Malcolm Gladwell: Making a Case for Outliers

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Malcolm Gladwell: Making a Case for Outliers

Since the first time I picked up Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking, I’ve been a huge fan of Malcolm Gladwell, a writer for The New Yorker. Gladwell is one of those big brain guys who has a knack for storytelling. He makes computer programming, planes crashes and educating urban youth not only interesting, but compelling. I’ve gone on to read his first bestseller, The Tipping Point: How Little Things Make a Big Difference and recently finished up his newest book, Outliers: The Story of Success.

Outlier is a term used in the field of science to describe something that lies outside of a normal experience. Gladwell uses it to describe people (mostly men in his book) that are so accomplished and so successful they are considered outliers. Gladwell believes that it is not enough to be smart or driven, there must be a series of events that line up in such a way that make success a possibility in these outliers' lives.

Gladwell doesn’t go so far to say that the individual plays no part in their own success; after all, preparation is critical in the face of opportunity. But he does make the reader consider the culture, community and generation that outliers are raised in in a more critical way.

The most fascinating “outlier” in the book is Bill Gates. Not because he is one of the richest men in the world, or that he has one of the most successful companies, but because of the way the stars aligned in his life to make it possible for him to become “Bill Gates.” I won't ruin the chapter for you by laying out all the elements, but the fact that Bill Gates walked into his eighth grade class in 1968 and found a computer sitting there (when no other high school, including some colleges, had one) literally changed the course of history.

Another interesting element in the book is Gladwell’s fascination with the 10,000-Hour Rule: a concept that he returns to often throughout. In this extensive chapter, Gladwell provides page after page of research and examples that says simply: “10,000 hours of practice is required to achieve the level of mastery associated with being a world-class expert – in anything.” So any “expert” that you can think of, if you were to interview them and find out exactly when they started on their path, without fail they would site the 10-year mark (10,000 hours) that they got really good at what they do. That goes for Michael Jordan, Mozart or Rachel Maddow. They each worked purposefully and single-mindedly in reaching those 10,000 hours of mastery and ultimately the top of their field.

One of the things that was the most difficult to accept in the 10,000 hours chapter was the idea that there are no “natural talents.” That being innately gifted in a particular task, sport, skill had very little to do with whether you would become a leader in that field. If you did not work toward those 10,000 hours, it would be quite easy for another individual, with average ability, to pass you, leaving you stunted with your “natural talents.” I’m still mulling that over.

As with all his books, Gladwell is trying to make us look at the world and each other in very different ways. To consider the impact we have on each other and how much control we really have to craft the kind of life that we want for ourselves and others.



Comments [44]

Michelle Sewell's picture

"Well, maybe it will be new

"Well, maybe it will be new to the layperson" - minniesota

I think that's exactly why I like Gladwell. He is able to distill these heady notions (and he cited tons of experts in this book) into something that the average person can sink their teeth into - even if it's a few years behind the big brain folks.

Michelle

minniesota's picture

Ahhhh, Michelle, so he cites

Ahhhh, Michelle, so he cites tons of experts but is he interpreting and applying those experts' theories and studies correctly? Are there experts and studies he should have considered but left out? As you can tell, I've been in academia too long...

Still searching for the right brainy quote.

Rusty's picture

Minnie, as I recall from my

Minnie, as I recall from my time in academia, if Gladwell misinterpreted or left anything out then one egghead or another would be on the TV machine for their 15 minutes of fame to rebut his arguments.

Everyone cited knows they're in there. No doubt they've been letting everyone they know that Gladwell included their research.

"When you look for the bad in mankind expecting to find it, you surely will." ~ Pollyanna

minniesota's picture

Oh, sure, they probably will.

Oh, sure, they probably will. Just as they did for Blink, his other book I thought was too glib in its analysis. I should say that I do admire Gladwell's writing style and way around a tale.

Still searching for the right brainy quote.

LongBeachDogLover's picture

I'm glad I can't read.

I'm glad I can't read.

minniesota's picture

Aren't you at least glad I'm

Aren't you at least glad I'm arguing about books instead of the L Word? Laughing out loud

Still searching for the right brainy quote.

LongBeachDogLover's picture

Minns, I have noticed

Minns, I have noticed that you may have a proclivity to become engaged in a challenging disputation !!

I kinda dig on it.... Wink

Grace Moon's picture

Ok even though Minnie isn't

Ok even though Minnie isn't impressed... I read the blog this morning, then watched the whole hour plus long video... then downloaded the audio book and made it through 4 chapters.

I really love the way he crafts each of these stories, just when you think you know where he's going there is some twist.

