown to have produced an ability for precision and complexity which outstrips growers of other crops. The fact that Asian languages in many cases use shorter and more logical words for numbers confers a strong early advantage which, like the age advantage in the hockey player example, snowball significantly over time. Gladwell argues Asians are not innately more able at math, but culturally more amenable to it based on the felicity of a language which is to our language as the metric system of weights and measures is to the English.

The final chapters of the book show that inner-city kids placed in intensive study schools achieve as much as kids from rich suburbs. The reason is found to be cultural: the long hours in those schools take up evening hours which would be spent at home and also take up summer hours, which in the special schools are full of math instead of the less than well-directed extracurricular pursuits typically found in the lower-income family home.

On the whole this book is going to provoke some ire and certainly some head scratching. It is bound to bear out in the minds of many Prof. Richard Feynman's assertion, which we may modify to say that giftedness and IQ are not inherent but conferred by accidents or benefits of culture, or at least via mechanisms that are not obvious. Even if such a conclusion sounds laughable to you, this book may change your thinking.

You can purchase Outliers from amazon.com. Slashdot welcomes readers' book reviews -- to see your own review here, read the book review guidelines, then visit the submission page.

*

This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

Outliers, The Story Of Success

Comments Filter:
  • Interesting (Score:4, Informative)

    by GMonkeyLouie (1372035) <gmonkeylouie AT gmail DOT com> on Wednesday March 04, 2009 @01:22PM (#27066373)

    Looks like a very interesting book, very much in the flavor of Freakonomics, in that it uses each chapter to explore a completely different phenomenon and simply orbits around a nebulous main argument.

    I very much like that approach because it leaves me, as a reader, feeling like I've taken an adventure and seen a lot in the course of a book; it appeals to casual readers who like their nonfiction to be as exciting and as unpredictable as their fiction.

    I expect to pick it up from the library as soon as I can. Thanks for your review!

    • This seems to be his third or fourth book of this type. Not that I'm complaining - I've read Blink, and Tipping Point - both very interesting reads. It gives some of the explanations behind behaviours that I've noticed, but hadn't thought about why they occurred.

    • Specifically, an example of the Fundamental Attribution Error. [wikipedia.org]

      • by DeadChobi (740395) <DeadChobiNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Wednesday March 04, 2009 @02:19PM (#27067153)

        Well yeah, but the way the book is described, it sounds a lot to me like a way to excuse not trying at all. "Oh, I'm never going to get my 10,000 hours in because I don't have the good fortune of having a good computer terminal and the societal situation where my skills will be needed." The Fundamental Attribution Error is the other side of the fine line that needs walking. On one side we have the idea that everyone can outstrip everyone else through sheer force of will and intelligence. On the other side we have the idea that there is no way to control our lives and that everyone who succeeds in life is simply lucky enough to be in conditions that allow them to succeed. The latter mistaken view would result in people waiting their whole lives for an opportunity instead of seeking one out. Yes, conditions are important, but you have to seek out conditions for your success rather than just standing around waiting for it to happen.

        It sounds like the author neglects to mention that Bill Gates put in those 10,000 hours through sheer tenacity. Programming is actually hard work, and so is self-teaching. There was no luck involved in the things that determined his personality, unless you want to go so far as to say that everything we do is through sheer chance and that there is no real cognition. Cognition is a deterministic process, not a wholly unpredictable process. For whatever reason Bill Gates fixated on computer programming. You might even say that he decided to study computer programming.

        • by retchdog (1319261)

          Well, don't worry. The way things are going, you'll have to fight like hell just to survive. Forget any meaningful kind of "success". Unless you're born into the right group, and if you are, you know it and don't need to do much of anything.

        • by Knuckles (8964) <knuckles@NoSpAm.dantian.org> on Wednesday March 04, 2009 @03:39PM (#27068133)

          There was no luck involved in the things that determined his personality

          Not to take anything away from hard work, but coming from a rich family that allowed him to put 10,000 hours into programming instead of, say, shoveling ditches at 16 certainly was not *bad* luck.

          • by FrankieBaby1986 (1035596) on Wednesday March 04, 2009 @05:07PM (#27069237)
            Here, Here, between 10 and 15 I put in a lot of time self-studying computers (old (2/3)86 machines that people gave away), and generally excelled in school. But when 16 came along, it was time to start working if I wanted anything, all thew way up through my 4 years so far in college. Needless to say, my progress has been less than stellar. Partly my own fault, partly because after working 20 hrs a week outside of class to pay for college, the less-than-fascinating classes take a hit.
            • by Knuckles (8964) <knuckles@NoSpAm.dantian.org> on Wednesday March 04, 2009 @06:00PM (#27070069)

              Where I live, people who, for some reason or other, don't go into higher education start an apprenticeship at 16, if they are lucky and don't end up as unskilled workers. Part of that apprenticeship is to attend formal education at a public vocational school for 3 months per year or so. There, they are supposed to practice their craft in a regulated setting and learn the theoretical stuff they need. The school is also partly supposed to ensure that their masters/educators at the company do a reasonable job, which sadly is often not the case.

