Outliers - Success explained?

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Noah_Scape
Outliers - Success explained?

Is anyone here familiar with Malcom Gladwell's book "Outliers"?

I heard him talking about it in interviews, but I have not been able to get it at the library yet.

One point he makes is about Asians and their math
skills [every year they win the top 5 spots in the worldwide
contests] - Gladwell says it is because their ancestors grew
rice, and growing rice is more labour intensive than growing
wheat.

Gladwell, and successfull people,
generally believe that success is anything but "a better brain" , as in
not from being more intelligent, or more skilled or more talented. They
all say it is from hard work, and nothing else.

Even the Beatles!! - they simply got into a situation where they played
1200 live gigs, mostly in Hamburg Germany, and nobody gets a
chance like that...

Hockey players are born in
January so they are bigger when training camp comes around. That one
steps out of the "hard work" theme a bit.

Gladwell
claims that anyone who gets the chance to put in 10,000 hours of work
at something [anything] WILL get good at it.

From other sources, I hear sucessfull people claim that they simply
worked harder. And it is true, they did, but I wonder if they worked
harder in school because they got good marks when they put in the
effort, whereas others just didn't manage to get the marks, and hence
there was not the same kind of reward for studying hard.

Personally, I believe that many or most of the unsuccessfull people
have something wrong in the noggin. No insult intended, but it must be
possible to have brain damage, and what chance do they stand of
getting to be a CEO? Or even holding down a decent job that lots of
people are competing for?

Maybe if I read the book I would see that those are two different
things altogether - the successfull and the unsuccessfull - but it
cannot be denied that from one extreme to the other in the continuum of
success in our modern world that the low end is populated with
people with less mental abilities, and that although the most or more
successfull people certainly DO work harder than others, they also seem
to have a bit of a bright spark going on.

I didn't
do well in school, and by the time I was in grade 7 I wasn't putting t
much effort into my schoolwork, but I also remember being very
frustrated in earlier years because I wanted to please my dad and get
good marks, but just gave up after awhile.

Do
any of you remember feeling like that? Did you try hard and put in the
hours, or not? Should I am assume that none of you are
"successfull" to any major degree, because if you were you would not be
spending this time online?

 

Star Spangled C...

I saw a really good interview with him on CBC Sunday last night. I've also read an excerpt of the book - one dealing specifically with the idea that hockey players born earlier in the year are the ones that tend to go on to be very successful at the game. His arguments are quite convincing.

Haven't actually picked up a copy of the book but holidays are coming up so hopefully, I'll add it to teh big stack of books I've been too busy to get around to.

George Victor

Gladwell came out of Elmira, an Ontario village on the edge of Old Order Mennonite country, and that "outlier" status gave him some skills, which he further developed in the U.S., perfecting his writing and finding "success."  Some would put it down to his brilliance. He calls that a developed condition. For a great many people, including this reader, that would be a stretch.

Just beginning to read his book, but I'm having difficulty finding his formula at work in a lot of  "success" stories out there.  More "outlaws" than "outliers" in many, many cases. To the manor born. But it's early days.

ElizaQ ElizaQ's picture

 

Quote:

Maybe if I read the book I would see that those are two different
things altogether - the successfull and the unsuccessfull - but it
cannot be denied that from one extreme to the other in the continuum of
success in our modern world that the low end is populated with
people with less mental abilities, and that although the most or more
successfull people certainly DO work harder than others, they also seem
to have a bit of a bright spark going on.

I didn't
do well in school, and by the time I was in grade 7 I wasn't putting t
much effort into my schoolwork, but I also remember being very
frustrated in earlier years because I wanted to please my dad and get
good marks, but just gave up after awhile.

Do
any of you remember feeling like that? Did you try hard and put in the
hours, or not? Should I am assume that none of you are
"successfull" to any major degree, because if you were you would not be
spending this time online?

   Many of your question depend on what your definition of being 'sucessfull' is in the first place. Is one a 'success' just because they reach CEO position, make good money or get good marks in math? What are the markers of 'success'?  So to answer the last question, don't assume anything because of how much time people spend online. That's a bit silly actually. 

 I consider myself to be extremely successful in what I have chosen to do and how I live my life.  I don't make big money, I don't have a lot of material things, I don't hold any prestigous positions, I'm not famous,  but I do do a lot of things successfully within the the parameters of what I chose to do.   For instance the weather has been bad for the past few days and we need to do to the grocery store. We're missing a lot of staples and basic food ingredients. Yet I managed to go through the cupboards and make an awesome and tasty meal without any recipes. Dinner was a success!   And yes  cooking  is a skill  that takes  some work to learn, but in this case my success is only appreciated by myself and the people that eat what I cook. Smile   Yes I kid somewhat but my point is that measuring 'success' is an entirely subjective exercise.  Without saying exactly how you're determining success it won't go far.

 I do however believe that putting in hours of work at something does lead to getting better at it. However I also believe that people in general do have affinities or talents for different things.  I was pretty good at school and generally got good marks without much work in subjects such as social sciences.  Math however was difficult. If I wanted to get good marks at it I really did have to work.  I did take a lot of science classes and enjoyed physics at a theoretical level but stumbled at the techinical level. In highschool my physics teacher would joke with me that I was the only one in the class that actually understood quatumn physics at a conceptual level but would come close to failing the quizes when I had to do calculations.  So what did I do?  I made a choice. I could have spent hours and hours working on the maths and likely become decent at it but I chose to focus on other subjects of interest.  At physics and math I would consider myself to have failed. Yet I'm not a failure. 

