by Joe Sciacca LTLS Consultant
Outliers: the story of sucess by Malcom Gladwell
If you think that success is mainly the result of individual skill and merit, this interesting book by Malcom Gladwell will challenge your assumptions. Gladwell has carved out a niche with his last several books in providing hidden explanations for the commonly observed phenomena. His latest book, The Outliers, sets out to explain "outliers", those among us who for whatever reason are out of the ordinary. What makes one person more sucessful than another? He concludes it is not individual intelligence or the logical outcome of a system where the best ideas or people win out. Instead, Gladwell argues that success can be explained by culture, individual circumstance, accidental timing, birth date, and in some cases plain luck.
He has a knack for finding compelling examples to fit his theory. In one example, he looks at elite hockey players and asks what explains which players rise to the top. He discovered that a majority of elite players were born in January, February and March. But it isn't astrology or anything magical about those months, rather it relates to the cutoff dates for selecting players for boy's hockey teams.The common cutoff date of January 1 means that boys born in the first few months of the year are playing in the same cohort with boys born late in the year, and for boys 10-12 years old, that makes a big difference in size, strength and skill development. Thus boys born in the first few months of the year do better in their age group. They get more playing time and more coaching attention and this early advantage carries through to the development of some into elite players. Beyond the luck of being born in the right month, Gladwell says that the super successful have the added benefit of a special opportunity for intensive practice that puts them over the top. He calls this the 10,000-hour rule. He looks at outliers such as Bill Gates, the Beatles and even Amadeus Mozart and explains that each of them have one thing in common. Yes, they each had talent. But more important, they each had the luck of circumstance that gave them a chance to develop their skills on a very intensive level. For example, the Beatles were an ordinary struggling band when in 1960 they were invited to be a club band in Hamburg, Germany. There they performed together 8 hours a day for a year and a half, playing over 1200 times. This gave them more skill, a larger repertoire and better stagecraft than other bands, and that was their springboard to success when they returned to Liverpool.
For me, the most compelling part of the book is Gladwell's cultural theory of airline disasters. He shows through numerous examples how communication hampered by rigid cultural patterns in certain nationalities is the cause of many preventable airline crashes. In cultures with a high degree of deference to authority, junior co-pilots are unable to communicate effectively with senior pilots or with air traffic controllers because it isn't culturally appropriate to be confrontational with authority figures. In one well-known case a flight ran out of fuel and crashed on approach to New York because the South American crew was too deferential to the American air traffic controllers and they did not declare a fuel emergency in time.
While Gladwell supports his theories well with examples and studies, The Outliers is very non-technical and readable. You may not agree with his explanations, but Gladwell will get you thinking differently about everyday occurrences.
Gladwell, Malcolm, 1963. Outliers : the story of success. New York : Little, Brown and Co. Large Print, 2008.
Not quite what I was planning by Rachel Fershleiser
O.K. Try this. Write a 6-word description of your life. That was the challenge storytelling magazine SMITH asked of readers a few years ago. Not quite what I was planning is a collection of the best reader submissions. Like haiku for biography, each one stands alone, brief and inviting.
Not quite what I was planning was inspired by the legend that Hemingway, the master of brevity, was once challenged to write a story in six words. Papa responded: "For sale: baby shoes, never worn."
This is a book to thumb through rather than read, but some of the mini-memoirs pull you in and invite you to linger, thinking what that life might have been like. My favorites: "Still have not learned to swim.", "Time to start over again, again.", "Quiet guy; please pay closer attention."
So many books, so little time.
Fershleiser, Rachel. Not quite what I was planning : six-word memoirs by writers famous and obscure : from Smith magazine. New York : HarperPerennial, c2008.
Future Files by Richard Watson
If you like thinking about trends, Richard Watson's Future Files is for you. He boils things down nicely into the 5 most important trends for the next 50 years. And he reassuringly includes 5 things that won't change.
Spoiler alert! Here are the top 5: Aging -- and the huge impact aging baby boomers will have on the nation's health care and taxation systems. Power shifts eastward -- a major shift in the center of gravity of the world's political, economic, and military power, from North America to the "East" including India and China. Global connectivity -- and how today's 1 billion Internet-connected people will double in the next decade, and how connectivity itself will be redefined to mean mobile, GPS, and the ubiquitous network. GRIN Technologies -- and how Genetics, Robotics, Internet and Nanotechnology will mean that the machinery and its capabilities will become more important than ever, doing our work, extending our lives and more. The Environment -- not just climate change, but the broader environmental issues of global flu pandemic, peak oil, the push towards sustainable fuels, and the competition for natural resources.
Among the 5 things that Watson says won't change is an idea that may bode well for libraries: The need for physical objects, actual encounters and live experiences. For all the communicating that we will do using virtual spaces, avatars, text messages, etc. humans are still basically social animals. We crave physical contact with others, and stimulus through physical objects. Does that mean there is a future for the book, and for libraries as the "third space" where people can connect face-to-face with others in their community. I hope so.
Watson, Richard, 1961. Future files : the 5 trends that will shape the next 50 years. London ; Boston, MA : Nicholas Brealey Pub., 2008.