Malcolm Gladwell has a new book out called OUTLIERS:The Story of Success. It's full of interesting pop sociology. Why are a disproportionately large number of professional hockey and soccer players born in January, February and March? Gladwell will try to convince you that the best hockey players are not only talented and hard workers but they benefit from some largely unexamined and peculiar ways in which their world is organized.
What do Bill Gates, the Beatles and Mozart have in common besides talent and ambition? Each had the opportunity to intensively cultivate a skill.
How much of an opportunity? One of his points that has gotten a lot of attention so far is the idea that you need 10,000 hours (10 years) of time devoted to a skill or discipline to master it and be successful.
So, is he saying it is all about hard work? Is the secret of success nature or nurture? In Gladwell's book, it leans heavily towards nurture. Individual merit takes a back seat to culture, circumstance, timing, birth and luck.
I was reading an interview with Gladwell on GoodReads where they asked him about recent "tipping points":
How about election night? That's the obvious one — it will probably be one of the biggest tipping points I'll see in my lifetime. I'm not a student of politics, so I don't know what pushed it. But one of the themes of the stories I tell in Outliers is that it is never obvious at the time. You only see patterns in retrospect. I don't think we know yet. I think I'm right in thinking that the election of Obama is a tipping point, but how and why and for what purpose, we have no clue. We won't know for many, many years.
The iPod is also clearly a tipping point (and I'm not quite sure it is a wholly positive development), because it is a revolution in the way that we consume creative property, which I would call art. It has radically changed the relationship between the artist and the audience, how money changes hands, and how much money changes hands. Music was the first, and books are coming next. The Kindle or some form of electronic book is clearly inevitable, and it will massively reshape how books are sold, who pays for them, and how they're consumed. It is going to be really fascinating. We're going to have to remake the whole world of publishing in the next 20 years.
In the world of statistics, an outlier is an observation that is numerically distant from the rest of the data. Statistics derived from data sets that include outliers may be misleading. That's the feeling I get from many ideas in this book. Take his look at why Asian children score higher on math tests. He looks at the tremendous labor required to cultivate rice as it has been done in East Asia for thousands of years. It's a long way to say that the Asian children have a cultural bias to just work harder. I realize that Gladwell is using "outlier" more as a way to describe people and phenomena that are outside normal experience.
Gladwell's success with his earlier books has probably pushed some other Idea books like The Wisdom of Crowds (by another New Yorker writer James Surowiecki) and a book that I thought of immediately when I started reading Outliers, the bestseller from 2005, Freakonomics by Steven Levitt.
What's Malcolm Gladwell up to next?
I'm back at The New Yorker, and my next story is about teachers and quarterbacks. It is all about what they have in common and also the problem of trying to figure out if someone is going to be good at something before they actually start the job. We spend a lot of time and effort trying to figure out who's going to be a good NFL quarterback, and we do a very bad job of it. We don't really know. And we also spend a lot of time trying to figure out who will be a good teacher, and we're really bad at that too. We don't know if someone is going to be a good teacher when they start teaching. So what should we do in those situations in which predictions are useless?
Video of Gladwell at Pop!Tech2008 - Pop sociologist and best-selling author Malcolm Gladwell has honed in on a profound new question: what separates extraordinary and average people? Discussing findings from his much-anticipated book "Outliers," Gladwell details how we're squandering human potential everywhere from the football field to the classroom - and what we can do to change it.