 My one sister had a different experience. She was not great at academics but in creative subjects such as art and creative writing she excelled.  However she struggled to fit into her schools definition of 'success'.  For years in highschool she felt like a failure and that she was stupid.  She managed to squeak by on a number of subjects and graduate.  She however did keep working on her creative arts in her own time, thanks in part to my mother who encouraged her to do so and kept saying that she wasn't a failure.  Now fifteen years out, she is still doing art, has written a couple of novels, is married and has a wonderful son who spends a lot of time "making pictures and doing stuff with glue and pretty things" with Mom.  I would consider her a success, because she managed to buck outside pressures and stay true to herself. 

   I actually think that a lot of people who at a general level people would consider "unsucessful" has as much to do with the  bias of the person making that determination as well as meta level societal beliefs of what is considered 'successful'.  Not everyone can become a CEO even if simply for the fact that there aren't CEO positions for everyone in the first place.

  Even mental abilities run the gamit of subjectivity.  Math and other academics are only one area. My grandfather only had a grade 8 education so he was dumb when it came to that stuff but heck he could grow a mean crop of corn and fix almost anything with a bit of wire and duct tape.  So we wouldn't have any great conversations about worldly philosophers, I'd run circles around him,  but if my car broke down grandpa could fix it without blinking while I'd still be wondering where the oil went. 

   I do believe that most people have inherent talents or affinities for things though. However I also agree with the premise as stated in the OP that it's not so much that people are more talented or more skilled at a particular thing and hence become 'successful' at it but that it has much to do with actually working hard at it.  The key is of course figuring out what the base level affinity is in the first place and then having the support and the wherewithall to actually work at it.

 I'm sure I could spend ten thousand hours studying math and physics and become subjectively 'successful' in that realm.  I likely wouldn't though, because I have little interest in doing that in the first place. 

 So I do think it's actually a combination of things at play. It's personal choice, hard work but societal 'norms' or 'determination' also play into it. My other sisters husband is a good example of how outside pressures play into stifling what I would consider a natural affinity.  He grew up in an emotionally abusive household and had a father who was always at him for not being 'man' enough and was pushed to do all sorts of supposedly manly things.  He grew up hearing he was a failure because, even though he practiced a lot he wasn't good enough at football to make the big leagues.  That was his families determination of what a 'success' was.  He failed. I suppose one could say, well if he just worked harder he could have done better, maybe 15,000 hours instead of 10,000 but I don't think that's the whole puzzle.  So what happened? He's spent years working a menial job and thinking that it was the only thing that he was capable of doing.   The fact is his natural affinity isn't football or other physical "man" things.  It's animals.  The guy is a natural animal whisperer and has the amazing skill of dealing with them, especially those that have been abused or have been through some sort of trauma. This without any training whatsoever.    It is only now, after the death of his father and a couple of years of counselling that he's at the point of considering that maybe he might actually be capable of doing something that's worthwhile and meaningful. He has to get rid of years of programming of what is "success" and what is "failure."  It's sad actually, because he's now at the point where he recalls that his young boy dream was to work with animals, but that was literally quashed by his father as being too 'girly'.

   This example, might be anecdotal but I can't help but think that such things might be the case for other people as well and play into how their lives turn out in terms of being looked at as a success.  If one happens to have an afffinity for things that are accepted modes of 'success' wherever they might be at then the support is there and they are able to have the space to work at them.   

 

 

Star Spangled C...

Interesting points, ElizaQ.

Certainly, we all have different perceptions of what it means to be "successful". In some areas, however, like sports, success can be objectively defined - number of goals scored, matches won, teams made, what level you get to, etc.

I understand that Gladwell also talks about the idea of 10,000 hours as being the number needed to really gain mastery of something - whether to be an excellent pianist, a great athlete, etc. This may very well be the case. However, it can often lead to a sense of one-dimensionality. For example, my brotehr probably has much greater natural athletic ability than I do, yet I was ultimately more "successful" as an athlete (getting a full athletic scholarship to university). The difference in achievement here probably has to do with the fact that my brotehr played multiple sports - hockey, soccer, football, lacrosse - whereas I focused on jsut one - tennis. His hours of practice and competition were spread all over the place whereas mine were concentrated in a single area. It also probably has to do with the number of people competing to be "successful" at a given endeavour. The sport at which my brotehr was best was lacrosse whereas I was best at tennis. neither of these have the same number of participants competing for a limited number of spots as say, hockey or basketball so to be successful is much easier.

ElizaQ ElizaQ's picture

Star Spangled Canadian wrote:

I understand that Gladwell also talks about the idea of 10,000 hours as being the number needed to really gain mastery of something - whether to be an excellent pianist, a great athlete, etc. This may very well be the case. However, it can often lead to a sense of one-dimensionality. For example, my brotehr probably has much greater natural athletic ability than I do, yet I was ultimately more "successful" as an athlete (getting a full athletic scholarship to university). The difference in achievement here probably has to do with the fact that my brotehr played multiple sports - hockey, soccer, football, lacrosse - whereas I focused on jsut one - tennis. His hours of practice and competition were spread all over the place whereas mine were concentrated in a single area. It also probably has to do with the number of people competing to be "successful" at a given endeavour. The sport at which my brotehr was best was lacrosse whereas I was best at tennis. neither of these have the same number of participants competing for a limited number of spots as say, hockey or basketball so to be successful is much easier.