Anyway. I am a late Nov child, and was always put into remedial classes, until i got to college. I thought it was my dyslexia, now i know in addition to that it was about being younger as well. Screw you teachers who never figured that out!

tweet tweet @gracemoon

yonks's picture

Damn! i understand everything

Damn! i understand everything now, I'm on october and i have heard all my childhood that i'm "bad in school" and i'm dyslectic too.
My other problem is that i was convinced that i was a boy when i was obviously a girl, it cause me hard time to get friends.
Does he talk about this in the book?

-Do not follow me, I'M LOST-

minniesota's picture

At least I can say, I'm not

At least I can say, I'm not an K-12 teacher! Smile Sorry, they didn't figure out your dyslexia, Grace.

Still searching for the right brainy quote.

Grace Moon's picture

I'm more irritated that no

I'm more irritated that no one recomended that my parents hold me back in kindergarten, so I could start in school as an older child and not a younger one! I need that extra year to develop!!!

tweet tweet @gracemoon

Not2Taem's picture

I'm working on a new House

I'm working on a new House Keeping Center, but when I'm done you're welcome to come over. We'll repeat kindergarten together and make it all better. Wink

yonks's picture

I thought that the

I thought that the kindergarten was here, in VP, that the blogs was different playground were you can climb up and slide down, build castle in words sand, deconstruct and reconstruct in different shape as lego.... the only thing that miss is the possibility to steal lollipop from other child... we should work on it.

-Do not follow me, I'M LOST-

Julia Watson's picture

I only got to go to

I only got to go to kindergarten for three weeks before I was bumped up to a K-1 first grade class due to over-crowding. So I tend to think of the entire world as my kindergarten class to make up for lost time.

(Three weeks was long enough to fall in love with my kindergarten teacher, Miss McCloud. She smelled like cotton candy. And she is my root.)

Not2Taem's picture

Julia, you are precious and

Julia, you are precious and precocious!

They wanted to put my daughter in 1st grade when she was 4, but I wouldn't let them. They ended up having in the kinder program in the morning and sending her to read to the 1st graders in the afternoon. Makes for a very independent gal, being thrown in your elders and set swimming. Laughing out loud

yonks's picture

They take you out of the

They take you out of the heaven of playground and the sweet arms of Miss McCloud to put you in the hell of work and labor, thats traumatizing.
Glad that you have take your revenge: "If you don't allow me to play, then the entire world will became my kindergarten"

-Do not follow me, I'M LOST-

Not2Taem's picture

Well done, Yonks! And we play

Well done, Yonks! And we play dress-up with our Avatars. Laughing out loud

PS: We keep the sweets the funny forum. Wink

yonks's picture

here is my lollipop, my big,

here is my lollipop, my big, beautiful lollipop, its sweet and tasty and its my lollipop, aren't you jealous of my lollipop?

-Do not follow me, I'M LOST-

Not2Taem's picture

HaH! You surprised me.

HaH! You surprised me. Reading this in my email, I was sure it came from LBDL. No pictures?

yonks's picture

The lollipop is a lure to

The lollipop is a lure to attract girl, she want the lollipop, we fight for the lollipop, we fall on the grass, we roll over.... then, who care the lollipop (the rest of the story is adult content)

LBDL? why?, i'm not sure that she need candy to attract lady (hey it rimes Laughing out loud)

-Do not follow me, I'M LOST-

LongBeachDogLover's picture

What I have is much sweeter

What I have is much sweeter than candy.... Wink

itty's picture

Oooops... I guess you're up

Oooops...
I guess you're up above Yonks...
Nevermind me....
I'm a little dizzy from all the flying around.
Laughing out loud

itty's picture

for Yonks below... Buzz.

for Yonks below...

Buzz. Buzz. Wink

yonks's picture

I bet girls fly around you

I bet girls fly around you like bees around honey

-Do not follow me, I'M LOST-

LongBeachDogLover's picture

Tae, I don't know what you're

Tae, I don't know what you're talking about....however, when ya'll say sweet and tasty, and then mention me, it kinda makes makes my 'ears' perk up......Did you say pictures? Laughing out loud

I know, shut up LBDL..... Sad

Not2Taem's picture

LBDL, I may be mistaken, but

LBDL,

I may be mistaken, but I seem to recall a picture of a particularly voluptuous lady holding a lolly that was attached to one of your posts. Though I admit that there are several excellent picture finders in the community and after a while it all runs together.

Any way, the tasty tease just struck me as you, and when the link comes in the email it gives part of the message without identifying the source.