              Friends of mine teach at such a vocational school, and they report that the students are generally in a sad state. Usually they come from less than stellar homes, which makes them prone to being more used to drinking and watching TV than educating themselves. In addition they are often used more as cheap labor than actual apprentices at their jobs, and they are often doing really hard work for their age, which often is mindless, too. As a result, the efforts at school largely go to waste, despite the best efforts of most of the teachers.
              Any talented kids that grow up in such an environment are IMHO very likely to end up below the level that is possible for them.

              I myself always worked during summers from 16 all through my university years, and earlier-on, during my school year and early uni time when I was not skilled enough to get actually interesting jobs in my field of study, I usually worked quite demanding jobs in construction, factories, etc., because they paid reasonably.
              I doubt that many people are able to educate themselves properly in their free time in addition to doing jobs like these, even if they are highly intelligent and interested. I'm not saying that it is impossible, and we all know that there are examples for that. However, it takes a very special state of mind, a lack of which says little about the other talents of a human being.

          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by mgblst (80109)

            It can also go the other way. I come from a rich family, therefore I don't have to work hard, since I will be well off anyway.

            A lot of rich families pamper their children, and don't instill in the them the same need to work. Bill got away with it, I think, because of a natural interest in computers, that a lot of us here have.

        • by ShakaUVM (157947) on Wednesday March 04, 2009 @04:15PM (#27068627) Homepage Journal

          >>Well yeah, but the way the book is described, it sounds a lot to me like a way to excuse not trying at all. "Oh, I'm never going to get my 10,000 hours in because I don't have the good fortune of having a good computer terminal and the societal situation where my skills will be needed."

          Actually, Gladwell says just that in an interview with Charlie Rose.
          http://www.charlierose.com/view/interview/9855 [charlierose.com]

          He surmises that the reason really smart people (people with high IQs) don't do noticeably better than merely smart people (IQs around 120) is that they know how much work it'll take, and choose to not do it. He says they are noticeably happier than the general population, so maybe that's the key.

          I finished Outliers last week, and came away with it with the same impression that I get from all of Gladwell's books, which is that it's half insightful, half complete nonsense.

          For example, his central thesis is that our heroic model isn't accurate, that Bill Joy and Gates are more the product of their times than anything having to do with their own skills, and that they just happened to be given the necessary 10,000 hours of training before anyone else had access to them, and since they were born at the right time to capitalize on the digital revolution, that's why they're successful.

          Personally, I'd flip it around. I'd say, "Sure, training, skill, being born at the right time, and luck in general, are all critical elements of success. But why was it that Joy and Gates became the 'successful' people, when their compatriots, who also had the 10,000 hours of training, early access to computer systems, and were bright and ambitious, did not?"

          In other words, Gladwell goes too far in destroying the idea of individual effort in becoming 'successful'. While we might often fail to consider the environment that produced these people, we also have to realize (which Gladwell doesn't) that these guys weren't, by any means, unique in their backgrounds.

          I also take some exception with his notion of success, which is to use wealth as a sort of scorecard. I take Benjamin Franklin's point of view on money, which is to say that it's important up to a certain point, and relatively unimportant after that. If you have enough money to do whatever it is you want to do, that's all the money you really need. It's served me pretty well.

          Perhaps Gladwell should have dug down a little more on those high IQ people that are "failures" (in the sense that they didn't go out and win Nobels at a significantly higher rate) and figured out why they are indeed happier than the general population, since, in my mind, that is the primary indicator of success.

          • by styrotech (136124) on Wednesday March 04, 2009 @09:54PM (#27072681)

            For example, his central thesis is that our heroic model isn't accurate, that Bill Joy and Gates are more the product of their times than anything having to do with their own skills, and that they just happened to be given the necessary 10,000 hours of training before anyone else had access to them, and since they were born at the right time to capitalize on the digital revolution, that's why they're successful.

            I don't think he ever implied that in the book - he stated quite often during the book that it still required plenty of innate talent and hard work to succeed. In that chapter the book practically worships Bill Joy's intellect as well as the hard work it took to gain that 10,000 hours experience.

            There are lots of people with talent that work just as hard that don't succeed - the book tries answer why by examining what else is required, and concludes that circumstance plays a significant part.