 Yes, there is that too. Sorta of what I was trying to get at with my comment about there not being a CEO position for everyone that might be skilled enough to be one in the first place, though I wasn't very clear.  If say I was one of three people making a particular type of widget then it's much easier to be "successful" at doing it (in a business sense) then if there were a thousand people doing the exact same thing.  We all might have put in the 10,000 hours of work at mastering the widget making but there is more to it then just the amount of work put into it. 

   Though I haven't read the book or know much more about Gladwells premise then what was posted here I do think that the idea that it's not just natural talent or ability that leads to success or mastering something is generally a good thing and on a general level true I can also see a negative side or perhaps a way that it can be scued negatively.  A reverse would be well you're not "successful" (whatever that means) because you just haven't worked hard enough at it.   I don't necessarily think that's what Gladwell is saying of course but I can see how it could be spun that way. 

   I do think that it really comes down to how success is determined.  If it's just accolades, awards, certification, job status, or goals scored etc etc then that's one thing. I suppose that speaks to the potential for one dimensionality of what success is or perceived by people.    Take the CEO example. Maybe the person in that realm is considered extremely successful but move to another say their family or social life is a dud because of the amount of time spent working hard at it.  So in the business world uber fabulous but they end up having no real friends and estranging family members in the process and are quite miserable in that area.    I personally wouldn't consider that overally 'successful' in terms of looking at the whole of a persons life.   

 Anyways I'll  probably take a closer look at Gladwells work. Heck maybe I'll even do my own personal experiment. In the past two weeks I've just started to learn how to make jewelry and how to sculpt human figures.  It's something I've wanted to do for a long time but right now am pretty useless at, particularly the sculpting part. My first head looks like a bloody mutant!  LOL  Maybe I'll start clocking the hours I spend at it and see how long it takes to master it. At this point I'm not even sure I can master it, because I don't feel I have the  natural 'talent' but for some strange reason I'm compelled to try.  I think it might have something to do with being drawn to things that I am most scared of doing.  A personal quirk I suppose.  

  So hmmm, 10,000 hours.... by my calculations at approx 10 per week that should take me about 19-20 years or so.  Talk about daunting!  Surprised

Fidel

Gladwell also says that not only do Asian kids scrore higher math grades than North Americans, so do kids from well off families score higher grades than kids from poorer families. He believes it has to do with better opportunities for children of higher income families. Kids need stimulating experiences in developmental years, and children from better off families tend to be exposed to opportunities for learning during the summer vacation months. Apparently children in Asia arent made insane by a longer school year and hard work.

Interesting what he had to say about 8 and 9 year olds in hockey. Gladwell says we could increase the talent pool in Canada by 40% or so, if there were two hockey leagues: one for children born in the first half of the year and another for those born in second half of the year.

Refuge Refuge's picture

Fidel wrote:

Gladwell says we could increase the talent pool in Canada by 40% or so, if there were two hockey leagues: one for children born in the first half of the year and another for those born in second half of the year.

Hmm that is interesting.  I wonder if it would hold true in the school system as well since kids born in December are almost a full year younger than kids born in January in the same year.

Star Spangled C...

Not necessarily, refuge.

Hockey rewards size, coordiantion and phyiscal power in a way that academcis doesn't. Also, everyone in a class, regardless of when they were born get the same education all through. The reason that hockey players are different is that teh older, bigger stronger ones stand out as being the ebst in the early years. They then have the chance playon travelling "rep" teams, get more ice time, better coaching, face more challenging opponents, etc. - all things that contribute to making them better so that by the time they are older and ready to go the next level, tehy really ARE better than people born in December - not necessarily cause they had the most natural talent but because tehy were given more opportunity because they were better at a younger age.

Fidel

I think there may be a general relation between smarter kids in primary grades who've attended pre-school, good daycare etc, but don't quote me.  I never did daycare as a child, and there were always three or four whiz kids in my grade school class who stood out from the rest of us. And their's were not low income households.

Gladwell says that by the time he was a teenager, Bill Gates put in 10,000 hours on a computer at a time when most computer science professors didn't have access to one. 

The Beatles put in 10,000 hours worth of small club gigs eight hours at a stretch in Hamburg well before they were popular in North America.

Star Spangled C...

In the u.S., there's a program called Head Start that provides extra help for kids from lower income backgrounds in the early grades. I recall a study showing that this did help them out in the first few years of school but as tehy got older, they tended to regress towards the mean and there wasn't much lasting impact. Not sure how Gladwell would explain it. I don't think academic success can be simplified to any one or two factors. Some people have natural abilities that otehrs don't, some of it is work habits, some of it is the quality of the school you can attend, some of it is personal factors going on in one's life that can be distracting, part is support from parents, etc, etc. etc.

Refuge Refuge's picture

Star Spangled Canadian wrote:

Not necessarily, refuge.

Hockey rewards size, coordiantion and phyiscal power in a way that academcis doesn't.

