Sunday, November 27, 2011

The Verdict

I may be an "outlier" in saying this but I would not recommend Outliers. Going in to reading this book, all I heard about was how good it was and how interesting it was. Quite frankly, "Outliers" didn't live up to the hype. I found "Outliers" to be very repetetive in the way it was written. I feel that the book could be 60 pages shorter if Gladwell didn't repeat himself so often. It did, however, have its' bright spots. In some areas, complex ideas were explained in a way that was easy to read and understand. Unfortunately, I found parts like this to be few and far between.

What is Outliers?

Outliers is a book that puts success under the microscope. It studies the who, what, where, why, and when of success, and it is these factors collectively that lead to an outlier.

The first part deals with success and opportunity. Outliers states that success is part talent, and part opportunity. There is a reason most hockey players are born in January and February. There is a reason that computer tycoons were born in or around 1955. And there is a reason that the richest people in America were born in the 1930's.

The second part deals with culture and legacy. He treads carefully as to realize that groups of people behave a certain way, while being respectful to not fulfill any sterotypes. He examines the relation between plane crashes and respect to authority and determines that the crashes could've been prevented if the co-pilots stood up for themselves. This section also includes the culture of honor and why family feuds occured and how hostilities remain today.

Overall, Gladwell examines outliers, those who are different and/or successful. He concludes that what makes us who we are, is somewhat out of our hands. It can be determined on the day we were born, or who gave birth to the person who birthed us. The only way we can determine our own fate is by working hard to try to overcome odds.

My Favorite Part

My favorite part of the book is Section 4 on page 86. This section examines the difference between the smart, and the creative. It discusses the uses of a brick and a blanket. The intelligent people state the obvious, while the creative think outside the box. This is the best part in my opinion because it effectively analyzes the difference in an entertaining and humorous way. It leads to the fact that intelligent people may not be as successful as others because of the fact that they cant think creatively.

The Paragraph

The fourth paragraph on pages 182 and 183 talks about the plane crashes. He discusses the differences between movies and real life crashes. He writes in a mocking manner, in a way that says "if you thought this you are sadly mistaking". He writes this way to emphasize that crashes are caused by that accumulation of a few small events, not one catastrophe. This paragraph does a good job of explaining his ideas.

The Big Ten

1. Roseto
Roseto is significant because it is the first example of an outlier. It is deemed an outlier because people are much healthier there and live much longer than in other places. The cause at first is a mystery. It isn't due to their current location. It isn't due to their diet. It seemed to be due to they way the live their life and treat eachother. This research was done by Stewart Wolf and it inspired Gladwell to write the book.

2. Hockey
Gladwell explores the advantages of birthdays in this section. The majority of hockey players are born in the early months of the year. This is a direct corrolation to the cut-off date for players. Because these players are older and bigger they get more attention, this leads to more practice which makes them better players. This is an example of advantages that some people have over others right form birth.

3. Computer Programming
This section explores opportunities from birth and work ethic. 1955 is the ideal year to be born in order to be a computer programmer. It just so happens that Bill Gates was born in 1955. He also put in much more than 10,000 hours which is the time it takes to truly master something

4. The Time for Tycoons
This section also explores the window for a successful person to be born. It emphasizes that success has two parts, one part talent, one part opportunity. This opportunity was their birth year, 1935. This was the ideal time to take advantage of the economy.

5. Wealth and Children
This expiriment was conducted by Annette Lareau. It looked for the corrolation between raising a children in a poor home, compared to a wealthier home. The results were that wealthier children seemed to have a sense of entitlement. An example of this is when a wealthy child went to the doctor's and interrupted him. This confidence prepares them for society better than the poor children.

6. The Work of Lewis Terman
Terman wished to study how seemingly intelligent children would end up later on in life. He called these children Termites. He followed their every move and finally his conclusion re-affirmed Lareau's expiriment. The children raised in the wealthier homes were better off than others. The next group led mediocre lives, and the final group never lived up to their true potential.

7. The Smartest Man Alive
Chris Langan has an IQ of 195 and is considered to be one of the greatest minds of all time. He however is not a very successful person. He is not well known, and he has never graduated from college. Due to this his work can't even get published. This proves the fact that even though one can be intelligent, they have to be able to communicate.

8. Learned Skills
Jewish people in New York gained success starting garment shops. They learned how to work hard and sew in their homeland which translated into success in America. This proved true the fact that people can be successful based on where they come from.

9. "Culture of Honor"
A culture of this sort existed in Kentucky in the 1930's, it even exists today. In this society, people are insulted very easily. This is due to the fact that they had to be intimidating to protect their animals.

10. Rice and Math.
Gladwell answers the question at why Asians are better at math. It is due to two reasons. The first being that their letters in their langauge are shorter and simpler. This encourages them to work because it is easier to understand. The other reason is that working in rice paddies required one to be able to grow smarter and work harder to increase their yield. This relates to them working harder than others

The Outlying Scenery

The very first place described in Outliers is Roseto Valfortore in Italy. This might just be the most significant place in Outliers because it is the first example of the idea of an Outlier. Gladwell describes it in such way that one can see the structure of the town. You can pictrure the crowded town with narrow streets lined by stone houses with red tile roofs. This is the town that will lead to the outlying town of Roseto, Pennsylvania.

The next place is Harlan, Kentucky. This place is home to the culture of honor in which people are easily offended and fight eachother to be feared and respected. Harlan is in the Appalachian Mountains and is part of the Cumberland Plateau. Gladwell describes the plateau in great detail ranging from the elevation of the ridges, to the type of flowers that flourish in the coves and foothills. Harlan was at first, a dense forest of a variety of trees ranging from white oaks, to hemlocks. It is because of this landscape that leads to the raising of animals which is the cause of the culture of honor.

The People Behind Outliers

It is safe to say that there is not one person in Outliers who is more important than any other. I do however have a few people in mind who I believe made a relatively large impact. These people are Bill Gates, Chris Langan, and Renee.

Bill Gates is obviously the founder of Microsoft but his story goes much deeper than that. From a fairly young age, Gates has had an obsession with computers and programming. He was also born in 1955 which was "the perfect birth date" according to Gladwell. This was the perfect birth date because he was born in the perfect window of the introduction of computers. In addition, because of his obsession, he proved true the 10,000 hour theory. Bill Gates was important because the represented the work ethic of 10,000 hours and success with opportunity (his birthday).

Chris Langan is quite possibly the smartest man of all time. IQ wise anyways. His IQ is 195, that is 45 points higher than Einstein's! Chris Langan was that rare case in which it seemed that he was just born smarter than everyone else. However, with all of this potential he is relatively unknown. His work won't get published because he doesn't even have a college degree. This is due mainly to the fact that he can't get along with others. That is the "problem with geniuses". Despite his intelligence, he is unable to communicate with people in an effective way. I feel that he is an important person because he illustrates that fact that even though a person can be insanely smart, one must be able to interact with others.

The final person is Renee. Initially she has no real interest in math. She then gets her hands on a graphing program on the computer. For 20 minutes she tries to find the slope of a vertical line. Most high school students know that the slope is undefined. She however does not and works to find the answer. She tries various scenarios until she finally realizes that the slope would be infinity over zero. This may seem like a minor achievement but I see it as a breakthrough. This event with Renee shows that with hard work, one can achieve what they set their mind to.