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by droptone (798379)
          Just to let you know, heritability estimates for conscientiousness are between 0.18-0.49 (Michelle Luciano, Mark A. Wainwright, Margaret J. Wright, Nicholas G. Martin, The heritability of conscientiousness facets and their relationship to IQ and academic achievement, Personality and Individual Differences, Volume 40, Issue 6, April 2006, Pages 1189-1199, ISSN 0191-8869, DOI: 10.1016/j.paid.2005.10.013).
        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          There was no luck involved in the things that determined his personality

          It just happened that that the skills he honed over those 10,000 hours happened to turn into something valuable. And then Microsoft got a series of lucky breaks. The weather happened to be good on the day that IBM wanted to talk to Intergalactic Digital Research, so the founder was out flying his plane. Had it been a rainy day, Gates' company might have made it through the 1980s, or it might have foundered or been bought out. It cer

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Ash Vince (602485)

      I would recommend you have a read of this guys previous book "Blink" if you have not read it before. It also bears a similar style and takes you on a bit of an adventure.

      I read Blink and Freakonomics back to back and thought they complimented each other quite well even thought they were by different authors on different subjects.

      Blink is largely about how snap judgements are not necessarily bad and is suggesting that you can make them better with practice. He suggests a number of examples in order to formul

    • Well, First things first. Freakanomics copied Gladwell's style not visa versa. Gladwell pretty much started the genre back in 2002 with the tipping point [amazon.com].

      Freakanomics came much later debuting in 2005.
  • by spineboy (22918) on Wednesday March 04, 2009 @01:22PM (#27066393) Journal

    Reminds me of stock market games people play. Someone usually winds up increasing their money by a ridiculous factor. The winner just happened to guess a good set of buys/moves. Another analogy is the million monkeys typing - pure chance will eventually produce a winner.
    I don't believe in luck - but in chance yes. Successful people usually make their own "luck" by doing things to better their odds. Bill Gates might be an example of both.

  • by Maxo-Texas (864189) on Wednesday March 04, 2009 @01:25PM (#27066423)

    Some people do everything right, research, come to correct conclusions, and yet random events destroy them.

    Other people make a series of long odds, even terrible choices and yet do great because of random events.

    Given classic random theory, given a series of 50/50 type decisions, out of 32 people, one person will be completely screwed and one person will win every time. For larger data sets, the lucky runs are only longer.

    I'm sure Gates determination and business acumen made a difference. But winning so big had a lot to do with luck.

    • by gfxguy (98788) on Wednesday March 04, 2009 @01:40PM (#27066651)

      What you say is true, but it never ceases to amaze me that people who:

      - have natural talent
      - develop that talent through hard work and education
      - are tirelessly ambitious
      - and incredibly hard working

      Seem to to magically have the best "luck."

      • by IgnoramusMaximus (692000) on Wednesday March 04, 2009 @02:14PM (#27067085)

        Not true at all. You only notice (and catregorize as "successful") a tiny percentage of all those who did all these things, but of whom a vast majority failed regardless. You are simply ignoring them because they do not fit your theory. It takes only one unfortunate event beyond one's control, of which there is an essentially an infinite supply, to utterly destroy and erase years of hard work and many, many long-odds "victories". On the other hand a one-off fortunate random event of great magnitude is not consistent with the attribution of the reasons for "success" you present, only a long series of hard-earned ones fits the bill. Subsequently, given equal effort, far many more people will fail then will succeed. It's simple probability distribution.

        But of course this patently obvious reasoning is severely inconvenient for people who demand massive privileges and wholly insane allocation of society's resources toward themselves based upon their notion of single-handedly "raising themselves by their bootstraps" or some such nonsense, an image which is massively damaged when one starts any sort of analysis of influence external factors on their "self-made" success. Which in the end is no different really from the kings of old who believed the same based upon "divine providence" and were equally upset when someone dared to question their claim to their disproportionate privileges.

      • Perhaps those are necessary but not sufficient.

        The real issue here is that Bill Gates got credit. How many people like you describe, work tirelessly day after day, providing society with the fruits of their labor (at a far better cost)? I know quite a few, most will never be famous.

        Maybe that's where the luck is...having been recognized from the see of intelligent, hardworking, ambitious people.

      • Apply your model to actors and actresses.

        There are a thousand actors equally qualified to be a tom cruise or julia roberts.

        T&C luckily got the right role, so then they had an audience who would build on that in future roles.

        You could argue that tom has destroyed his career ( with the argument with Brooke Shields mainly ) tho while julia has protected hers.

        Thousands of highly qualified people start businesses every day and fail.

        I think a better way of putting it is ...

        unless you do all the preparation wo

      • by Khashishi (775369) on Wednesday March 04, 2009 @03:25PM (#27067961) Journal
        That's because you've never heard of any of the people who
        - have natural talent
        - develop that talent through hard work and education
        - are tirelessly ambitious
        - and incredibly hard working
        who don't also have good luck.
    • Given classic random theory, given a series of 50/50 type decisions, out of 32 people, one person will be completely screwed and one person will win every time. For larger data sets, the lucky runs are only longer.

