Sunday, April 11, 2010

Outliers and What the Dog Saw

I just finished What the Dog Saw: And Other Adventure by Malcolm Gladwell and since it's only been a year since I finished his previous book, Outliers: The Story of Success, I thought I'd just review them together.

Gladwell's first two books, The Tipping Point and Blink, were huge bestsellers. I've not read either but based on the strong word-of-mouth and the interesting conceit of Outliers, I decided to give Gladwell a try.

Gladwell was curious at how society has always viewed geniuses and the very few who become the elites in their field. Outliers digs deeper into what people like Einstein, Bill Gates, and elite athletes have in common.

Almost without exception, everyone who is considered a genius or superstar has not only put in the hard work and practice but has had innumerable things go their way.

Gladwell found that whether a mathematical genius or Wayne Gretzky, to become a master of a discipline requires around ten thousand hours of practice. Of course, it's not as simple as practice. For instance, it also helps to be born at the right time.

If you are a Canadian hockey player who wants to make it into the upper echelons of youth hockey, you better have been born between January and March. Otherwise, you don't make the age cut and you get put in with older kids who are ahead of you physically and have tons of more quality practice time. Coaches tend to give closer attention to the more mature players.

Why did Bill Gates become a computer whiz and one of the richest men in the world? He certainly put in the work but he was also born at the exact right time in this century. He fell into the exact right crowd and attended the one school in the country with a computer not only powerful, but accessible enough for him to spend every breathing second of his formative years programming.

The book is filled with amazing anecdotes ranging from explanations to why Asians are better at math to the very obvious reason why the Beatles became musical geniuses.

I have to say, I now feel much better about not being a genius.

What the Dog Saw is the most recent book by Malcolm Gladwell. It's a collection of his favorite work with The New Yorker magazine. The first section of essays could easily fit into the general theme of Outliers. Gladwell explores different aspects of culture and business to get down to the real reasons why some people have great success and some people fail.

For example, Why is there only one big brand of ketchup? Or, there's the fact that the dog whisperer, Cesar Millan, is more about nonverbal movements versus actual whispering.

In the second section, the author takes accepted notions like all Enron executives should go to jail, homelessness is unsolvable, and advances in mammography technology make diagnosing cancer easier and throws tough questions at them and finds what we think we know isn't necessarily true.

Finally, in the the third part, Gladwell explores personalities and how truly tough it is to know someone. How does a business know it's hired the right person? Is the FBI's revolutionary psychological profiling of criminals as fool-proof as movies like Silence of the Lambs make us think? Is throwing money at the best and brightest really the smartest thing to do?

Gladwell does his homework and interviews experts to come up with some very surprising answers. If nothing else, What the Dog Saw teaches you to question the status quo and to look deeper into things. There's usually an explanation for every success and there's almost always no magic potion to why something works and no single determining factor as to why something doesn't work.

I will be jumping right into the other two books as Malcolm Gladwell has quickly become one of my favorite writers. He can take a subject as complex as tax law or rocket science and make you understand it in a few paragraphs and then relate it to the most mundane of things. It all just works and flows with his easy-to-read writing style and knack for great storytelling.

1 comment:

  1. I need to read these one day. Sounds very interesting.