Malcolm GladwellCredit: Wikimedia Commons

                                                                 Malcolm Gladwell

Malcolm Gladwell proffers reasons for success that have never been explored prior to his ground-breaking study known as Outliers. The logic is so obvious that attention has not been paid to these causes before. For instance, Gladwell tells us that a study of successful hockey players revealed that an unusual number of these players had birthdays in January, February and March. His simple explanation reminds us that these hockey players, introduced to hockey at an early age, were chosen for teams based on the calendar year in which they were born. Thus, a player born in January would have almost a year of maturity and experience over a player born in December. The Survival of the Fittest theory tells us that the January player would continue to triumph into adulthood, leaving the December player lagging behind or quitting. The suggestion is that a separate league for players whose birth dates were perhaps in October, November and December could produce additional highly-skilled players whose achievements would continue through adulthood.

Gladwell also looks at the likes of Bill Gates who was an eighth grader in 1968, long before the computer became a household word. His parents sent him to an elite private school named Lakeside in Seattle. The Lakeside Computer Club was asked to test a computer company's software programs on the weekends in exchange for free programming time. It began to be an obsession with the young Bill Gates. At age 16, he and Paul Allen discovered that the University of Washington's computer center had slack time between 3 a.m. and 6 a.m. and Bill and Paul took advantage of this free computer time to run up thousands of hours on the U. of W. computers. Bill Gates has often stated that he was lucky. Yes, luck has much to do with success. Here, Gladwell mentions the ten-thousand-hour rule of success. Any person who engages in an activity for ten thousand hours becomes the most proficient man in his field. This applies to Bill Gates and Paul Allen. It also applies to the music group we know as The Beatles.

In 1960, when they were still a struggling high school rock band, The Beatles were invited to play in Hamburg, Germany. In Hamburg, they were required to play eight-hour sessions, seven nights a week. They learned stamina, discipline, innumerable songs, even jazz. When they came back, they sounded like no one else. Their hours of practice made the difference and made them Outliers in their field. Being chosen to perform in Hamburg was also a lucky break for them.

Gladwell took a look at the Chinese who worked in the rice paddies of the Pearl River Delta. The discipline that is needed to grow rice is probably not found in any other occupation. The Asian culture is known world-wide for its intellectual achievements which can be traced to the hard work and discipline of entire families to grow a crop so necessary for their survival. A look at another aspect of Chinese culture is memory span. Americans who are given seven numbers to memorize and repeat are less apt to succeed in this exercise than the Chinese. The Chinese equivalent of the numbers four and seven, for instance, are shorter. They are si and qi. Also fourteen, fifteen and sixteen place the actual number first, but when you reach the twenties, the situation is reversed - twenty-four, twenty-five and twenty-six place the actual number last. This makes the memorization of our American numbers more difficult, and thus harder to succeed at this simple exercise.

Gladwell makes a case for differences in culture, family, generation, class, ethnicity, birth date, birth place and birth order. An interesting study into airplane crashes in Korea brought to light that the Korean co-pilots show so much deference to superiors such as air traffic controllers and their own pilots that they will not contradict or correct or assert their own opinion if it differs from the superior's opinion. When Korean airmen were retrained away from this cultural habit, air crashes became virtually non-existent.

So much more was handled in this treatise on Outliers - those who succeed where others fail. This was one of the most fascinating books I have read in the past decade.

Outliers: The Story of Success
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