      This is absolutely meaningless, a hodgepodge of statistical fallacies and vagueness. Given a "series of 50/50 type decisions", assuming each decision is independent, then it is absolutely not necessary that "in larger data sets, the lucky runs are only longer". If each decision is a coin flip, then there is no "memory" of prior decisions, so the probability of getting a long "lucky run" is exactly the same regardless of the size of the data set. The length of a "lucky run" is independent of the size of the

      • No.

        You misunderstood the most basic point I'm making.

        Given a large population of potential achievers and a larger period of time (a couple of decades), you can model their decisions probablistically. I chose 50% to make it obvious, but it even applies if the odds are 99% to 1%.

        I did ignore that the winners of the first few decisions would benefit in further rounds. You can observe that in the 'winner take all" nature of our society.

        With regard to gates, there were several other potential candidates. Some

    • by eleuthero (812560)
      In line with the other comments, should it not be surprising to you, if luck is a big part of the situation, that Gates, a hard worker, made it big?

      Adding to this, though, various "hard workers" seem to come from the outlier groups of society ... groups that already don't meet the norm...

      More than the likely number of US presidents have been red-haired... more have been left-handed. Bill Gates is left-handed as are most of the other ridiculously famous people throughout history. I would suggest that gro

  • by Gavin Scott (15916) on Wednesday March 04, 2009 @01:29PM (#27066463)

    The biggest indicator of this is the large percentage of successful people who fail utterly when they try to reproduce that success a second time.

    Surprise! You actually aren't god's gift to business after all.

    As far as Bill Gates goes though, if you look at his early history he was indeed in the right place at the right time, but he darn well clawed his way to the top through skill as much as luck I think, and I have a lot of respect for that.

    At a very early computer conference, all the other people got up and allowed as how there was going to be plenty of room in this new industry for all the different manufacturers. Only Bill got up and said "you guys are all wrong, there's going to be one winner and the rest will lose".

    Say what you want about Bill's business methodologies, but I think he's actually about the poorest example of the "outlier" effect that you can find.

    G.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by PiSkyHi (1049584)
      ... why ? because having access to a computer in an age where having ones own helicopter would be similar had no affect on the outcome of Bill's life ?
      • by radtea (464814)

        because having access to a computer

        There is no evidence that Gates is a particularly able developer, so it is a little weird that anyone would focus on the "10,000 hours" rule with regard to his computing skills.

        He is a very capable, ruthless, driven, business-person. THAT is his talent, and I'd bet that MS began to really take off five or ten years after Gates entered the business world... which in fact it did.

        The huge success he made of Microsoft is also due in significant part to luck. As others have

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by timeOday (582209)
        But analysing Bill Gates will never answer the question: given my own (sub-optimal) personal situation, how much would I benefit by trying? You don't want to be unrealistically optimistic (and waste your time) or pessimistic (and not achieve as much as you could have). All the Bill G. example shows is you'll never be #1 in the entire world unless you are both lucky and good. But normally you don't have to be #1 for something to be worthwhile.
    • by syphax (189065) on Wednesday March 04, 2009 @01:51PM (#27066787) Journal

      Except that Bill Gates himself acknowledges that he had very, very unique opportunities that allowed him to be in the right place at the right time.

      You are falling right into the mindset that Gladwell very effectively unwinds in his book.

      Plenty of people have a killer business instinct. Few are in the position to capitalize on it the way Gates did.

      Gladwell never claims that it's all blind luck for guys like Gates and Joy. Rather, it's talent PLUS practice PLUS temperament PLUS blind luck. Gates had it all. Take away one of these elements, and you end up like some of the other case studies in the book (brilliant but wrong temperament, brilliant but bad timing, etc.).

      • by SashaMan (263632)

        Mod parent up. Gladwell very explicitly points out that very successful people ARE different than your average joe and that they do have very rare talents. His point, though, is that this alone is not enough - you also need to be lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time and you need to put in a huge amount of training.

      • Re: (Score:2, Flamebait)

        by teknopurge (199509)

        Plenty of people have a killer business instinct. Few are in the position to capitalize on it the way Gates did.

        Gladwell never claims that it's all blind luck for guys like Gates and Joy. Rather, it's talent PLUS practice PLUS temperament PLUS blind luck.

        As a business owner, I can authoritatively say you are full of it and your statement sounds like a way you justify why people don't succeed.

        It doesn't take blind luck - luck is useless because if you have "good" luck, then it clouds your understanding of why you were successful, nevermind that you were.. I built my business by being patient and creating successful opportunities. When my company was in its early stages I didn't get a list of 1000s of potential clients and cold-call them all until I got a h

        • by tilandal (1004811)

          And how many billions have you made? What separates you from people like Bill Gates and Henry Ford? Timing and Luck.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Knuckles (8964)

          And had you happened to have cancer or a car accident at the wrong time it would all have been for nothing.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by mveloso (325617)

      Evita sang it best (Patti LuPone, not Madonna):

      I was stuck at the right place at the perfect time
      Filled a gap - I was lucky, but one thing I'll say for me
      Noone else can fill it like I can

    • ...he darn well clawed his way to the top through skill as much as luck I think, and I have a lot of respect for that.

