Outliers – Malcom Gladwell

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Outliers by Malcom Gladwell

“In statistics, an outlier is an observation that is numerically distant from the rest of the data.”
- Wikipedia
“…in men and women who, for one reason or another, are so accomplished and so extraordinary and so outside of ordinary experience that they are as puzzling to the rest of us as a cold day in August.”
- Gladwell

I have been fascinated by the idea of success for most of my adult life. It was actually the people telling me that I was not successful enough that made me even think about it even more. Having the mental capacity to be a doctor or a lawyer has been somewhat of a sentence in some of my families eyes, because by me not becoming one I became a “what could have John accomplished…”

It is obvious for some people that money, status and career are their indicators of success. I personally think of success in other terms. I find success in the people that surround me, the people that I share my life and memories with. That was one of the most fascinating things about reading the book Outliers, that Gladwell opened up with the case study of a whole town that was an outlier, a place where people were actually dieing of simply old age. You can actually read this chapter in the New York times, if you enjoy it pick up the book, it is an excellent and easy read.

Like everything that I have read from Gladwell, you have to make your own observations and conclusions. He gives you the information that he has found about a subject and almost like a great teacher, encourages you take away from it what you want. Besides the strongest messages of equality and opportunity that will breed success in our next generation, the book made me look at my own success a little closer.

While he does not take merit away from the very successful people he takes a look in his book, he does point out that a lot of it has to do with being in the right place at the right time. Also perseverance being a very important component to success.

There was actually a chapter that mentions Colombians and culture quite a bit. It was interesting to learn how much your culture affects you in subconscious ways. It also made me see that I have a very mixed culture by growing up both in the U.S and Colombia. Every time I read one of Gladwell’s books I come out very interested in psychology.

The book really did not change my way of gauging success, but it did bring some insight into why some people obtain it and why some don’t. I like the fact that he is very clear about intelligence and its effect of people. Most people would assume that a super high IQ is a sure way to success; however, like I have always believed, almost everyone is capable of learning. It just takes wanting to use that intellect to really accomplish things in life that in the end will make you successful.

3 Responses to Outliers – Malcom Gladwell

  1. I wish I could agree with this. And I did for the longest time. Unfortunately, reality intervened.

    I had a job a while back as a Team Lead. We had two employees, one college dropout and one vocational degreed guy. They had a job that was middling difficult. A cross between HTML and XML programming. Both were motivated (parents as the sole means of financial support). Both tried. Both had the same training that the rest of us had. In the end, though, the job was tragically beyond them. They couldn’t learn it. It wouldn’t stick. There were guys that were half as motivated that were doing a far better job. It was a real eye-opening experience. I’d assumed, up until that point, that beyond a basic level of intelligence (ie they weren’t handicapt) that it mostly came down to attitude and effort. But as I watched them struggle week after week and month after month, I had no choice but to come to the conclusion that there is some basic volume of neurons firing for tasks not advanced enough to avoid boring the heck out of me. That even if I were motivated, I couldn’t become a physicist (or maybe even a doctor). No level of motivation could bring them up to where the rest of us already were.

    I think the notion of hard work and effort persists in large part because it makes just about everybody feel better about themselves. It allows the high-intelligence success to believe that he got there because he worked hard and not because he had good genes. It allows the high-intelligence failure to believe that he could have succeeded if he’d really wanted to and his failure is a choice. It allows the low-IQ failure to believe that if he can just work harder he can succeeed. It allows the high-IQ success to believe that he’s just as good as the people that are around him. Not all of these things they believe are untrue, of course, but the underlying rationale behind them sometimes can be.

  2. I don’t know that we are necessarily disagreeing here.

    Programming takes three qualities that not everyone posses, good memory, above average capability for logical reasoning and lots of patience. Without those, no matter how good you are at attention to detail or how long you try you will probably not be able to program in any language. Add to that that programing has evolved from the days of machine language to object oriented programming. A C# only developer would probably have a hard time doing Cobol and viceversa. I could bore people with this subject, but I wont.

    The book talked about a lot of things that a single post cannot encompass, but programming is just something that not everybody can be good at even if they want to.

    Persistence and effort apply mostly to those that do have the genes and the environment, that is the point of the book… however, without the effort, even the most gifted get nowhere.

    I think semantics is getting in the way, because while I don’t believe that everyone can become a doctor, I do believe that everyone can be successful at something. We all have gifts and if the environment is there to nourish and promote those, I think we would be better. I seriously challenge you to read the book and think it is wrong on what it talks about.

  3. Your culture shapes who you are. Your tradition shapes who you are. Your environment shapes who you are.

    Success is defined by where you live and in “what” you live. The definition of success for someone living in the U.S. and a kid from the slums of India are very different. For some, success is just making it to the next day.

    Linda has read Outliers and I look forward to talking with you and her more about it.

    Thanks for the post.

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