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Outliers – by Malcolm Gladwell

p>Outliers – by Malcolm Gladwell
 The story of success.
 Amazon review Aug 22nd 2009 by Simon Laub
 
 ——-
 
 An outlier is a statistical observation that is markedly
different in value from the others in the sample.
 In ‘Outliers’ Malcolm Gladwell looks at Hockey players,
software billionaires, Manhattan lawyers, Jamaicans,
Koreans and many others and argues convincingly that
noone ever makes it alone to the top.
 Where we’re from matters, always – according to Gladwell.
 
 Take health. The conventional wisdom used to be that health
depends to a great extend on ourselves – our genes.
On our decisions – what we choose to eat, how we exercise,
what medical services are available to us.
Then came the Stewart Wolf study of the small city of Roseto
in Pennsylvania. A city where it was common for
many generations to live together under the same
roof, a city of no alcoholism, no drug addiction, and very little crime,
all in a protective social structure insulating citizens from the pressures
of the modern world. The result – improved health. Health
that came from the society surrounding the individual.
 
  A story that sets the stage for Gladwells other
stories about success – success that depends on where we are from and
who we are to begin with.
 
  —
 
  1975 was the dawn of the personal computer age.
That was when the first personal computers made it to
mainstream society. Gladwell mentions the $397 Altair 8800
on the cover of popular electronics in January 1975.
  Who was then in a position to take advantage of this?
If you were too old in 1975 you already had a job
working with mainframes and were probably not that
interested in doing something new (and risky). So we can
rule out all those born before say 1952 … And you couldn’t
be to young either. Not surprisingly
Bill Gates (55), Paul Allen (53) and Steve Balmer (56) clocks
the precise right age. Along with Steve Jobs (55), Eric Schmidt (55)
etc.
  That they eventually win the game comes down to
practice (before anyone else has it) –
a community that gives them the opportunity
to put in the 10.000 hours of practice that it takes
to become good at anything. A nearby university that allows
Bill G. to work with computers at an early age (and give
him more practice time under his belt than competitors).
  Sure intelligence is important – but only up to a point –
If you have I.Q. above a certain threshold, having more I.Q.
wont make you more successful. What matters then is how well
you do a divergence tests. In divergence tests, there
isn’t a simple right answer – but it is all about where you can go
with what you have – a word, an image. In short imagination.
  In an old Califonia study kids are I.Q. tested, and the results
are compared with their position in life later on. The brightest
(I.Q. wise) kids don’t end up all that well, and the study doesn’t pick out
the kids who eventually becomes nobel laureates. The divergence
part is missing.
  To make it and be a success you need to be “streetclever” as well.
Take Oppenheimer. Robert Oppenheimer was appointed to scientific director of
the Manhattan project. He doesnt know anything about
equipment, is very impractical – and worse still -in graduate
school he tried to kill his tutor. Thats not good on a C.V.
Here you need practical intelligence to talk your case to
others and get what you want. Obviously, Oppenheimer was
good at this also. And gets the job – ahead of brighter and better people?!
 
  Gladwells message is clear enough. Intelligence is
relevant only up to a point. Then you need hard work and
opportunity. Where hard work is a prison sentence only
if has no meaning.
  Different cultures have different ideas
about hard work. And how meaningful it is.
Kalahari bushmen works 1000 hours a year,
and hasnt taken to agriculture as there are still plenty of
mongongo nuts in their world. Peasants in Europe
worked 1200 hours a year, much in the summer, little in the winter.
Rice field workers in China worked 3000 hours a year.
Gladwell argues that this work morale is what
benefits students doing science and math today. Simply – more work.
And not a problem if is considered meaningful work. If the
culture says it is meaningful.
  The garmant industry in New York around 1900 was another
place of hard work – where east european jews could use
their skills in the modern world. Learning the ropes
so to speak – not surprisingly Gladwell sees a straight line from
this to successful jewish lawyers and doctors later in the 20th
century.
  Success is grounded in advantages and inheritance –
some deserved, some not.
 
  A brilliant book that makes you a little wiser on the world.
 
-Simon
 
Simon Laub
 
http://www.simonlaub.net

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