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Outliers, The Story Of Success

samzenpus posted more than 5 years ago | from the read-all-about-it dept.

Education 357

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 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.

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357 comments

Speaking of success... (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27066371)

Linux will never succeed on the desktop. Mostly because it's for fags.

Interesting (3, Informative)

GMonkeyLouie (1372035) | more than 5 years ago | (#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!

Malcolm Gladwell has found a niche (2, Informative)

spineboy (22918) | more than 5 years ago | (#27066427)

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.

Sounds like Attribution Theory (2, Informative)

spun (1352) | more than 5 years ago | (#27066473)

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

Re:Sounds like Attribution Theory (3, Insightful)

DeadChobi (740395) | more than 5 years ago | (#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.

Re:Sounds like Attribution Theory (1)

retchdog (1319261) | more than 5 years ago | (#27067207)

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.

Re:Sounds like Attribution Theory (1)

morgan_greywolf (835522) | more than 5 years ago | (#27067225)

Interestingly (or perhaps ironically), the article you point to discusses Malcom Gladwell's definition of funadmental attribution error: "extrapolation from a measured characteristic to an unrelated characteristic."

Re:Interesting (2, Informative)

Ash Vince (602485) | more than 5 years ago | (#27066699)

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 formulate tools that will improve your own quick decision making ability so when there really is not time to rationalise a problem fully you can still make a best guess.

True some of the suggestions are obvious but the examples made it worth a read.

Re:Interesting (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27066839)

Fact: *BSD is dying

Re:Interesting (1)

Bill, Shooter of Bul (629286) | more than 5 years ago | (#27067341)

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.

first post (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27066385)

I am a first post of success??

Re:first post (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27066887)

not this time... apparently you need at least 10,000 hours of practice before you will get a frosty every time. good luck!

Rice paddy paradox (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27066387)

If growing rice leads to some sort of cultural intelligence, why is it that West Africans, who have been growing rice over thousands of years, don't match the intelligence of rui Asians?

Re:Rice paddy paradox (1)

EastCoastSurfer (310758) | more than 5 years ago | (#27067243)

How do you know that the west africans do not match the intelligence of Asians? You also cannot forget religion. Many technological advances have been delayed or destroyed because of some cultures religious beliefs.

There will always be some "lucky" people (3, Insightful)

spineboy (22918) | more than 5 years ago | (#27066393)

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.

Re:There will always be some "lucky" people (3, Funny)

fahrbot-bot (874524) | more than 5 years ago | (#27066711)

Another analogy is the million monkeys typing - pure chance will eventually produce a winner.

Hmm... Can monkeys get /. accounts? :-)

Re:There will always be some "lucky" people (4, Funny)

fava (513118) | more than 5 years ago | (#27067255)

Hmm... Can monkeys get /. accounts? :-)

You don't read much at -1 do you?

Re:There will always be some "lucky" people (1)

ejsing (1453147) | more than 5 years ago | (#27066759)

Successful people usually make their own "luck" by doing things to better their odds. Bill Gates might be an example of both.

One of the major point in Outliers is actually that you are not in control of your own luck, but rather that geniuses are born from a series of random events (of which you have no influence) falling out their way.

Taking Bill Gates as an example, the author argues that had he not had the great fortune of having early access to computers at just the right time he might never had become what he is today. This access was provided through a series of fortunate events, basically allowing Bill Gates unlimited access to expensive computer time back in the 70's (I might be off a bit, I'm trying to recall the details from memory), all of which are described in the book.

Re:There will always be some "lucky" people (5, Insightful)

Maximum Prophet (716608) | more than 5 years ago | (#27067141)

Dans les champs de l'observation le hasard ne favorise que les esprits préparés. - Louis Pasteur

In the fields of observation chance favors only the prepared mind.

Bad luck will strike you down no matter how talented you are, but good luck only works if you are smart enough to recognize and capitalize on it.

10000 hours (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27066409)

I've spent 10000 hours in slashdot comments and gained nothing...

Yup.. just like stock trading (2, Insightful)

Maxo-Texas (864189) | more than 5 years ago | (#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.

Re:Yup.. just like stock trading (5, Insightful)

gfxguy (98788) | more than 5 years ago | (#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."