Quote:

(edited for length)

"Ability Grouping. Ability grouping is the educational practice of dividing students into small working groups with students of equivalent ability in the same group. The rationale for ability grouping is this: Students of high ability are grouped together so that they can develop their skills, and students of low ability are grouped together so that the school can compensate for their lack of skills. An unanticipated consequence of ability grouping is that students are given differential access to educational curricula, and hence, to educational opportunity. Indeed, recent research (summarized by Cole & Griffin, 1987, p.24-42; Oakes, Gamoran, & Page, in press) suggests that students placed into low-ability groups suffer from a consistent pattern of deprivation of access to educational opportunity. "

"Once placed into ability groups, students receive different treatment. Students in low-ability groups receive less instruction and less homework than students in high-ability groups. They receive a different kind of instruction as well; curricular material is broken down into small packets of information, apparently on the assumption that remedial students cannot handle complex or demanding work. Students assigned to low-ability groups are asked to remember and recite information learned in the past, whereas students in high-ability groups are encouraged to develop comprehension, interpretation, and critical thinking skills. Furthermore, teachers exert control differently over students in high- and low ability groups. In low-ability groups, teachers demand conformity to external rules; in high-ability groups, teachers exert control through reference to intrinsic rewards and internal motivations (Wilcox, 1982). In low-ability classes, teachers are more concerned with getting students to be punctual, sit quietly, and follow instructions, and less concerned with educational achievement, motivation, and learning. In addition, students placed in low groups get different kinds of help from their teachers than students placed in high groups. The former receive corrections on technical matters, such as pronunciation and spelling (Diaz, Moll, & Mehan, 1988; Gumperz and Herasimuchuk, 1975; McDermott & Aron,1978). The latter receive hints that facilitate bridging from known to unknown information and that aid comprehension (Eder, 1981). Low-group students do less silent reading than high-group students, and when reading aloud are interrupted more often by the teacher and by fellow students (Arlington, 1983; McDermott & Aron, 1978)."

"In sum, whereas the conventional wisdom about ability grouping suggests that the special instruction provided to students in low-ability groups will enable them to catch up with students in higher groups at some later date, the current research suggests that students perform poorly in school because they are placed into low-ability groups. That is, ability grouping results in a "self-fulfilling prophecy" (Cooper & Good, 1982; Merton, 1957; Rosenthal & Jacobsen, 1968): Students are placed in low groups because they are perceived as having low ability; once placed, they receive less concentrated, lower quality instruction than children in other groups; and at the end of the year, they perform considerably less well than children in other groups, thereby confirming the teacher's initial prediction. "

http://www.ncela.gwu.edu/pubs/ncrcdsll/rr1.htm

ahh but if a child were to enter school with a year more of learning under their belt they would be deemed higher ability and thus could also recieve a different education as did the hockey players.  So when they get to the higher grades they have more practice at the higher level of thinking skills and are thus better at the skills because they have had more practice.

Refuge Refuge's picture

Star Spangled Canadian wrote:
In the u.S., there's a program called Head Start that provides extra help for kids from lower income backgrounds in the early grades. I recall a study showing that this did help them out in the first few years of school but as tehy got older, they tended to regress towards the mean and there wasn't much lasting impact. Not sure how Gladwell would explain it. I don't think academic success can be simplified to any one or two factors. Some people have natural abilities that otehrs don't, some of it is work habits, some of it is the quality of the school you can attend, some of it is personal factors going on in one's life that can be distracting, part is support from parents, etc, etc. etc.

No doubt there are several factors however the study I quoted above is definetly one of the factors that explains this.  Children in lower socio economic classes typically get placed in the low ability groups because of a lack of exposure to everything from the alphabet to computers.  Even if they are given programs the teacher may still percieve them as low ability because of  their background and thus would create a bias regardless of thier actual ability.

I believe this goes along with Gladwell's theory ( even though I have not read it yet ) because they don't get the practice at the higher academic skills that the higher ability groups get and they don't get the opportunities that others percieved as better get

http://webpages.marshall.edu/~teters2/documents/pygmalion%20book%20report.pdf

Fidel

I don't think Gladwell is saying that all outliers will be pushed to success , just like not all kids from rich families are natural Albert Frankensteins. What he is saying is that if there is no effort to increase the odds of success, then it's reflected in the results.  

Gladwell said that a child in North America is more likely to give up on a difficult math problem after a minute or so studying it while an Asian child will tend to be there working on the problem 15 minutes later. Asian kids are more likely to say that their good math grades are a result of hard work. He says that children in North America are more likely to suggest that math ability is innate, or "something you're born with." 

Refuge Refuge's picture

Fidel wrote:

I don't think Gladwell is saying that all outliers will be pushed to success , just like not all kids from rich families are natural Albert Frankensteins. What he is saying is that if there is no effort to increase the odds of success, then it's reflected in the results.  

Oh, that says it much more simply than I just did, thankyou Fidel.

Fidel

I remember thinking that math ability was something I wasnt born with. Teachers then weren't saying one way or another to me except that I couldn't do well if I wasn't prepared to do my homework. Typically I would pause, and then crack a book open. Prolly gave up after a minute or so of studying problem numero uno. That first homework problem was always the hardest one to get out of the way. I disliked English language skills and composition writing early on as well and wondering what connection there could be between language and math skills.

Refuge Refuge's picture

Fidel wrote:

I remember thinking that math ability was something I wasnt born with. Teachers then weren't saying one way or another to me except that I couldn't do well if I wasn't prepared to do my homework. Typically I would pause, and then crack a book open. Prolly gave up after a minute or so of studying problem numero uno. That first homework problem was always the hardest one to get out of the way. I disliked English language skills and composition writing early on as well and wondering what connection there could be between language and math skills.

