Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Outliers, by Malcom Gladwell

This morning when I delivered his mail to one of my bosses I noticed Malcom Gladwell's new book, Outliers, on his desk. We talked about it for a minute (he'd actually borrowed it from another of my bosses) and he offered it to me, since I'd probably finish it before he had time to start it. I do read pretty fast!

So on my morning break I read some, and during my lunch, and afternoon break, and while I ate dinner (not while cooking it, though) and I'm done. It's a quick read, a small book with small ideas and small conclusions that adds up to a big potential for change. If you believe him, that is.

He postulates that although intelligence and hard work matter, you have to have the proper setting (time, culture, family, money) to make the most of them, and that if you examine their settings, what we think of as genius outliers are really as much products of circumstance as of ability and effort. Although I don't think he actually concludes this, it would be a logical extension of his summation that we can help far more people better themselves if we analyze and improve their circumstances in general than if we pick out "the best and the brightest" and spend our limited resources exclusively on turning them into geniuses.

Likewise, he theorizes that a lot of human-error problems can be traced to culture and therefore rather than looking at personal responsibility we should examine systems and cultural communication to prevent future tragedies.

And he starts a class war, maybe not intentionally, between the free range parents and the helicopter parents by giving lots of evidence that helicopter parents are more likely to produce outliers of success, whether financial or intellectual.

I was definitely stimulated by this book, to some thinking and considerable humor.

1 comment:

Kai Jones said...

For my own future reference: a review indicating Gladwell is a really good pattern-making monkey but not necessarily a good analyst of anecdotes (the plural of which, as we know Bob, is not data).