Re:Yup.. just like stock trading (5, Insightful)

IgnoramusMaximus (692000) | more than 5 years ago | (#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.

communism doesn't work in large groups (1)

conspirator57 (1123519) | more than 5 years ago | (#27067491)

you're right. we should just make everyone's lives miserable so as to evenly distribute "society's" resources. i'll take charge of the allocation governance. we can be sure that i'll be just as miserable as everyone else, can't we? oh, wait this has been tried before in soviet russia? damn, i'm not original either.

and it's impossible that we could increase production so fewer people have to be materially miserable. that's just crazy talk.

Re:Yup.. just like stock trading (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27067307)

Counterexample: Ballmer.

Re:Yup.. just like stock trading (1)

Austerity Empowers (669817) | more than 5 years ago | (#27067331)

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.

Re:Yup.. just like stock trading (1)

Maxo-Texas (864189) | more than 5 years ago | (#27067445)

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 work, your odds of success are 1:1,000,000 (so several hundred lucky successes a year).
However, if you do all the preparation work, your odds of success are 1:1000 (so 999 highly prepared failures for every success).

Re:Yup.. just like stock trading (1)

caffeinemessiah (918089) | more than 5 years ago | (#27066875)

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 data set.

In the context of Gladwell, you could say that "genius" is the independent co-incidence of (1) having innate ability and cultural preparation and (2) the right circumstances presenting themselves. One or both of those events have very low probability, so when they coincide and create a Bill Gates, we get an "outlier" relative to the life experience of the vast majority of people.

Re:Yup.. just like stock trading (1)

Maxo-Texas (864189) | more than 5 years ago | (#27067539)

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 of them achieved net worths in the billions.

We see him because he's the biggest. And he was the luckiest one. Things could have gone differently.

An easy example is that any one of several random managers at IBM could have squashed bill gates and we would have never heard of him.

He "won" every random situation until he got big enough to make his own luck.

And he has stunk it up for several years now- making a lot of wrong guesses and bad decisions.

No, it really depends on you (0, Troll)

tulcod (1056476) | more than 5 years ago | (#27066455)

You really won't ever be a rich company owner, for the simple reason that you will never ever consider starting up a company, let alone the fact that you don't have the insight of what decision is good and which just consumes time.

Being able to see which decisions are actually relevant is a skill most people don't have, for it requires the "helicopterview" many companies want from management people. If you don't have it, forget about running your own company. You'll fail miserably.

Re:No, it really depends on you (2, Interesting)

syphax (189065) | more than 5 years ago | (#27067139)

First, who's the "you" you are addressing here?

And you are making the case that Gladwell basically starts with- that successful people are successful simply because they have some unique talent (like having good judgment).

No example of an "outlier" success story in this book isn't immensely talented. But in addition to their talent, they had other supplementary skills (i.e. not just intellectually smart, but also people-smart, and/or creative, etc.), worked hard, and were in the right place at the right time.

Gladwell doesn't really do a great job of summarizing his main argument, in my opinion, but it boils down to this: Highly successful people are pretty smart (but Gladwell argues that you only have to be "smart enough"; success doesn't track linearly with intelligence once you hit the "pretty smart and higher" region), have supplementary talents, work hard, come from the "right" background (though what "right" means here is typically only clear in hindsight) AND were in the right place at the right time.

Not mentioned in the review is the work of Lewis Terman, who identified a cohort of really smart California kids ("Termites") in the 1920's and tracked them for years. The outcomes of the "brightest of the brightest" were not particularly notable; Gladwell explains some of the reasons why.

Well, statistics says this must be true, but... (4, Interesting)

Gavin Scott (15916) | more than 5 years ago | (#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:Well, statistics says this must be true, but... (2, Insightful)

PiSkyHi (1049584) | more than 5 years ago | (#27066629)

... 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 ?

Re:Well, statistics says this must be true, but... (4, Informative)

syphax (189065) | more than 5 years ago | (#27066787)

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.).

Re:Well, statistics says this must be true, but... (1)

SashaMan (263632) | more than 5 years ago | (#27067325)

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:Well, statistics says this must be true, but... (1, Flamebait)

teknopurge (199509) | more than 5 years ago | (#27067411)

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 hit: I did what I enjoyed and built the services my business provides, then bided my time until I got wind of a client that would be a good fit for us.

There is one single trait that all successful business people share: they are able to be successful. They make opportunities come to them. They bide their time. They constantly learn and are not career students. They build quality relationships.

