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.

Welcome To Your Brain

One of the traits that I admire in people the most is their capability for research or respect for it. Betizuka is reading Angels and Demons and besides cracking up at the joke by Barry “Here’s a spoiler: The Angels did it. And the Demons.” it reminds me a lot about how sometimes science and aspects of our life clash. I don’t think it is just religion that is at odds with science, I think many facets of our life really contradict what science knows or has already proven.

One of the most surprising things I heard during a medical interpreting seminar I attended was how young internal medical science really is. Until not too long ago, a hospital was somewhere you went to die. We all like to think of computers being the field that has changed the most thanks to the microchip, but science as a whole has moved forward quite a bit. So we “know” a lot more than what we did 100 years ago, well some people do.

I recently started reading a book called “Welcome To Your Brain.” I have been amazed at the wealth of information that has been presented in such a simple format. It also has killed many myths that I myself use to believe. The format reminds me of the dummy books, but it is actually a lot more in depth about what is talking about than those. It has also been nice to read that some of the things I thought about were correct, well at least correct from a neurosurgeon’s point of view.

The first myth that was blown out of the water was the “We only use a small % of our brain.” I used to think that there was some unlocked potential there, and while it does seem that some people do turn off logic sometimes, most people use 100% of their brains. You can read about six other myths here and the book goes into great detail about how the myths came about, and what the science behind it is.

The book has a blog, and a lot of the topics in the book have been discussed. Some of the coolest things I have learned (or reaffirmed) after reading the book are the following.

Drinking does not kill brain cells.
Will power improves as we accomplish things, even small ones.
We react before we think. (I learned this from Blink)
Homosexuality has a very strong neurological component to it.
We retrieve memories, erase them and then record them again.
You cannot tickle yourself.
Woman have a disadvantage when it comes to math.
Video games improve brain function.
Love is a drug.

I recommend you read this book. Even if you just go to specific chapters, it is really a good resource for information.

Related Links
Will Power
50 Myths and Truths (in Spanish)
10 Amazing Facts about your brain.

Blink changed my life.

My friend Daniel has been writing a little series about the books that changed his life. It is amazing how much he inspires me when he writes. It amazing that two people can connect to the level we have as friends even though geographically we are very far. Reading his posts I began to think of the books that I have read, but it never occurred to me that they would be powerful enough to change my life, but then I read blink.

After reading this book I felt like Malcolm Gladwell was someone that I wanted as a friend. He a talented and best selling author(he also wrote The Tipping Point,) but when he writes he has a conversation with the reader that is spoken in a tone that most people reserve for their best friends. The message of the book is in a way about tolerance and introspection, but the book gave me so much more.

I just turned 30 and self evaluation has kicked into high gear. Event though my birthday has never felt quite like a milestone, this one did and it was partially because of this book. The books title talks about the power of thinking without thinking. In simple terms it tries to let you know that you have a key to your unconscious, but it is not the one that will let you open it.

After reading this book I feel I understand the way I make decisions a little better, but more importantly, I learned that my decisions are being affected by what surrounds me more than I ever even imagined. I then decided that what I was doing for my brain was simply not enough. To put it in computer terms, I have a very powerful machine, but I was just leaving my connection to the internet at dial up speed.

We can all let ourselves be manipulated by what advertisers or media outlets want us to believe about the world or we can go one step further and learn to think for ourselves. Knowledge is power only if it used. One of the biggest problems I have with formal education is that it is almost set up to make you pass tests rather than to actually learn something. After reading blink, you start to see the purpose of gathering knowledge. From being able to read minds to eliminating racism or sexism in some situations. This book gives us the opportunity to look at life in a different way. What if we could literally steer history in a different way by refusing to accept the negative imagery that is presented to us in a regular basis?

The book is powerful because it does not hold our hand by giving us a quick guide as to how to make quicker decisions. Rather it opens up the door for us to make our life and mind better by filling it with better information. The reasons some of the experts on his book are as good as they are is because they took an active interest in a subject and became truly amazing at it. While we might not be able to do it at the scale that some of those scholars did, we can take steps towards being more mindful of all the clues that are out there for us.