      I hope you're respecting the skill part, not the clawing part. We should make sure to disentangle the two.

      For example, there might have a brilliantly talented and trained placekicker, but we might not want to respect his kicking babies. Regardless of how well the babies go sailing.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by smellsofbikes (890263)

      Something the reviewer doesn't make clear, that Gladwell spends a lot of time talking about, is just how important BillG's birthdate was. There was apparently a narrow window of opportunity; if you were born before that, you were already entrenched in another field when computers became huge, and if you were born after that you couldn't ever manage to stay up: you weren't in the bubble. Gladwell submitted as evidence that the window of opportunity was about two years long, and in those two years were born

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by retchdog (1319261)

        A much greater chance; meaning 5 out of ten million, rather than 1 out of ten million?

    • The biggest indicator of this is the large percentage of successful people who fail utterly when they try to reproduce that success a second time.

      Goes back to the fishing analogy. You could try it with cars but it won't work as well. There's a number of factors you can control to maximize your potential for a successful fishing trip. Find out when you should fish, get the right bait, use the proper equipment, all of these factors are in your control. As to whether or not the fish are biting, that's beyond your control. You could be doing everything right and fail. But if the conditions are favorable, you should be getting bites. And once that fish is

  • by richg74 (650636) on Wednesday March 04, 2009 @01:33PM (#27066517) Homepage
    It is bound to bear out in the minds of many Prof. Richard Feynman's assertion, which we may modify to say that giftedness and IQ are not inherent but conferred by accidents or benefits of culture, or at least via mechanisms that are not obvious.

    -

    As it happens, I have just finished reading Outliers, and I liked it a lot. (I've also liked Gladwell's two previous books, The Tipping Point and Blink.)

    I would summarize Gladwell's conclusion slightly differently. I think he would accept that some people are inherently gifted -- in several places, he is careful to say that people like Bill Joy and Bill Gates were very talented. It seems to me the kernel of his argument is that they had inherent talent, but became truly exceptional owing to a combination of favorable circumstances. In other words, their talent was a necessary but not sufficient condition for great success.

    It's perhaps similar to what has been said about sex: to turn out really well, it requires both experience and enthusiasm, and no amount of one can compensate for a complete lack of the other. :-)

    • It seems to me the kernel of his argument is that they had inherent talent, but became truly exceptional owing to a combination of favorable circumstances. In other words, their talent was a necessary but not sufficient condition for great success.

      I haven't read the book yet, but that sounds roughly correct to me. It seems like people who are successful have a tendency to emphasize the part their own innate abilities played in creating that success, while people who aren't successful tend to overemphasize luck and circumstance.

      From my own experiences, from my own successes and failures and knowing some very successful and very unsuccessful people, I would formulate it like this: Someone could hand you success on silver platter, and you still won't

    • by syphax (189065)

      Just read it recently as well.

      I think your summary is correct. I don't think Gladwell did a particularly good job wrapping up the rest of the book, which was otherwise excellent. I feel like he got too worn out or ran out of time before being able to put together a concise conclusion.

  • I agree that intelligence is overrated and interest is key. But you have to have a certain level of intelligence for some pursuits, I think. If you don't have enough intelligence, you have an insurmountable handicap. But once you have enough intelligence, then more intelligence won't help you much. You need to WORK.

    This explains why the "losers" in high school didn't become physicists, or cosmologists, but they eventually succeeded at normal occupations. Even though they might not have had as many brains as

  • by lyapunov (241045) on Wednesday March 04, 2009 @01:34PM (#27066547)

    In the book "The making of the Atomic Bomb" the author, Richard Rhodes, points out something very much like this.
     
    One might think that the distribution of Nobel Prize winning physicists might have a normal distribution, but there is a valley in Hungary (if I remember the book correctly) that has an inordinate amount of Nobel Prize winners.
     
      He makes the case that their elementary level education had a role in this. Students were doing inventive things on their own in math and science at a very early age. As a result, a more natural and internal approach to these subjects followed them through life and put them in a better position to do ground-breaking research.

    By the way, if you have not read "The Making of the Atomic Bomb" I highly recommend it. Not just because of its account of the events of the Manhattan Project, but also because it goes into the philosophy of the 1800's which resulted in the pursuit of bigger, better weapons to rage "Total War". The chemical weapons of WWI were a result of this as well.