Quote:

Although boys in high school performed better than girls in math 20 years ago, the researchers found, that is no longer the case. The reason, they said, is simple: Girls used to take fewer advanced math courses than boys, but now they are taking just as many. 

 http://dyslexia.wordpress.com/2008/07/25/no-gap-for-girls-in-math-scores-study-shows/

 

Sticking with the topic here is a study that shows that the gap between gender differences is gone with at least Math.  So I guess depending upon which generation you were in for school one theory might be that there may have been some unintended taking in of stereotyped roles for girls and boys with Math and Reading.

Fidel

There were changes made in North American school curricula wrt math and science just after Soviets launched Sputnik. There was a shift toward practical physics courses, and a full year of discrete mathematics was added to some science degrees. Countries like Singapore and China were considered third and fourth world basket cases with widespread illiteracy from 1949 to mid '60's.

Refuge Refuge's picture

Fidel wrote:

There were changes made in North American school curricula wrt math and science just after Soviets launched Sputnik. There was a shift toward practical physics courses, and a full year of discrete mathematics was added to some science degrees.


Was this in primary and secondary too, or just post secondary?

Noah_Scape

Star Spangled Canadian wrote:
In the u.S., there's a program called
Head Start that provides extra help for kids from lower income
backgrounds in the early grades. I recall a study showing that this did
help them out in the first few years of school but as tehy got older,
they tended to regress towards the mean and there wasn't much lasting
impact. Not sure how Gladwell would explain it. I don't think academic
success can be simplified to any one or two factors. Some people have
natural abilities that otehrs don't, some of it is work habits, some of
it is the quality of the school you can attend, some of it is personal
factors going on in one's life that can be distracting, part is support
from parents, etc, etc. etc.

  I think that this phenomenon - poor kids not
doing as well in school - has a LOT to do with the parents putting a
high value on education.

    The less educated,
esp those who did not go to College, will not be likely to tell their
kids what a great thing education is. And that impacts on kid's
willingness to put the time and effort in on study and getting high
marks in school. [there are allways exceptions, such as me, where my
dad was highly educated but I just never did well in school]. 

 

Fidel

Refuge wrote:
Fidel wrote:

There were changes made in North American school curricula wrt math and science just after Soviets launched Sputnik. There was a shift toward practical physics courses, and a full year of discrete mathematics was added to some science degrees.

Was this in primary and secondary too, or just post secondary?

I'm not sure about public schools. I was born in the mid-60's. The 1960's was the first time a majority of high-school aged people on this side of the ocean actually graduated from high school. The U.S. began offering the GI bill for college education, and half of budgetary expenditures were allocated toward military spending. Meanwhile access to higher education was freely accessible in the former Soviet Union. They produced significant numbers of Soviet citizens attaining advanced degrees(six years or more) by the end of cold war.

Noah_Scape

The Outliers books does point out that Asian kids would keep working
on a problem for over an hour, whereas American kids would give up
after 15 minutes. That does back up the idea that there is a cultural
difference [from growing rice crops, which take more work that Wheat].

 
It is true that anything of quality really does take a lot of hard
work, and a lot of us North Americans are more into immediate
gratification. However, that is not to say that just putting in the
hard work will get results, and for people who do the work and still do
not succeed, it is a real bummer. Maybe giving up early is just a good
idea if you don't think you will succeed - after all, life is not
allways all about winning. 

George Victor

It's interesting to note that hockey players born early in the year have an advantage, but of more importance is the fact that this "meritocracy" of ours, is not only biased  by wealth, but within a single public school system of average incomes, date of birth again matters.

And, as Gladwell says, in summation of "The Matthew effect", many kids "have been dealt a big disadvantage by the educational system. We could esily take control of the machinery of achievement, in other words - not just in sports but...in other more consequential areas as well. But we don't. And why? Because we cling to the idea that success is a simple function of individual merit and that the world in which we all grow up and the rules we choose to write as a society don't matter at all."

And that "Matthew effect", named by Robert Merton from the Gospel of Matthew: "For unto everyone that hath shall be given, and he shall have abundance. But from him that hath not shall be taken away even that which he hath."  A gee whiz moment in Outliers.

It seems to me that that's where Weber took off in explaining  the birth of capitalism in the protestant ethic. Predestination.  Talked to a fella the other day who believes in that. His life's all laid out.

 Not that Marx was wrong, of course... But it was a great defence of wealth before capitalism's arrival, eh?

George Victor

By the way, Fidel, do you think Weber had  some things right - about Capitalism's birth?

(And have a good  break in the festive season  yourself).

Fidel

George Victor wrote:

By the way, Fidel, do you think Weber had  some things right - about Capitalism's birth?

I'm not well versed in sociology or religious history, but I can understand I suppose, some of Weber's impression of capitalism. I have my own mental image of the kapitalist bottle works, with markets and people exchanging money for goods and services with all the order and efficiency of a grand casino. Socialists today tend to acknowledge in general that markets have produced unprecedented wealth and are generally the most efficient methods of distributing goods and services. This understanding is more or less uncontested.