While it might have been that I read the book in the weeks before my birthday, I still think there is a lot of merit for the authors ability to make me think. His message is simple while covering very complex subjects. It lets us take a peek into how truly extraordinary people make decisions even when they do not even know themselves.

One simple lesson that you can take with you is that vocabulary is important in any subject. It is probably one of the places most of us get really hung up on. While we might have an opinion about something, not having the correct way to express it can leave us with a simple yes or no answer. If you think about relationships and feelings, being able to voice them is very important, but what if we cannot explain what we are feeling? There are plenty of books out there that can give you the vocabulary you need to vocalize what you feel. When we put a puzzle together we use the picture of what it is supposed to look like to find the right pieces. So if you are particularly stuck with something in your life, it might be a good idea to pick up a good book and find the picture that will help you put that puzzle together.

Next, What a mess

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I just finished reading Next by Michael Crichton. He is one of my favorite authors, but this book really left a lot to be desired. While I do have to say that I read the book pretty fast and I wanted to keep going, I think it was mostly to see if he could untangle the mess he had created.

The first issue I encountered is that I could not keep the characters straight. Initially I thought it was because he was introducing to many, then later I realized that, while all of the mini stories were connected, they did not flow. I ended up not caring for any character in particular, there was no real hero, no real victim, no real redemption, no main story.

The book tries to bring genetics to the forefront of our mind, but it does so in a very disjointed way. I don’t feel like he was thinking of the reader when he wrote the book, or at least not the average reader. One of the things I have always loved about Crichton is that he makes science seem easy, but in this book we feel very removed from he actual science, catching only glimpses of it. If genetics was to be the main character of the book, it was an elusive character that never quite came to the forefront of the story.

I blame Google for the spastic nature of the book. Imagine someone doing a search on Google about genetics and then trying to fit every link that came back in the first page into a book.

I do not recommend this book, but if you want to read Crichton start with Timeline or Airframe; both are way better written. I am sad to say that this book ended up being an spaghetti bowl that I expected to find meatballs inside of, I searched and searched and in the end I ended up with a bunch of noodles that filled me up, but I did not really enjoy.

Harry Potter 7

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I started reading Harry Potter sometime in 1999. Once I had picked up the series I started to wait for the books to be released. Prisoner of Azkaban was always my favorite and I almost stop reading the series after Order of the Phoenix came out. I had become very attached to the characters and seeing die such an early death in the series felt like I was being cheated.

The third time I read the Order of the phoenix I had already read the Half Blood Price and the story seemed to be a little better. The book made a little more sense and the death was something that I was able to deal with. It was almost destiny that every single father figure Harry ever had was destined to leave the series in one way or another.

I am not going to spoil book seven for you, so don’t be scared to read if you have not finished. I will even go as far as saying that this book stands on its own. It is a great read even if you did not read the whole series. I am also glad to say that Rowling puts the whole Snape is good or bad controversy to rest.

Come to think of it, the gift that she has is that she did an excellent job at closing all the circles she opened through the story. I think re-reading the whole series now that I know everything that happens will only make me cherish the build up even more. She created a world that while not completely out of her imagination, she does borrow from mythology and other great authors, it is her own interpretation of what a magical world should be. It is fresh and very unique, it has its own rules.

I remember the whole controversy over the book corrupting people because it was about evil and witchcraft. I know think back and see that the same message that the new testament tries to give all of us, that it all comes down to love, its the same in Harry Potter.

If you have only followed the movies, I assure you, you are missing out. The books paint a picture that the movies can only reproduce like a masterpiece made into a stamp. Every book in the series tells a tale that when put together makes a lot of sense. It is not just a story about grief, sacrifice, responsibility and courage, but also friendship, family and love.

I am glad that the series ended now that I read the last book. I was a little skeptic as to how so much build up could end in just seven hundred and some pages. It did, it satisfied my craving and made me part of the generation that read Harry Potter when it first came out.

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