Saturday, July 20, 2013

Outliers: The Story of Success

     Outliers are statistical anomalies. When they are good ones such as stories of brilliant success we tend to attribute the success to innate brilliance or luck. Malcolm Gladwell argued and proved (in this book, Outliers) through studies and examples why that is not the case; but that it is instead hard work with a bit of luck that results in phenomenal success.
    Whether one is curious why the Beatles were such a world wide phenomenal sensation (hard work in the strip clubs of Hamburg, Germany) or why Bill Gates made huge sums of money from computing (being fortunate to go to a school with access to some cutting edge electronics) this book answers these questions and more. How many hours does it take to become an expert on something? The magic answer: 10,000 hours! The Beatles, Bill Gates, Mozart...all logged in ten thousand hours before they made it big time. So like your mother always told you: practice, practice, practice!
   Interestingly the book spends a lot of time discussing the precipitating events and factors in airline crashes. Korean Air was an outlier, in a bad way, they were 19 times more likely to crash than the average airplane. (It was largely a cultural problem with copilots not being able to vocalize safety concerns due to their culture. Asiana is also a Korean based airline. It was an Asiana flight that crashed last week in California.)
   Gladwell also theorizes on the phenomena of Asian children's excellence at mathematics. But most interesting is his discussion on the "achievement gap" between minorities and non-minorities in the US in education. His statistics and commentary provide evidence that disadvantaged children lose more knowledge over the summer time than advantaged children. (Gladwell, pp.255-260) It is the accumulation of these losses over repeated summers that puts minority children so far behind the curve. His solution is to dispose of the traditional three month long summer break that is a hang over from our days as a primarily agricultural society (when we needed our kids to help reap the harvest) and that Americans now consider a necessary part of an American childhood.
   A thoughtful and insightful read. One will consider ethnic stereotypes, folklore legends, American a new light. Outliers is an interesting read; I still liked his book Tipping Point better but it is well done.