 Weber talked about Puritan work ethic and that individuals had callings in life, and that to work diligently at our labour of love is to express our innate divinity, or something like that. At the same time, I think people are special, too, and yes, what we do and create is even more important than ever. Weber was certainly a great thinker of his time. But I tend to believe that Marx and Polanyi's views on capitalism, and especially with deregulated markets falling apart the way they are, are proving to be somewhat prophetic today. I tend to want to agree with Polanyi's views that markets have been around for a long, long time. But since industrial capitalism, and laissez-faire to neoliberal capitalism, more and more aspects of our daily lives have become mere money transactions like no previous time in history. I think we're approaching what Weber feared could become an iron cage of capitalism with humanity its captives. And Merry Christmas to you, George

George Victor

Malcolm Gladwell gives us more than an explanation for success in Outliers. His own biographical sketch in the chapter, “A Jamaican Story”- in which he relates how  his own “great-great-great-grandmother  was sold as a slave  in Jamaica - is a story in itself. That act, in turn, gave her son, John Ford, (son of her white owner), the privilege of a skin color that spared him a life of slavery.”

Fortunate turns of events, the social class ascendancy granted to “coloreds of lighter skin” in Jamaica, and determination on the part of others of her descendants resulted in Gladwell’s own beginnings “in a beautiful house high on a hill” in the Southern Ontario countryside, not far from his father’s university classrooms.

“Superstar lawyers and math whizzes and software entrepreneurs (i.e. Bill Gates) appear at first blush to lie outside ordinary experience. But they don’t,” writes Gladwell in summation. “They are products of history and community, of opportunity and legacy. Their success is not exceptional or mysterious. It is grounded in a web of advantages and inheritances, some deserved, some not, some earned, some just plain lucky - but all critical to making them who they are.

“The outlier, in the end, is not an outlier at all.”

Fits nicely with an understanding of society as class based.

And it’s in another chapter of Outliers, “Harlan, Kentucky”, that we learn about the importance of ethnic beginnings of settlers from different parts of England, Scotland and Ireland, and in particular the border areas of those lands.

Gladwell quotes the historian David Hackett Fischer’s 1989 work, Albion’s Seed: “The borderers were more at home than others in this anarchic environment (the Appalachians), which was well suited to their family system, their warrior ethic, their farming and herding economy, their attitudes toward land and wealth and their ideas of work and power.”

To explain the feuds of Appalachia, the importance of “honour”: “The so-called American backcountry states - from the Pennsylvania border south and west through Virginia and West Virginia, Kentucky and Tennessee, North Carolina and South Carolina, and the northern end of Alabama and Georgia - were settled overwhelmingly by immigrants from one of the world’s most ferocious cultures of honour. They were ‘Scotch-Irish’ - that is, from the lowlands of Scotland, the northern counties of England, and Ulster in Northern Ireland.”

And this reader is now aware of Joe Bageant’s understanding of redneck America’s beginnings in the “Scotch-Irish” settlement of Appalachia (although not restricted to that geographical area).

Additionally, I am now better prepared for a read through Fischer’s newest work, Champlain’s Dream. His understanding of the impact of the French on the native population of New France, explaining the degree of integration of the cultures as resulting from Samuel de Champlain’s beginnings in a particular area of France at the end of the internecine wars of Christian faiths, can now be seen as a result of the importance of “beginnings” for Fischer.

Sorry for the convoluted sentence. I’ll try for a review of Champlain’s Dream in another thread. Just excited by the origins of ideas for folks as disparate as Malcolm Gladwell and Joe Bageant. And, of course, one should look up critics of Fischer to see how his thesis flew among historians.

Coming from Oxford University Press, the damned book, Albion’s Seed: Four British Folkways in America, costs $45 in paperback currently - and, of course, the library does not have it. I’ll try for interlibrary.

Strange how we are consumed with concern about suppression of ideas when it so often boils down to affordability, eh?

 

DaveW

To explain the feuds of Appalachia, the importance of “honour”: “The so-called American backcountry states - from the Pennsylvania border south and west through Virginia and West Virginia, Kentucky and Tennessee, North Carolina and South Carolina, and the northern end of Alabama and Georgia - were settled overwhelmingly by immigrants from one of the world’s most ferocious cultures of honour. They were ‘Scotch-Irish’ - that is, from the lowlands of Scotland, the northern counties of England, and Ulster in Northern Ireland.

  This is not  a new analysis; Thomas Sowell (Ethnic America, and elsewhere) writes extensively about the regional origins in Britain of major regional cultures in the US, which bring with them the strengths and limits of their origins.

 Sowell notes the speech patterns that morphed into the generic Southern accent, many of which originated in identifiable areas of Britain. Also, the disdain for formal education that characterized many back-country cultures and persisted in Appalachia and elsewhere.

 Culture is destiny: it has been said before.

 ..................

”Wesen ist was Gewesen ist

George Victor

I see Thomas Sowell's Ethnic America goes back to 1981 and you are telling me that he lays out the same explanation for culture in Appalachia as Fischer.  Okay.

I see that Sowell is a Conservative economist, a "must read" for the consdrvative reader.

And, apparently David Hackett Fischer is author of The Revolution of American Conservatism.

I was already becoming uncomfortable with Fischer's method of confirmiong his theses in Champlain...which, if I can find it through interlibrary, I imagine I'll also find in Albion's Seed.

You see, I wonder if there is not some intervening variable that has made the Scots-Irish descendants so "dumb as a bag of hair" , as Bageant puts it in describing redneck America, as well as so preoccupied with honour.