LongBeachDogLover's picture

Itty just told me she has a

Itty just told me she has a copy of the picture...
I guess you're right. Laughing out loud

Not2Taem's picture

LOL Sweet Yonks, I think you

LOL
Sweet Yonks, I think you need the accent to make it rhyme. Smile Candy/landy or Cady/lady.

yonks's picture

Don't you have rich rhyme,

Don't you have rich rhyme, poor rhyme and sufficient rhyme?

-Do not follow me, I'M LOST-

LongBeachDogLover's picture

**edit** My proofreader just

**edit**

My proofreader just told me I'm an ass.
Just one "makes", not two... Crying

(damn, i miss the edit capability)

Grace Moon's picture

hah

hah

tweet tweet @gracemoon

minniesota's picture

My older sister had the same

My older sister had the same problem (October birthday). She wishes she could have been held back a year too.

My birthday is in January, I started kindergarten later and was always one of the older students in my class. Even though I was a puny thing, I had a head start in school because of that extra year.

Still searching for the right brainy quote.

Robin Rigby's picture

My parents fought over

My parents fought over whether or not kindergarten was useful or not. My father won and I didn't go to kindergarten. Only one of 5 siblings who didn't. I started school at 6 in the first grade. I made up for it on the end by taking 5 years to finish college. Smile

Not2Taem's picture

LOL! My older sisters went to

LOL! My older sisters went to nursery school and kindergarten that they had to pay for. My brother got the private kindergarten, but I started in public first grade. I'm sure that my dad felt horribly guilty about it when I had a hard time learning to read, even though he should have known that wasn't the problem.

I made up for it by becoming a teacher and making the whole school my kindergarten. My dress-up box includes a large variety of ties and shawls that one and all are welcome to wear. We had to nix the hats when the campus had an outbreak of lice. Laughing out loud

Rusty's picture

I enjoy Gladwell's writing

I enjoy Gladwell's writing style, too. I had to read The Tipping Point for a work-related project. Normally, I'm expected to skim, but I ended up reading every word. He reminds me of the late Stephen Jay Gould — he wrote the only science books I ever understood.

As far as his latest book, I also have a problem with the notion of no “natural talents.” I would bet that I could practice basketball for 10,000 hours and never achieve Sheryl Swoopes level of expertise. In order to want to do the 10,000 hours there has to be something there to start with.

For an alternate theory, you might want to take a look at Marcus Buckingham's work in Strengths Theory. I had to read that one for work, too and liked it so much I bought a personal copy.

"When you look for the bad in mankind expecting to find it, you surely will." ~ Pollyanna

Grace Moon's picture

well in chapter 3 (i think)

well in chapter 3 (i think) he also talks about having "enough" ability or intelligence for that endeavor. he compares noble prize winners, and says they are just as likely to come out of the U of Indiana as they are to come out of Harvard.

So if you compare Swoops with any of her peers who she out performed, you may find that swoops had made her 10k hours by the time she was in her first year of college.

and as far as the "want" part, in the vid Gadwell talks about the need for having a total love for that thing, being completely infatuated with a pursuit like what drove Gates to write programs all night.

okay i know i sounds like i'm obessesed with this book, i am. its facinating... i'm going to listen to the next 10 chapters now.

tweet tweet @gracemoon

Not2Taem's picture

The only problem with books

The only problem with books on tape: when you fall asleep in the midst of a fascinating chapter, the tape keeps playing and you have no idea where to pick it up. Whith real books, its written all over your face. Laughing out loud

Rusty's picture

There's also the problem of

There's also the problem of highlighting all over my iPod.

"When you look for the bad in mankind expecting to find it, you surely will." ~ Pollyanna

Not2Taem's picture

He-he-he. :lol:

He-he-he. Laughing out loud

Robin Rigby's picture

Yeah, I hate it when the

Yeah, I hate it when the drool makes the page stick to your face. It's so hard to clean off the ink.

Not2Taem's picture

OK. Most of us do not fall

OK. Most of us do not fall asleep while reading the kind of publication that caused drool. You may want to set the print aside before you go to sleep. Too much of good thing can stunt your growth. Wink

Robin Rigby's picture

Some people just drool when

Some people just drool when they sleep, you know. Don't hate on me! :grin:

Not2Taem's picture

No hate. My way is more fun.

No hate. My way is more fun. Come on, play! :twisted:

minniesota's picture

I wonder what is really new

I wonder what is really new in Gladwell's book. Well, maybe it will be new to the layperson, but to many of us in academia, what he is writing about is old news.

By the way, the concept of outlier comes from statistics. An outlier in a data set is a value that is extreme (large or small) when compared with the other values in the set. One needs to examine any outliers to see if they were caused by errors in measurement.

Still searching for the right brainy quote.