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The quietest day of the year

It always struck me as ironic that new years day is such a quiet and almost dead day. It’s supposed to be the first day of the new year, full of hope and forward thinking and looking / planning ahead. But instead, everywhere is closed, the streets are deserted and there is nothing going on – it really is ironic!

University Blog posted about a criticism of Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers recently. It’s nothing new for serious formal academics to get a little edgy when their area of expertise gets the so-called “pop” treatment.  By their nature, the “pop” versions tend to be far more disgestable for those not experts but interested in the area. Hence, they are popular.

Today, I decided to have a read of Outliers. Here’s what I got out of  part 1.

  • Yes, there are plenty of opportunities where I found myself asking but…, what if…., what about…. how can you be sure….. There is a trade-off between formal academic rigour and making material digestable for someone interested in nothing more than curling up on the couch with a nice glass of vino on a nice relaxing new years day.
  • The Intro sets the scene, establishing that an individual human cannot be studied in isolation. You can’t ask people about their story and not have other people, places, culture, society and situations play a large part in it.
  • 1. The Matthew Effect – one opportunity begets another and together these opportunites accumulate to something important indeed. Thing is, the initial opportunity can be built on a seemingly tivial  man-made rule that results in e.g. those being born in January rather than December getting ahead.
  • 2. The 10,000 hour rule – intellience and ability need only be good enough, beyond a certain point there are diminishing returns.  You just have to be bright enough. Real achievement also requires sheer hard work, 10,000 hours of it, to become expert. Problem is, even with passion and a love of the subject, accumulating this amount of practice isn’t easy e.g. having to work to pay bills while accumulating these hours is a distraction learners could do without. The world has to be ready for your 10,000 hours worth at the time you’re peaking  those hours – some societal juggling is needed.
  • 3&4. The trouble with genuises –  the account of Chris Langan really hurt, struck one heck of a nerve with me. This guy is mega mega intelligent but couldnt seem to get through the educational system. I cant help but wonder if the same acocunt was given in a text book or academic journal would have grabbed me to the same extent. But that’s beside the point. Again the point is made that a  high IQ can get you only so far. Practical Life skills are needed also. Those lucky enough to be brought up with nurturing parents who model such life skills for their children start building these skills at a very early age, long long before their deprived counterparts realise what they are missing.
  • 5. The 3 lessons of Joe Flom – Joe had the makings of being a top class lawyer but (un!!)fortunately didnt have a snooty enough background to be employed by the big law orgs of the day. What happened here then? The world changed, that’s what happened. The skills Joe had been steadily building up in his lower tier law firm became societys needed ones and were not featured in ye olde world snooty firms. Lower tier law firms swapped places with the formerly snooty ones who faded into obscurity.
    Interesting a/c here also fo the Borgenacht family. Now, this is one that isn’t resonating with me, it feels like it’s missing something and I’m not sure what. The lesson is clear though, and it’s classic marketing. What you have to offer has to be something that enough people want.
    To feel really fulfilled in your job, the work has to be complex enough to engage your mind, you need freedom to have a say in it, and it has to be rewarded in proportion to the effort you put in. So, how many of those 3 does your job provide you with?

I’m enjoying what I’m reading. Yes, the above points seem to be common sense and are logical. They are not earth-shattering profound discoveries, yet they are interesting reading. Yes, the arguments ask for clarifications and further detail, but see the first point above.  Besides, you can probe and probe but sociology being what it is, in beyond absolute proof. There will always be intervening variables  that cannot be controled for.

Gladwell isnt trying to be scholarly, so why should be taken to task for not being scholarly. Instead he gives us interesting stories, told with a human touch and in-between we get possible explanations that are thought-provoking. No-one is forcing us to believe them, but they are food for thought, and cause the reader to ponder “I wonder……”.