Saturday, March 14, 2009

Outlier - The story of Success


Sorry to all those readers who had long missed the new book review on my blog. I've been busy with the preparing stuff for the new members of the family. As I wait for the birth of my first baby, I would like to write a blog on an audiobook review of a title by Malcolm Gladwell called Outliers. Hopefully it won't be long before I get a chance again to write other titles that I've come across that interest me.

To those who are unfamiliar with the term, outlier is a mathematical term where a data resides numerically distant from the rest of the normal distribution of the samples. Sometimes we think that a successful person is an outlier because it just stand out of the ordinary and they didn't need to put some effort on it. The title is very intriguing and interesting. It littered with stories upon stories that he had gathered from numerous sources on successful people. Some old and some new. The way it was beautifully narrated in each chapter makes you going back for more. Let me briefly summarize the book to trigger the interest of the reader who would like to know more about the book.

The story of a migrating community from Italy to the States. This close knitted community had lower chances of heart disease compared to other population in the States. Initially, they thought that it was due to their gene but once those members move out from the community, they subjected to the normal heart disease of those people living in the same area. The author then described that it was due to factor of living 3 generations under the roof with their religious as their center of the community brings certain health benefits to their residents.

Chapter 1 : The Matthew Effect
In normal term, the Matthew effect just meant the Rich get richer while the Poor get poorer. In this book, he talks about the accumulation of advantages for certain individuals as he/she progress on in life. First, he guides you thru the birth of the ice hockey players in Canada was resulted from the selection of player at the age of 10 with the cutoff period of 1st January. He observed more ice hockey player born on the 1st quarter of the year than the rest of the year. The author suggest that it was due to the early matuarity advantage by those player selected will add up to more hours of practice and that in return will let them accumulate more skill to become a greater player. To get more talents out from the player selection, the author suggested to have different cutoff period to even out the chance or only give special treatment after those physical advantage even out (perhaps after age of 15)

Chapter 2 : The 10 000 hours rule
Do you know what all Bill Gates (Founder of Microsoft), Bill Joy (Founder of Sun) and The Beatles (Very successful band in the 60s) have in common ? They have each accumulate 10 000 hours (roughly ten years of multiple hours of practice (3 or so on average) every single day) of practice before becoming successful in their field. According to a study conducted by Dr. Anders Ericsson on the violin players in Berlin, he found out that those successful violinist have each put on at least 10 000 hours of deliberate practice compared those mediocre player who destined to be music teacher etc. If you think those lucky people who are expert in their field are just plain genius, you may be dead wrong. A lot of study after study from Grandmaster chess player, successful entrepreneur etc have each put long hours in their field before becoming the master of their field. Sometimes it just didn't cross our mind that the hours they put in was actually essential on their field. I have known this idea as well from Brian Tracy (Successful motivator) who encourage us to put few hours a day in the field of your interest and you'll be expert of the field.
These chapter details a lot of insider story of those info about Bill Gates, Bill Joy and The Beatles that I've yet to heard before. Do you know The Beatles played in Hamburg before ? or did you know Bill Joy was actually written lots of our internet software ? Read this chapter to find more about them. The author didn't stop there by just telling us their 10 000 hours practice but also their accumulated advantages and chances given to them in their ways towards succcess. Another factor the author cites is that certain industry have their lucky birth year that bring advantage what an ice hockey player had if he were born near January 1st. Those eras are 1951-55 for the computer industry. The great 19th century wealth of John D Rockefeller, JP Morgan in the 1830s

Chapter 3: Trouble with the genius Part 1
This chapter started with the story of Chris Langan. Chris was having an IQ of 190 in certain study but in real life he didn't have a life of success that one who belief he would have. The author also talks about another study conducted by Lewis Terman on the Genetic study of Genius. A study was conducted on the correlation between life of those high IQ person and their success. In the end there was no conclusion that an high IQ person will end up more successful achievement in life. The author mention that one just have to be good enough to succeed. In explaining this, it talks about threshold effect. Just like the cutoff scores for university for example, once you've met with the minimum requirement, you should be considered in the selection. If all the genius were to group together, their intelligence doesn't really make a difference. From my opinion, that's why Hitler is bound to fail when he wanted to create a more superior race by eugenics.

Chapter 4: Trouble with the genius Part 2
This chapter continues with the story on Chris where oppurtunity makes so much different from Robbert Oppenheimer. Sometimes, besides analytical intelligence (IQ), we need to be supplemented by social intelligence in our life. The author also touch about how upbringing of the family in comparison between middle class (assertive) & poor class (intimidated by authority) makes a difference towards the shaping of behaviour of individuals.