The Black Donnnellys come to mind in Ontario history, but I'm not sure many other examples could be found among descendants of those ethnic backgrounds going really nasty.

I'm certainly going to follow it up.  And see why these fellas write for a Conservative audience...except, obviously, in the case of Bageant. And he may not be using a scholarly approach, eh?Smile

theboxman

Quote: The Outliers books does point out that Asian kids would keep working
on a problem for over an hour, whereas American kids would give up
after 15 minutes. That does back up the idea that there is a cultural
difference [from growing rice crops, which take more work that Wheat].

 

Still sounds like a ridiculous assertion based on a clearly unfounded premise. What does rice cultivation have to do with the average urban Asian kid who likely has little connection with rice cultivation generations since several generations prior. The math excelling Asian kid probably has as much connection with rice farming as any other non-Asian kid. 

 

It's cultural essentialist tripe at its worst. 

George Victor

"Quote: The Outliers books does point out that Asian kids would keep working
on a problem for over an hour, whereas American kids would give up
after 15 minutes. That does back up the idea that there is a cultural
difference [from growing rice crops, which take more work that Wheat]. "

----------------------------------------------------------------------------------

I don't believe Gladwell says this,  boxman. I took "That does back up the idea that there is a cultural difference (from growing rice crops, which take more work than wheat") to be the ramblings of a reader.   Hope so, anyway. God knows where it could have originated. Perhaps Noah Scape can tell us ?

Scott McHale

Haven't read the book yet.  I hope to.  I thought some of his other works were interesting.  Not pivotal or earth-shattering, but interesting.

An anecdotal note on Asian excellence in math.  My wife deals at a Casino here in Calgary.  One of the guys she works with immigrated here less than a year ago.  He's upgraded his english amazingly and is in the pre-med program at one of the colleges.  He was laughing about one of the math courses he had to pass.  He was getting 100% on everything in the course.  To him it was simple.  When he went to school in Vietnam 4 or 5 hours of his daily education was math.  

I can't say his experience is typical but, if it is, that might explain the Asian math thing.  Of course, it wouldn't explain why second or third generation Canadians of Asian descent would test better.  I don't know if that's even the case or if the book even makes that claim. 

jrose

I haven't read any of Gladwell's books yet, but I just did my gift exchange with my better half this morning and received Blink, which I believe was his second book, and have heard nothing but rave reviews. I have a few books to tackle before I get to it, but I'm really, really looking forward!

Sineed

I got the book for Christmas and finished it a couple of days ago.  Here's what it says in the chapter, "Rice Paddies and Math Tests;" it's in a footnote at the bottom of page 249:

Quote:
+  There is actually a significant scientific literature measuring Asian persistence.  In a typical study, Priscilla Blinco gave large groups of Japanese and American first graders a very difficult puzzle and measured how long they worked at it before they gave up.  The American children lasted, on average, 9-47 minutes.  The Japanese children lasted 13-93 minutes, roughly 40 percent longer.

Apparently, rice cultivation is difficult, requiring diligence, persistence, and long hours, and it's more work than wheat.  Gladwell proposes that the cultural impact of rice cultivation favours excellence in math.  But he doesn't say it's a done deal, and there are other factors:

Quote:
Take a look at the following list of numbers: 4, 8, 5, 3, 9, 7, 6.  Read them out loud.  Now look away and spend twenty seconds memorizing that sequence before saying them out loud again.

If you speak English, you have about a 50 percent chance of remembering that sequence perfectly.  If you're Chinese, though, you're almost certain to get it right every time.  Why is that?  Because as human beings we store digits in a memory loop that runs for about 2 seconds.  We most easily memorize whatever we can say or read within that 2 second span.  And Chinese speakers get that list of numbers ... right every time because, unlike English, their language allows them to fit all those seven numbers into two seconds.

He goes on to quote a fellow who explains the correlation between the brevity of numbers in various languages and the ability of those speakers to remember numbers.  Apparently, numbers in Cantonese are so short, Cantonese-speakers have no difficulty retaining 10-digit numbers.

So Gladwell doesn't say Asians are good at math because they grow rice.  He talks about rice cultivation in the context of discussing various factors that may offer an explanation for why so many Asians excel at math. 

In defense of Noah Scape, I'd say it's difficult to summarize Gladwell's concepts in a hundred words. 

theboxman

And yet, that still doesn't account for the fact that outside of those who in fact farm rice, as a consequence of social class divides, most Asians in institutions of higher education -- who are the more likely candidates to excel at math -- have little connection with the experience or culture of rice farming. It's a red herring not because there's no connection between how the practices of farming may be conducive to math excellence, but because there's only a very tenuous connection between rice farming and the average Asian student, not to mention that for the large majority of Asian students, math is just as tedious, just as difficult as anyone else.

 The association of Asians with mathematics excellence is a stereotype, nothing more. To link it with some imagined monolithic "Asian culture" (which does not exist outside of Orientalist fantasies) is to produce a convenient "just-so" story that reifies this stereotype.

 

 

 

Fidel

theboxman wrote:
 

It's cultural essentialist tripe at its worst. 

And if that makes you uncomfortable, try this. Of the total population in China, those in the top third of IQ's number almost as many people as live in all three North American countries combined. That's a lot of smart cookies.

Sineed

Have you read the book, the boxman?