  • by Locke2005 (849178) on Wednesday March 04, 2009 @01:36PM (#27066567)
    Prof. Oppenheimer, on the other hand ascended to work on the Manhattan Project though in graduate school he had tried to poison his adviser.The difference is... an extreme personability in Oppenheimer, which is said to show that success is not a function of hard work or even genius but more of likability and the ability to empathize. I don't know about you, but trying to poison your adviser doesn't sound like evidence of "extreme personability", "likability", or "ability to empathize" to me. Sounds more like "being a sociopath" is an important contributing factor to success! "Lickability", on the other hand, is an important contributing factor in choosing a significant other.
    • Based on stories I've heard from many post-graduate friends--poisoning your advisor might be a sensible course of action.

      Remember they're the one who decides whether or not you get your degree. If they for some reason have a grudge against you there's nothing you can do but start over.

      After spending 3 years of your life on something only to have someone tell you "No." for seemingly vindictive reasons I could imagine a likeable person getting a little vindictive themselves. :D

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by fumblebruschi (831320)
      Well, what that actually shows, I think, is that Oppenheimer was very, very good at talking his way out of trouble. Consider that after he tried to murder his graduate advisor, all that happened to him was that he had to see a psychiatrist for the 1920s equivalent of anger management. He received no other punishment and in fact he completed his graduate work at the same university.

      Consider further that General Groves selected him to run the Manhattan Project even though he had all the following black m

  • Please read the comments here [slashdot.org] before rehashing them.
  • not necessarily in that order.

  • by XanC (644172)

    a so-called culture of honor, such as that found in the South were people of necessity had nothing but their reputations

    Before the war, the South was the rich half of the country.

    • That money was only in the hands of a fairly small amount of plantation owners, though. The large majority of residents were poor white farmers.
    • That's not really true. Before the war, the South had many wealthy individuals, but remember that their economy was entirely agricultural and they were totally dependent on only three cash crops (tobacco, sugar, and cotton.) By contrast, the North was heavily industrialized, had a much larger population, and had a much more diverse economy, and thus a much broader tax base. In fact, among the reasons the North won the war is that they were so much better financed.
  • Malcolm Gladwell (Score:4, Informative)

    by MyDixieWrecked (548719) on Wednesday March 04, 2009 @01:40PM (#27066649) Homepage Journal

    I've seen Malcolm Gladwell do talks about 3 or 4 times and he's very engaging as both a speaker and a writer. I got a free copy of his previous book, Blink, which is about how people can "thin-slice" their experiences and make snap judgements based on gut feelings. I twas a fascinating read, but the only problem that I have with his writing style is that it occasionally gets painfully repetitive. He'll make a point, support it with an argument, make the point again, support it some more, revisit the point and give a summary of his previous arguments, then make more arguments to support his point.

    I've been meaning to read Tipping Point and Outliers for a while, but I dunno. I feel like I get a lot more out of his talks (he goes off on tangents, frequently) than I got out of Blink.

  • Bill Gates was successful at holding back the software industry and costing us all billions of dollars though needlessly aggressive tactics and the inability of his business model to produce usable software. I wouldn't consider that a success. I suppose it depends what you're trying to accomplish.
  • If we accept the thesis of the book, it offers a refreshing counterpoint to the popular stereotype of "rags to riches" that is too often held up as an achievable ideal.

    What's wrong with encouraging people to work hard in order to be successful and famous? Nothing, except that it may be substantially based on a false premise. Sure, hard work is generally (though not always) necessary but it may well prove insufficient. And that's the part that always seems to be overlooked when we celebrate the extraor
  • I think that everybody agree that Bill Gates has made his fortune through his business skills and luck not because of his programming skills.
    So he may have spent 10,000 hours programming but this doesn't mean that he is a programming genius..

  • by MrEricSir (398214) on Wednesday March 04, 2009 @01:52PM (#27066803) Homepage

    Someone needs to write a book about total failures, and what NOT to do with your life. I fear it may involve people who spend all day posting on Slashdot.

  • Mr. Anecdote (Score:4, Insightful)

    by blamanj (253811) on Wednesday March 04, 2009 @01:56PM (#27066863)

    I've decided that Malcolm Gladwell is a storyteller. As such, he learns what stories resonate with people, and because he's a good storyteller, he's become very successful at spinning his tales.

    While I haven't read Outliers, I did read "Blink" and found that while he provided lots of anecdotes to support his premise, there was no mechanism, no measurement, and no way to verify it. In fact, he provided a number of other anecdotes that showed just the opposite.

    What he did in that book, I think, was to state a premise that we'd like to believe, that our gut instincts are right, and tell stories to reinforce that, but never go so far as to make a claim that could be verified. I'm not alone in this view [blogs.com].

    Based on what I've read so far, "Outliers" seems like more of the same.