Regards,

Re:Well, statistics says this must be true, but... (2, Interesting)

mveloso (325617) | more than 5 years ago | (#27066891)

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

skill and objectives (1)

Onymous Coward (97719) | more than 5 years ago | (#27067089)

...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:Well, statistics says this must be true, but... (2, Informative)

smellsofbikes (890263) | more than 5 years ago | (#27067157)

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 Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Bill Joy -- well, here, let me just quote a partial transcript of Malcolm Gladwell talking about the book [andyross.net]:
"January 1975 was the dawn of the personal computer age. The perfect age to be in 1975 is young enough to see the coming revolution but not so old as to have missed it. You want to be 20 or 21, born in 1954 or 1955.
Bill Gates, the co-founder of Microsoft, was born on October 28, 1955.
Paul Allen, the other co-founder of Microsoft, was born on January 21, 1953.
Steve Ballmer, the present CEO of Microsoft, was born on March 24, 1956.
Steve Jobs, the co-founder of Apple, was born on February 24, 1955.
Eric Schmidt, the CEO of Google, was born on April 27, 1955.
Bill Joy was born on November 8, 1954."

He's not saying that only people born then become successful, or that every person born then becomes successful, but that people born then have a much greater chance of being successful in a particular field that is just opening up.

Re:Well, statistics says this must be true, but... (2, Insightful)

retchdog (1319261) | more than 5 years ago | (#27067279)

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

On youtube (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27066469)

I remember seeing a googletechtalk on this for anyone interested you should be able to find it on youtube. Personally I didn't like the presentation.

I just finished the book ... (5, Insightful)

richg74 (650636) | more than 5 years ago | (#27066517)

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. :-)

Agreed completely (1)

digiti (200497) | more than 5 years ago | (#27066645)

Just finished the book too and loved it (same for both of his previous books). The book does say that you can succeed by your own merit but the *scale* of your success depends on your "history" or ancestry.
Personally my favorite part was the last chapter about Daisy which I found personal and very touching.

Re:I just finished the book ... (1)

nine-times (778537) | more than 5 years ago | (#27066937)

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 be able to hold onto it unless you have some raw ability, a real willingness to work hard, and the wisdom to grab onto the right opportunity when it comes along. On the other hand, anyone with any considerable success has had some moments of opportunity where, if those moments had not presented themselves, that person wouldn't have had their successes.

Re:I just finished the book ... (1)

sympathy (1492055) | more than 5 years ago | (#27067005)

What about people who work really hard and never get anywhere, or people who are handed success for no reason and run with it, or people who are lazy but steal from others and become successful, or people who are prevented from having any success due to circumstances beyond their control in life, such as tradition, societal expectations, government restriction, etc.

Re:I just finished the book ... (1)

EastCoastSurfer (310758) | more than 5 years ago | (#27067465)

What about people who work really hard and never get anywhere

If you do some reading on the '10,000 hour rule' it is addressed. Basically you need to spend your time working hard AND smart. The best example is Tiger woods and his 'directed' practices. He doesn't go out and hit 6" putts for 8 hours/day. He works hard and making himself better and what parts of the game his is poor at. The classic story is how he will go into a bunker and hit 200+ shots with the ball completely buried even though he might only hit that shot once/year while on tour. That's directed practice though.

people who are handed success for no reason and run with it

Running with it means that person has some ability.

people who are lazy but steal from others and become successful

Show me someone who is truly lazy and is also successful. I remember when Allen Iverson was given crap for ripping on practice. Many people took that as he's lazy and he doesn't practice. The funny thing is that I bet very few days have gone by in his years of playing basketball that he did not have a basketball in his hands.

people who are prevented from having any success due to circumstances beyond their control in life, such as tradition, societal expectations, government restriction, etc

Most restrictions are self-imposed. Obviously if you want to be successful at something illegal it could be hard (although highly financially rewarding).

In the end these are all just excuses for why someone thinks they are not as successful as they should be. Instead of looking for excuses, someone should identify what they could do differently and try it instead.

Re:I just finished the book ... (2, Insightful)

nine-times (778537) | more than 5 years ago | (#27067481)

What about people who work really hard and never get anywhere, or people who are handed success for no reason and run with it...or people who are prevented from having any success due to circumstances beyond their control in life

I think a lot of this was already addressed in my post, but maybe not spelled out very well. What I'm saying is that you can't have real success handed to you, at least not exactly. You could come from a rich family and be given lots of money, but unless you have some raw talent, some willingness to work, and a good sense of which opportunities to take, then the most you can do is sit on your pile of money. You won't accomplish anything for yourself. Lots of people have fewer opportunities and still accomplish a lot with what they have. But still, you can only take the opportunities that are open to you, and some people aren't given many opportunities.

