Outliers, by Malcom Gladwell

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Gladwell is a fantastic writer, and always writes interesting & thought-provoking pieces. The Tipping Point is definitely his most influential work to date; Blink was less well put together, I think.

Outliers is somewhere in the middle. Well-written, of course, but doesn’t hang together quite as well a Tipping Point. Maybe 3 lessons stand out:

1. Timing matters. The time in which you live has much to do with whether you’re successful or not — basically, the conditions have to be right for your field.

2. Hard work & practice time matters more than raw talent. He (and others) estimate that it takes about 10,000 hours of practice to become a master at something.

3. Your culture & history matter. He’s arguing that there are certain things about how you think that come from your upbringing, your parents’, their parents’, and so on.

I think none of this stuff is particularly earth-shattering, but still good to remember. One bit that I found interesting is when he talked about the regularity of Asian numbering systems (essentially one, two, three…ten-one, ten-two, ten-three…three-tens-one, three-tens-two, three-tens-three, and so on) compared to English (one, two, three…eleven, twelve, thirteen…thirty-one, thirty-two, thirty-three). The idea is that basic arithmetic makes more sense in a more regular language — and we’ve found that to absolutely be the case with our son, who’s 3 now, and can count & think much better in Mandarin about numbers than in English, even though his overall English skills are much better. Gladwell’s point is that things like this can/will have lasting implications for large populations.

Anyway, if you like Gladwell, you’ve no doubt already got the book; if not, it’s worth picking up once you read The Tipping Point, which is much more distinctive and important.

2 Replies to “Outliers, by Malcom Gladwell”

  1. I loved the bit about the timing, particularly with respect to athletes that are born earlier getting a disproportionate amount of funding/training because they develop to a level faster than those in the same age band born later. six months makes a _huge_ difference.

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