Book Recollection: Outliers – The Story of Success

It should be no surprise if you noticed the foreshadowing in the previous book recollection that another one was coming on its heels. Today’s post is on a book that took me awhile to get through. It was not a difficult read, but I was about halfway through the book last year when I put it down and didn’t pick it up until a few weeks ago. It has been so long now that it is hard to say with any confidence the reason for this delay. My guess at this point is it was a victim of redundancy. In the midst of the first read, my in car audio book selection was SuperFreakonomics by Levitt and Dubner. AS it turns out, that audio book and today’s recollection have an overlap in their topics and discussion. So, my advice to you is if you have read or plan to read the SuperFreakonomics book, put some time between that and book Outliers: The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell. This is actually the third book I have read from Malcolm having previously completed The Tipping Point and Blink. If I had to put them in rank of preference I would go with Blink first, followed by Tipping and lastly, this particular effort. Again, this might be an unfair assessment due to the previously mentioned overlap, but this book felt incomplete to me. In credit to Malcolm’s other books, those kept my attention through just about every chapter. I can not say the same about this particular book. In fact, it was definitely one chapter too long (10 minutes of my life I’ll never get back).

So in summary, I thought the book had some interesting points and definitely had some takeaways (see below). However, I thought it was a letdown from his two other works. On the topic of becoming an expert through hard work and practice as opposed to talent and luck was addressed much more succinctly by Levitt and Dubner. The good news is I can simply blame my lack of desire to become a lawyer or doctor on the fact my parents were not Jewish immigrants. Thanks to Malcolm’s other two excellent books, he still has my interest. In fact, Linda got me his latest (What the Dog Saw) for my birthday. I have absolutely no idea what the topic is in that book, but I promise not to co-read it with any other economics books. On a side note, while getting the Amazon links for the books I noticed my favorite book of his (Blink) actually has a lower rating than this book and Tipping Point. Not sure what to think about that other than raters are obviously wrong .. hehehe.

Hit the jump to read some of the takeaways from from Outliers

  • People don’t rise from nothing.  If this is true, can someone please explain Paris Hilton to me
  • Although overlapped with SuperFreakonomics, the discovery that birth date has a significant impact on success on sports is eye opening.  The steep slope to the maturity curve at a young age means a span of just months means significantly better motor skills and thus greater ability to stand out in the crowd.  When this is noticed it is nurtured and the rest is in the statistics.  Apparently I should have gone to Ontario and been a hockey phenom thanks to my January birth date (40% of the best of the best are born between Jan and Mar) – this isn’t magic, you just need to look at the cutoff date for the age groups – the closer you are to the cutoff date, the more months you have to mature your motor skills – this is referred to as the Mathew Effect
  • US baseball cutoff is July so the best players have a higher probability of being born in August
  • Denmark actually gets around this effect through a national policy of no ability grouping of children until age 10.
  • The closer psychologists look at careers of gifted, they find it is really about preparation and not innate talent
  • People at the top work a LOT harder than the rest … I guess my response to this was Duh! – guess I never bought into luck or breeding theories
  • 10,000 hours is the magic number for expertise – so you better start your practicing pronto
  • Bill Gates started real-time programming as an eighth grader – on a personal note, my programming days started around that time frame, but I couldn’t get into a computer class until Sophomore year of high school.  Damn, I could have been a billionaire.
  • ’54-’55 was a big year for Silicone Valley executives (Jobs, Schmidt, McNEaly, Khosla, Bechtolsheim, Joy)
  • Points over an IQ of 120 do not translate to any real world advantage
  • “To be a Nobel Prize winner, apparently, you have to be smart enough to get into a college at least as good as Notre Dame or the UNIVERSITY OF ILLINOIS [emphasis mine].  That’s all!  Well, I have that going for me at least
  • Oppenheimer once took chemicals from the laboratory and tried to poison his tutor – to think one of the greatest genius minds in the world almost had to go to jail instead of college
  • Satisfying work must include autonomy, complexity and connection between effort and reward
  • Scotch-Irish are considered the most ferocious cultures of honor
  • Culture has a significant influence on behavior – example was non-authoritarian culture of Koreans resulted in 17x higher accidents than normal – caused in part by second in command not voicing their concerns/issues in fear of conflicting with authority figure (pilot/air traffic controllers)
  • John McEnroy’s father had a 707 crash into his estate
  • Planes are safest when the least experienced pilot is flying because the other more experienced flier is willing to speak up
  • On the individualism-collectivism scale, the US is on the highest on the individual end – I personally hope the government didn’t provide a grant to someone to find that obvious fact out
  • Korea is a receive oriented culture – it is up to the listener to understand what is said
  • English is the language of the aviation world – air traffic controllers around the world communicate in English
  • Apparently “night soil” is human manure – think about that the next time you are eating rice
  • Asian children learn to count faster than Americans due to the language differences when it comes to math – This was actually pretty interesting and easily related to.  American children have to convert English to numerals and then do the math where the Asian language allows for a direct computation based on how the words are spoken – for example they would say 35 as 3 tens 5 and 24 is two tens 4.  To add simply add the tens (5) and then the units (9) so immediately you get 5 tens 9 or 59.  Well, that made my face turn red when I read that sentence as I cursed the knight who rode in on the road in the middle of the night.  I feel sorry for everyone that has to go through learning English as a second language.
  • Success is a function of persistence and doggedness – this I can directly relate to and another one of those motivational lines to go on your work credenza.
  • Apparently summers are a bad thing for our American students – especially for those in the lower social classes.  Now that I am done with school I can advocate for all year school (hehehe)
  • The average school year for Americans – 180  … for South Koreans – 220 … and Japanese – 243 – now, are there any questions why our American students are getting their butt handed to them (at least from a test score perspective)

As you can see there were some learning points between the covers of Outliers and Malcolm did a good job of backing up his points with plenty of data and examples.  If anything there was too much of that in the sense that once a concept was defined it pretty much clicked in place immediately (as in the math language example above) eclipsing the need to go into fine grained detail on it.  The chapter on the excellent foundation Jewish immigrant culture provided for the success of their children was an interesting observation, but by the time I had made it through the chapter I felt bludgeoned by it.  Anyway if you have not read any of Malcolm’s book I recommend starting with Blink, but if you have read his other two then keep your expectations a little lower and you should be fine (highly recommend ignoring the last chapter which just feels like literary drivel er filler).

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