Mostly what I'm trying to get across, though, is that I've known plenty of people who seem to be pretty unsuccessful by their own measures, but the problem wasn't a lack of opportunity. I've seen people where they say they want to go someplace, they get the opportunity to get to that place, and they don't grab the opportunity when it's there. They blame their circumstances, the fact that things aren't easy, the roadblocks in their way, but they don't take the opportunities in front of them.

At the same time, I've known quite a few people who are fairly successful and at any point in conversation they can squeeze it in, they talk about how they did it all themselves. They talk about how smart they were and how hard-working, and lecture everyone on what we should do if we want to be successful too. The one thing they tend not to mention, however, is how if one event-- something beyond their control-- had happened differently, they might be bigger failures than the people they're lecturing.

What I've gathered from these observations is that you can't necessarily judge people by their current state of "success"-- insofar as "success" is a position or an amount of money. If someone is actively accomplishing impressive things, however, that does tell you something. Failure doesn't necessarily tell you anything, unless you actually know them well enough to see why they're failing and know the opportunities that they're passing up.

And what I'd try to advise is that people watch for opportunities, and try to muster the courage to take opportunities when they present themselves.

Re:I just finished the book ... (1)

syphax (189065) | more than 5 years ago | (#27067185)

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.

What has been said about sex (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27067329)


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. :-)

Was there a study done which corroborates your assertion about sex turning out well? I haven't ever heard anyone state the two conditions you have here as requirements for a good experience.

Intelligence (2, Funny)

Profane MuthaFucka (574406) | more than 5 years ago | (#27066531)

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 the smartest, they had enough brains for any normal occupation. And they worked very hard.

The lesson that I draw from this is that I SHOULD have boned that somewhat stupid girl in 10th grade, because she turned out hot and successful even though she wasn't an honors student.

Re:Intelligence (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27067349)

perhaps she turned out hot and successful BECAUSE you didn't bone her

Nobel Prize winning physicists from a valley... (2, Interesting)

lyapunov (241045) | more than 5 years ago | (#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.

Gates Not Important (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27066555)

that's not a review, that's a synopsis. and slashvertisement. feh

the "review" mentions Gates too much. he's not that important to Mr. Gladwell's thesis - i believe Gladwell threw Gates in solely for name recognition (seems to be working here)

besides, it was mildly amusing to read about little Billy and little Paulie sneaking about Seattle in the dark looking for a little terminal time wherever they could get it - geeks in their pupal stage. no mention is made of their later exploits as older non-geek business dorks

good book, bad review

Non-sequitur (2, Funny)

Locke2005 (849178) | more than 5 years ago | (#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.

Re:Non-sequitur (1)

im_thatoneguy (819432) | more than 5 years ago | (#27066701)

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:Non-sequitur (2, Interesting)

fumblebruschi (831320) | more than 5 years ago | (#27067405)

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 marks against him: he was only 38, and would have to be in charge of many people senior to him; he was a theoretical physicist, and would have to be in charge of applied scientists; he had no administrative experience whatever; he had no mechanical aptitude at all and was helpless with the simplest machine; he was a leftist and all his friends were open Communists; and oh yeah, he tried to murder his graduate advisor. The lesson: it's really important to be a good interview.

How does this compare to Charles Murray's work (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27066597)

Namely, The Bell Curve and Human Achievement, which came to largely different conclusions, including a strong statistical case that heredity is responsible for 40-60% of human achievement?

I remember when Slashdot refused to link to Amazon (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27066609)

Amazon is the original patent troll. You should vote with your money and buy this book anywhere else. And definitely don't buy using Slashdot's link, since Slashdot will get a kickback for that, and Slashdot evidently supports patent trolls such as Amazon.com and the recent attempt by Software Tree [slashdot.org] to sue RedHat.

huh? (1)

XanC (644172) | more than 5 years ago | (#27066623)

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.

Re:huh? (1)

SageinaRage (966293) | more than 5 years ago | (#27067369)

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.