    • Re:Mr. Anecdote (Score:4, Interesting)

      by mrgarci1 (1447131) on Wednesday March 04, 2009 @02:00PM (#27066925)
      Actually, I'm almost done with Outliers and there is a fair amount of scientific evidence (as well as the usual anecdotes), especially with regard to things like relative age. More evidence than he used in his previous books, anyway.
    • by RyLaN (608672)

      I did read "Blink" and found that while he provided lots of anecdotes to support his premise, there was no mechanism, no measurement, and no way to verify it. In fact, he provided a number of other anecdotes that showed just the opposite.

      What he did in that book, I think, was to state a premise that we'd like to believe, that our gut instincts are right, and tell stories to reinforce that, but never go so far as to make a claim that could be verified. I'm not alone in this view [blogs.com].

      Based on what I've read so far, "Outliers" seems like more of the same.

      You might be interested in Antonio Damasio's book "Descarte's Error" in which Damasio scientifically presents evidence that the majority of our reasoning is in fact mediated by emotion and "gut feeling" linked to situational stimulus. Damage to the pre-frontal cortex of the brain (see: Phineas Gage [wikipedia.org]) impairs this "secondary" emotional system and causes quantifiable decision-making deficits. Gladwell is referring to just this system in Blink, and although he does occaisionally lapse into pop-sci there is a si

  • by mr_mischief (456295) on Wednesday March 04, 2009 @02:06PM (#27066999) Journal

    "Be not afraid of greatness: some are born great, some achieve greatness and some have greatness thrust upon them." (Twelfth Night, Act 2, Scene 5)

    It's quite plain to see that the author is talking about greatness. If he's well read, he should know the idea that some are bound to greatness by chance was written long ago.

    Explaining some of the happenings of chance that confer this effect is a useful goal. Perhaps knowing more ways to improve one's odds at greatness will allow more people to improve them. Perhaps it will even allow more great breakthroughs.

    We all in the modern world stand on the shoulders of giants. Some of us put that to better use than others. Some of us by chance are given different giants, too.

    Sure, a Chinese or Japanese child may have an easier number system to learn. A European or American child, though, has a much smaller and simpler alphabet. People born with safe running water and household electrical current live a life different from people who spend part of their time hauling water and burn candles or kerosene lamps for light. Which child do you expect to write the next great computer application? It's probably not one who has think about getting power to cook his food. It'll probably be a child who doesn't have to worry about power for his computer.

    Of all those who have most of the advantages of a Bill Gates or a Warren Buffet, how many actually take advantage of all of them?

  • by hellfire (86129) <deviladv@g m a i l . com> on Wednesday March 04, 2009 @02:13PM (#27067071) Homepage

    It seems to me the lesson is that you not only need to be smart, but you need to be willing to do the work to find opportunities, and willing to act upon them. Also, you need to have a little luck to be in the right place at the right time.

    Not to beat a very bad fanboi cliche to death, but Steve Jobs vs Bill Gates. Steve saw an opportunity to sell a computer to the masses in the 70s and kick start the personal computer market. Bill saw an opportunity to tie his DOS to the IBM PC when he saw more business people wanted the PC over an Apple II. Steve saw the opportunity to create a graphical UI after visiting PARC and find a way to sell it, but wasn't nearly successful this time, because conditions were not in his favor (thanks to Bill Gates well timed opportunity). Bill then copied Steve's project and used his previous well timed success to do what Steve didn't quite have the leverage to do, get the GUI out to the masses.

    Also look at Steve recognizing the market for ripping and mixing CDs, and the coming of the MP3, to create a music player at the right time that's easy to use, and to come up with a marketing plan that made everyone want it.

    Both these men have skills and experience I'll never have. But they'd be nothing if the opportunity didn't arise. They'd be even less if the opportunity did arise, and no one took advantage of it. They'd just be here like the rest of us pontificating on how some other guy is a genius or not, struggling to install their copy of Ubuntu or something.

    I guess my point is that this isn't something entirely new. This sounds like another book about the butterfly effect, so I'm not sure how useful it would be, though I'm sure its interesting entertainment.

  • I read Malcolm Gladwell's book about a month ago and I just finished Steve Martin's new book, Born Standing Up, this morning. What I found remarkable was that Steve Martin's book exactly parallels the process that Malcolm Gladwell talks about.

    Steve Martin's book begins:

    "I did stand-up comedy for eighteen years. Ten of those years were spent learning, four years were spent refining, and four were spent in wild success."

    There are other parallels such as having the opportunity to work at Disneyland from a you

  • by kybur (1002682) on Wednesday March 04, 2009 @02:20PM (#27067181)
    I finished reading this book last month. As a former airline pilot, I take some issue with Gladwell's explanations of these aviation incidents.