Chapter 5: The 3 lessons of Joe Flom
The chapter started with life story of a lawyer called Joe Flom and how he build into the largest lawyer firm in the world. The author relates this story with 3 essential lessons of having in the right demographic luck (being born in the right time and the right place), culture (being a jewish) and work ethics (parents who worked hard and right mindset to succeed). We need to ask ourselves is our work fulfilling ? To be in the meaningful work is one of the successful traits.

Chapter 6: Haarlen, Kentucky
This chapter relates to how cultural heritage of the Southern states of Kentucky brought up to the certain traits of society culture there. The story details how lifelihood between a herdsmen (individualism) compared to farmer (more community based). When reputation are at stake, southern people tends to protect their pride compared to the other state. There was also another study on how students behave when intimidated. It just like how Chinese behave differently compared to Indian or the Malays. Because of the cultural upbringing, we have certain traits. We become such a way because of the accumulation of culture and environment we live along the way that passed on to our gene I guess.

Chapter 7: The Ethnic Theory of Plane Crashes
The story provides detail second by second recreation of some gruesome aircraft crashes. To those who fear about aircraft crash story, consider yourself warned. Those analysis of the airline crash of Korean Airline provides some evidence on how culture and ethnic did influence the pilot and co-pilot behaviour and communication. The issue with Korean Airline was solve by bringing changes to their pilot training and communications (Using English on the pilot communication) method. This chapter also discussed on some of the study on the Power Distance Index (PDI) by Hofstede bring some clue on how cultural affect the score of PDI.

Chapter 8: Rice Paddies and Math Tests
This chapter I would think that will be the most controversial among all the chapter I've read in this book. The author made the comparison between chinese farmers (asian culture) and other farmers of the world (Europe, Russian etc) and deduce that because of their hard work, skills of planting paddy and other factor influence how good the score of the math results scored by the students of their country who have history of rice paddy farmer (China, Japan, South Korea and Singapore). I think it's too simplistic to derive that math result by having forefathers being a rice paddy farmer. Other advantage on math by the chinese includes having lower syllable for a number compared to other language and in return better memory retention. The chinese farmer in general have worked 3000 hour a year in working their field. Working hard was a trait they suppose to do. The author also mentioned being good at math is rooted in deep by cultural legacy. I like the author statement of success is a function of persistence doggedness & willingess to work hard to make sense of something.

Chapter 9 : Marita’s Bargain
This chapter talks about the story of Marita's in a Kipp academy in the Bronx. The school had extended school hours that emulating some of the hardworking ethics of rice farmer culture to school. The story of Marita's success is some sort of letting go of cultural legacy and embracing new one. Some successful asian country student school days are longer. Like Japan have 249 days, South Korea have 220 days. One of the meaningful observation was the comparison of poor income compared to middle/upper income on the use of time during summer vacation. Higher income group will allow their children to spend on something meaningful like museum visit, school camp. They engaged in concerted cultivation in bringing the children to be actively engaged. Compared to the poor income family, the children just spend it on watching TV etc. This accumulation of learning will snowball as the children aged to adult.

Epilogue : Story of Malcolm parents break of success in Jamaica
The final chapter talks about Malcolm mother story and her chances of education to London. He mentioned that what he is now was the accumulation of advantages along the way that shaped him. In conclusion the author mentioned that a successful person is not an outlier at all. The book ended by saying success is made of history, community, cultural, some deserved, some not, some earned and some just plain lucky.

Some interesting remark on success
1. Being successful is given oppurtunity and seize it. It's not by just being genius.
2. We squander talent when we ignore some of the subtle things in life
3. Sometimes it's just a chance towards a meaningful work
4. Success follow predictable course

My observation on success traits mentioned in the book
1. Hardwork like 10 000 hours and never give up easily
2. Lucky break - Year, date of month, generation etc
3. Cultural legacy - Culture of hardwork etc
4. Family upbringing - how family behave/act to you
5. Oppurtunity/chance - towards the field you're in

What I like about the book and how can it relate to my side
1. The story was told in such a wonderful way and you tend to look for more on the next chapter
2. Simple analogy used on the book that makes it easy to understand and you want to put on practice
3. Summary of certain culture and studies of success without you going thru the research yourself. Who could have learn about Matthew effect, PDI etc

1. Some of the chapter may be controversial like chapter 8. Does that meant good at math because my previous generation was a paddy farmer ?
2. If I have certain culture legacy, does that meant we can't be more of something else

All in all, I give this book a 9 out of 10. One of the must read book if you want to know more about success.

For more Outliers review of other sources you can read it below,,20239689,00.html

Until then, lifelong learning everyone...