Re:huh? (1)

Gizzmonic (412910) | more than 5 years ago | (#27067395)

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

No. In every measurable way, the North was far ahead of the South (GDP, industrial output, mean, and median wealth). Many economists have argued (and quite convincingly, in fact) that chattel slavery helped promote a stagnant, stratified economy.

Re:huh? (1)

fumblebruschi (831320) | more than 5 years ago | (#27067463)

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.

Great book, I recommend it (1)

ejsing (1453147) | more than 5 years ago | (#27066637)

I've recently read the book, and I found it very interesting. It is well written and the author stays focused throughout the book.

The author argues convincingly for his views and presents multiple examples to back up his ideas. Personally I was intrigued by his idea that people are not born geniuses but are made genius through a series of random events falling out their way. The author doesn't argue that there is no such thing as inherited intelligence nor that everyones faith is determined purely by chance - rather he argues that the outcome is a fine balance between the two effects. To become successful you need high intelligence (on multiple levels) and the right opportunities (which constitute the element of chance).

From a philosophical (or religious) stand point you may not agree with his views, but the book is still a very good read and I highly recommend it.

Malcolm Gladwell (3, Informative)

MyDixieWrecked (548719) | more than 5 years ago | (#27066649)

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.

This is an ancient debate (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27066661)

Did the times make Napoleon, or did Napoleon make the times.

A new book isn't going to settle the debate.

It depends what you mean by success. (1)

mosb1000 (710161) | more than 5 years ago | (#27066679)

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.

Re:It depends what you mean by success. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27066799)

He also had a great talent for hiring ethically challenged people to work for him.

hockey players born during the same months... (1)

Em Emalb (452530) | more than 5 years ago | (#27066683)

From what I understand, (not Canadian) a lot of that has to do with age-based leagues in Canadian Jr hockey. A 6yr old kid who is born in Feb, for example, has to wait until the next season to play because "they're not old enough" age-wise for the league that requires you to be at least 6 years and 6 months to play.

So they're older (or the inverse is true) when they start in that particular league.

Something like that. I hope one of our Canadian members can either blow that theory out of the water or back it, one or the other. ;)

Chance versus merit (1)

starfishsystems (834319) | more than 5 years ago | (#27066725)

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 extraordinary success of a famous individual.

People don't always achieve their dreams, especially if the achievement is statistically improbable. Chance plays a dominant role in the improbable cases. And so, for every single welfare mum who went on to make billions from a book series about a young wizard, there are perhaps hundreds of thousands of welfare mums who have to accept that their most inspired and courageous efforts will probably go unremarked and unrewarded.

Merit is fine, something to be cultivated and rewarded. But success is not proof of merit, and failure should not be cause for censure. That sort of neocon thinking is too simplistic by far.

The Instrinsic Failure of Studying Success (1)

mpapet (761907) | more than 5 years ago | (#27066757)

By studying successful people without some external reference, one is able to pick and choose traits as one pleases to define success.

In the business world, I would argue access to capital and no compassion, regard for others, and absence of a sense of guilt are the best indicators. See this vague definition of sociopathy http://www.mcafee.cc/Bin/sb.html [mcafee.cc]

In the entertainment world there are **LOTS** of musicians putting in this hypothetical 10,000 hours. Practice/performing only takes one so far. Most of this mythic "10,000 hour club" end up as music teachers.

Bottom line: grouping "successful people" is a values-driven specifically unscientific exercise.

About Bill Gates (1)

renoX (11677) | more than 5 years ago | (#27066775)

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..

Re:About Bill Gates (1)

dspart (1073766) | more than 5 years ago | (#27067079)

Having spent 10k+ hours programming, I am now far from a programming genius. The more you gnow...

Half of everything is luck, James (1)

sympathy (1492055) | more than 5 years ago | (#27066779)

Wow you mean to say that life is mostly about random chance and luck than anything resembling an ordered plan? Holy crap. mind=blown. Gonna have to think about this for a spell. In the mean time, why don't you calculate for me the number of genetic variations that could have happened at birth that would have made you a completely different person. It can't be more than 5 or 6.

language differences (1)

sleepdev (1374409) | more than 5 years ago | (#27066791)

some of these assertions seem questionable, but the asian language relation to math is very true. In math and related subjects you really start to see the value of ideogram based writing systems over purely phonetic alphabets. here is a perfect example from japanese: convex = å http://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/%E5%87%B8 [wiktionary.org] concave = å http://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/%E5%87%B9 [wiktionary.org] which is easier to remember or understand?