    1) Gladwell's description of the mechanics windshear was inaccurate. Perhaps he understood what he was saying when he wrote it, but the way it reads sound s like he is saying that when a plane is flying into a headwind, the pilots need to use more power, and then if that headwind shears to a tail wind, all of a sudden, the plane is going too fast to land. This is really the opposite of what is true. Pilots don't really care so much about their ground speed as they approach the runway, only their airspeed. You don't use more power going into a head wind, because using more power would increase your airspeed. On really windy days, you can get small airplanes to track backwards over the ground, but they still have a positive airspeed within the normal operating limits. If a headwind shears to a tail wind, you don't have too much momentum, you have too little airspeed.

    2) The idea that these non-US countries were less safe to fly in because of their culture of not questioning superiors is also questionable. Each airline has a corporate which ends up defining how crew members interact. Guess what, 40+ years ago, the corporate culture in the airlines in this country (USA) was similar to Korean Air's culture 15 years ago. The US airlines made a point to change their cultures, and safety was enhanced greatly. When the US consultants when to Korean Air, the same thing happened there. But there is no reason to say that the unsafe culture was do to Korean philosophies -- just a less modern attitude toward cockpit resource management.

    3) Controlled flight into terrain (CFIT) accidents are always awful to read about. I think Malcolm missed the really big explanation for the CFIT crash that he describes. Historically, the ground proximity warning systems in large aircraft were not vary accurate at all. They were based mostly on rates of change of radar altitude, and were highly prone to calling out warnings when there was no problem, just spurious readings from the radar altimeter. As a result, pilots learned to not take advice from these units seriously. If they had, the accident Gladwell discusses certainly would not have happened. Modern enhanced ground proximity warning systems (eGPWS) use GPS and a database of obstructions, and are very reliable. With a reliable instrument, comes trust, and a pilot today, getting a warning from eGPWS is far less likely to make the same mistake.

    If there are so many basic reasoning problems with chapter 7, how many problems are there in chapters outside my areas of expertise?

    All this said, I'd recommend the book, it's a NYT bestseller, and it is very well written and thought provoking. It's provoking this discussion, and thats what a good book should do.

  • by Non-Newtonian Fluid (16797) on Wednesday March 04, 2009 @02:48PM (#27067529)

    I was a Chinese major, studied and lived in Japan for 4 years and am fluent in both languages. I've also studied a small bit of Korean as well.

    I'm not sure how words for numbers could be more "logical" in these languages. In fact, in Korean there are two number naming systems -- one of native origin and the other of Chinese origin -- that can be used for values up to 100. (Japanese has this as well, but only up to 10.) For higher values the Chinese number names are used. So I doubt it has anything to do with language. Rather, I could see the the use of the abacus as a teaching tool as a big advantage, since it seems to confer a visceral knowledge of numbers and calculations that would be hard to acquire otherwise. Many people I know who became proficient with an abacus can visualize one in their head and use that visualization to do calculations.

    That said, learning "Indian methods of calculation" seems to have become popular in Japan recently. There are at least two Nintendo DS games that give instruction on how to do arithmetic using methods taught in Indian schools (I own one of them).

  • Malcolm Gladwell is overrated. His books ramble on for chapters and chapters when the concept could be expressed in a paragrapgh or two.
    .

    Blink - go with your first feeling. There, that's the whole 100+ page book in a five word sentence.

    Why people continue to fork money over to this guy is beyond me.

    • Why people continue to fork money over to this guy is beyond me.

      Because his books are written in a much more entertaining style than your five word synopsis? See also "Infotainment".

      Oh... that was a rhetorical question? Nevermind.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by jeffc128ca (449295)

      Blink - go with your first feeling. There, that's the whole 100+ page book in a five word sentence.

      Actually that's incorrect. The book says that intuition in experienced people works well. It's quite lousy in people without experience. Your brain is intuitively capable of processing lots of data and coming up with a correct action to a problem based on your past experience. It can do this way faster than it takes to consciously work it out. There are many many people who can't seem to grasp this concep

  • Gladwell argues Asians are not innately more able at math, but culturally more amenable to it based on the felicity of a language which is to our language as the metric system of weights and measures is to the English.

    Ummm, the French system is worse than the standard system. If the analogy held then Asians would be worse at math.

    French units have one single benefit: they are easily convertable. That's only a benefit on paper, and only a benefit when performing unit conversions. Base-10 is utterly ho

  • Ecclesiastes (Score:3, Insightful)

    I returned and saw under the sun, that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favour to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all

  • By strange coincidence I just finished reading it.

    I would of summarized it as "to be amazingly successful you need to be in the right place at the right time and be prepared to put 10,000 hours of your time into learning your profession before you are in your mid 20s".

    Which is kind of common sense.

    But it is a genuinely engaging and interested point.

    And it goes without saying that a complete idiot in the right place and the right time will probably still make a hash of it.

  • by bensafrickingenius (828123) on Wednesday March 04, 2009 @05:35PM (#27069655)
    "the world's smartest man is one of the least accomplished."

    I'm happy, and that's what's important to me.

The world will end in 5 minutes. Please log out.

Working...