Not to be grumpy this New Years Day, but it seems Noah started this thread to discuss this book with other readers, and judging from the comments, most of the people posting haven't read it.

It's a quick read.   And Gladwell does a better job of explaining his theses than Noah or I can.

theboxman

No, I haven't. And I don't doubt that the book may have otherwise excellent ideas. My argument is only as to this specific point, which is based on the problematic pressupposition that "Asians are good at math," which I believe warrants calling into question, and does not extend to the book as a whole. 

Fidel

theboxman wrote:
  My argument is only as to this specific point, which is based on the problematic pressupposition that "Asians are good at math," which I believe warrants calling into question, 

Put this way, if math scores determined world power, then we would be worshipping the Chinese by now. They blow most of our kids a-way.  Illiteracy in mainland China in 1949 was somewhere around 80%. Fourth world China was considered a basket case compared to even thirdworld India then. And life expectancy in China was around half the age then that it was when Mao died. What's the secret?

George Victor

Sineed:

"Not to be grumpy this New Years Day, but it seems Noah started this thread to discuss this book with other readers, and judging from the comments, most of the people posting haven't read it."

----------------------------------------------------------------------------

A good grump, Sineed. And some readers have to be reminded of the details.Laughing

But, in summation, aren't Gladwell's "finds" about social mobility - about the world we live in and think we know - more important than the object of this debate?

KeyStone

I just finished the book.

It has some intereresting points, but it also has common sense wrapped up as scientific analysis supported by anecdotal evidence. The 10,000 hour rule as an example, is nothing more than 'practice makes perfect'. 10,000 is not a magic number. 9,000 hours is pretty good too, and 11,000 is still better than 10,000. 

I think the most interesting observations in the book are around the fact that despite intelligence, success seems to go to those who come from wealthier families etc.  The biggest reason though, is because wealthier families tend to engage their kids minds during the summer holidays etc, so that the children do not undo their learning in the summer.

Another reason why he suggests Asian kids do well in math, is because of the structure of their language. The numbers flow logically. Instead of saying eleven - the Chinese word translates literally as ten plus one. 

There are definitely some concepts worth exploring in the book, particularly around revising our education system, but the book seems a bit rambling, and lacks coherency in parts. Some of the premises are a bit absurd, and there is little to support it, other than a few anecdotal examples.

 

 

Sineed

George Victor wrote:

A good grump, Sineed. And some readers have to be reminded of the details.Laughing

But, in summation, aren't Gladwell's "finds" about social mobility - about the world we live in and think we know - more important than the object of this debate?

True Smile

But if these discussions are based on what people think the book is about rather than what it's actually about, we get side-tracked by the necessity for correcting misconceptions instead of focusing on the broader issues, like Gladwell's musings on the various factors that influence social mobility.

And as someone who was born in December, I wonder how different my life would have been if I'd come along a month later.

The importance of parental support was fascinating, especially in relation to IQ, and it corresponds with my observations, that the kids whose parents got behind them were more successful, regardless of talent.

My sister in law, a professor of anthropology, has observed that people who are very successful at a young age, say, winning a GG award at the age of 25, have people backing them up.  Sure; there's talent, but if you're able to sit around musing on various things and accumulating these thoughts into prize-winning books, you're probably not doing your own laundry, or having to work long hours at a minimum-wage job.

Gladwell's book ultimately seems to be about wasted human potential, and what can be done.  Though the chapter on Asians and math is kind of a digression from his main thesis, unless he's suggesting that for the sake of improving math skills, all children learn Cantonese.

Michelle

I find the birth date thing interesting.  My son's birthday is in December.  He could have started junior kindergarten when he was three, and kindergarten when he was four, because the cut off date for birth dates is the end of the year.

But we didn't want him to be pressured to be more mature than his age, or to perform academically beyond his age ability.  So we held him back until the next year.  I still think that's probably the best decision we ever made regarding his education and his socialization.

Sineed

He looked at birthdates for pro hockey and soccer players, but I wonder if people born earlier in the year enjoy a greater rate of success in general because of the educational advantage early on.

Fidel

I was somewhat athletic when I was young, but born in late November. I never played in any organized leagues, except for bantam-peewee hockey. I excelled at that in the last two years of playing until it just became too expensive for my parents. They didnt know that I was aware of the cost burden, and I told ma and pa that I wasnt interested anymore. It sort of broke my heart, but I also knew that I was a long, long way from becoming a standout hockey player. There were two eventual NHL'ers who grew up in my neighborhood, and I went to school with them. I knew I was as good as they were in primary grades, but they both played pee-wee level and then midget hockey at the more expensive rink in our own end of town. And they played with the more skilled, more "advantaged" kids from across town. I think it made some difference for them.  We'd all like to go back in time and try it though.

So this wouldnt explain why I sometimes made the school sports teams, but might it tell why there tended to always be team mates who were slightly bigger and stronger and faster than I was from primary grades through early-middle highschool years?

Agent 204 Agent 204's picture

Sineed wrote:
He looked at birthdates for pro hockey and soccer players, but I wonder if people born earlier in the year enjoy a greater rate of success in general because of the educational advantage early on.

I think he said that this is the case, though I'd have to check again.

I kind of liked the book, though for a book subtitled "The Story of Success" it has precious little in the way of practical advice on how to actually, well, succeed -- or even any information on late bloomers (since if I bloom at all, it will be late).