Outliers fall on both sides of the spectrum (5, Funny)

MrEricSir (398214) | more than 5 years ago | (#27066803)

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 (3, Insightful)

blamanj (253811) | more than 5 years ago | (#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 (4, Interesting)

mrgarci1 (1447131) | more than 5 years ago | (#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.

Re:Mr. Anecdote (1)

RyLaN (608672) | more than 5 years ago | (#27067483)

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 significant body of work that supports his main conclusions.

As another interesting aside, this is why teenagers have such a poor time making good long-term decisions. The pre-frontal cortex is one the last places in the brain to fully mylleinate (develop), and so their emotion-based reasoning system does not fully come on line until they are 18-22. As the insurance commercial goes: Why do teenagers driver like they're missing a part of their brain? Because they are.

Of course external factors are important (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27066873)

Life is ultimately chaotic and pointless.

You can be the right person in the wrong place at the wrong time. You can do everything right and still get fucked. Such is life as they say.

But at the end of the day, given the ups and downs of life, those with the internal fires, the entrepreneurial spirit, and the smarts will do better over time.

Circumstance (1)

castorvx (1424163) | more than 5 years ago | (#27066943)

Success is a combination of luck and initiative. It is very important that everyone in our society realizes how important the former is. It might help our society to realize that even when people do everything correctly, they can end up in awful situations, and that the opposite is true: Plenty of hacks end up wealthy and successful.

It sickens me when some moderately successful individual makes a comment such as, "I don't want to pay for that guy's [insert social service]. I work my ass off and he doesn't."

It is deplorable! That person could be you!

"There but for the grace of god go I." - John Bradford

That statement could probably be amended slightly, but you get the point.

To quote the Bard... (2, Insightful)

mr_mischief (456295) | more than 5 years ago | (#27066999)

"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?

Success = skill + will + timing (4, Insightful)

hellfire (86129) | more than 5 years ago | (#27067071)

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.

Steve Martin would have made another great chapter (2, Interesting)

toddlisonbee (1492063) | more than 5 years ago | (#27067131)

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 young age and being exposed to performance and magic tricks. The most important point is that Steve Martin spent years and years refining his craft.

----

Also, interesting is this very positive review of Gladwell's book by Tomas Sowell, an ultra-conservative economist (Gladwell is an obvious liberal)
http://www.capmag.com/article.asp?ID=5384/ [capmag.com]

Some of the reasoning in this book is suspect. (5, Interesting)

kybur (1002682) | more than 5 years ago | (#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.

10,000 hour bullshit (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27067269)

Thanks to this book, now I have had to deal with the inverse of the 10,000 hour 'rule', which is being told "if you haven't been doing something for 10,000 you don't know anything about it".

By Neruos (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27067277)

Success is logical as in randomality, but it also has to do with the person pursuing it. If you have a person who is focused, driven, has a desire and a vision to succeed, then success can be achieved in one(1) of three(3) ways of randomality.

1. Person has access to wealth, supplies that are in demand or a network of associations that have wealth or supplies that are in demand.
2. Person comes accross an opportunity that provides he/she the backbone that allows them to further their goals (either legally or illegally).
3. Person creates, recreates, has(like looks), discovers or invents an idea, concept, form of art and/or something that impacts social cultures and is discovered by someone with has either #1 or #2.

That is how it works, you can apply that method to any of todays rich, famous or successful.

P.S. the above is copyright Me(c), 2009. :D

10000 hrs != The Beatles (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27067429)

Although there is surely a large helping of serendipity in the megasuccess of any creative person, 10000 hours of practice is not "why the Beatles succeeded". I'm sure you could find any number of other groups from that period who had also spent long hours in the Hamburg clubs. They didn't become the Beatles. That was down to a combination of other variables -- one of which just may have been superior talent.

What the research I've seen on this point seems to say is that the 10000 hours may be a necessary condition for megasuccess. But it's not a sufficient condition. And the kids with straight A's in grade school only rarely grow up to be intellectual leaders.

Numbers in Asian languages shorter/more logical? (3, Informative)

Non-Newtonian Fluid (16797) | more than 5 years ago | (#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).

Overrated (1)

QuietLagoon (813062) | more than 5 years ago | (#27067563)

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.

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