Nov 062009

hockyMalcolm Gladwell’s new book Outliers: The Story of Success which I listened to in audio version,  made for an engrossing week of commuting. Every evening I would find myself gathering the family around to tell them the latest things I’d learned from the book. Most of them can’t wait to listen to it when I’m done with it.

Gladwell isn’t a “self-help” author. The power of his books comes through the sheer enjoyment of the fascinating new ideas he explains and the engrossing stories he uses to illustrate them. But he teaches these ideas so well that its not a very big leap to applying them in your own life.

In the case of Outliers, Gladwells topic is success. What is it that makes some people, like hockey stars, virtuoso musicians, wall-street tycoons or software giants like Bill Gates rise to the top? Is it pure genius and talent? Is it sheer determination? No, as it turns out. It’s a combination of circumstances that give some people the chance to excel. Some of these circumstances are as random as the day or year you happen to be born. Others are deeply rooted in culture and history.

I don’t want to give away all the discoveries that await you in this book. Let me just say that Gladwell answers such questions as: Why are nearly all Canadian hockey stars born in the first few months of the year? Why are Asians good at math? Why did the Hatfields and the McCoys feud? Why did Korean pilots once have terrible safety records? Why were all the great software giants of Silicon Valley born within months of each other? What REALLY made the Beatles great?

One principle that seems to underlie all the others I WILL share, because it’s particularly relevant. It’s the 10,000 hour rule. It turns out that to be REALLY great in some field – from playing an instrument to writing books – takes about 10,000 hours of practice. Many of the other principles of unusual success revolve around circumstances that give the outliers the unique opportunity to accumulate those 10,000 hours of practice.

The good news for us ordinary people (and for society at large) is that the 10,000 hour rule doesn’t seem to depend on talent. In one study of musicians in a music program, for example, researchers divided the players into groups, based on an expert assessment of their ability. Every single one of those in the “talented” group turned out to have accumulated 10,000 hours of practice. And, even more encouraging, not a SINGLE musician who had accumulated 10,000 hours of practice was in the “untalented” group.

The principle seems to be that even someone who SEEMS to have only mediocre talent can become great – simply by devoting enough time to practice. And our educational and social systems would do well to making sure that everyone, especially our children, receive the opportunity and encouragement to get those hours of practice in the areas that interest them. In terms of parenting, this book suggests a very hands-on, involved style of relationship with our children, to guide them into finding and perfecting their talents and interests.

This book is another fine addition to Gladwell’s series. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

Nov 022009

gladwell2Unlike some of the other gurus on this site, Malcolm Gladwell’s books are not specifically designed as “self-help”. Gladwell is an author for the New Yorker specializing in social and psychological issues. His books are meant to be entertaining and educational, and they certainly are.

Once again, I ran into Gladwell’s work by accident, and then couldn’t put it down. I started out with “Blink”, which examines the human ability to make “snap” decisions, often with great accuracy.

I found that I couldn’t wait to drive to work in the morning so that I could continue listening to Malcolm’s book. If you buy the audio versions, it is Gladwell himself who does the reading, which is a nice bonus. Some authors don’t do a particularly good job reading their own books, but Gladwell knows what he’s doing.

He goes on to examine the psychology and sociology of popular trends and fads in “The Tipping Point”. This was another absolutely riveting book that I could not put down. Gladwell gives us deep insight into how people’s minds work, and how they interact with each other. I took away plenty of tips, not only for understanding my own thinking, but for understanding how to communicate and interact with others.

Malcolm is an excellent author – quite worthy of his best-seller status. Pick up any of books and you will be entertained and educated.

Below is an embedded video of a marvelous talk by Malcolm at the TED talks. Enjoy:

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