It’s been a really long time since I posted, and I wanted to share a little bit of what I’ve been up to.
Most of my time has been spent applying for a pretty cool freelance opportunity. It’s a writing gig and wouldn’t take up very much of my time, but the pay is really nice and it’s in a space I know pretty well. I’d be writing about computers and gadgets…and I’d be doing it in Spanish.
Anyway, the application process is kind of insane. I submitted my relevant information, along with some links to stories I’ve written that deal with computer stuff.
I got passed into the next round, which involves a ton of writing (which is what I’ve been working on these past couple of weeks). That is done: I turned in my last piece this morning.
If I pass into the next stage, I’ll be building a site with the content I’ve written. At that point they’ll make their decision.
What’s Coming Up
I have a couple of articles in draft form that I’m pretty psyched about. One is about decision making and how using rankings to make decisions isn’t always the best way to go. It’s inspired by my latest purchase quandary (a new netbook) and by Malcolm Gladwell’s latest piece in the New Yorker, What College Rankings Really Tell Us.
It’s a great read and I highly recommend it, I’ll be referencing it when I publish the post later this week.
Another article I’ve had kicking around for a week or so is about arbitration in Major League Baseball. I think arbitration is a fascinating process and I’m going to look at a couple recent examples and explore what it would be like bringing that process to the real world.
Imagine going into a courtroom-like environment where you’re on one side and your employer is one the other and you’re trying to convince a third party that you deserve more money.
And they’re trashing you to convince them you aren’t worth that much.
Then, win or lose, you go back to work on Monday and try to put it all behind you…
I think there’s something really interesting there.
Anyway, it’s all coming soon…sorry for the hiatus!
Think of how many times you’ve said “That guy’s a genius!” or “That guy’s a natural!”
I use the first one all the time when I talk about a friend of mine I consider the smartest person I’ve ever known. I use the latter a lot when I’m watching sports, especially when you’re watching guys like Lebron James or Johan Santana.
Let’s face it, most of us are fascinated by the idea of “the genius.” This idea of a person that was born with incredible intelligence or physical ability is something we love to see.
But what’s really going on with these freaks of nature? Did they just inherit some random gene that we don’t have? Are they just lucky? Couldn’t we learn something from looking at what they’ve done and how they’ve done it?
Malcolm Gladwell’s new book is out to answer those questions, not with knee-jerk answers and speculation, but with hard data.
And the things he found out about these so-called geniuses—or Outliers as he calls them—will blow your mind.
There are a few reasons I was excited to read Outliers: first of all, I loved The Tipping Point. Also, making research and hard data interesting and writing it out in an accessible way isn’t easy, but Gladwell seems to do it with great ease.
Then there was a recent article in the New Yorker comparing teachers and quarterbacks that I thought was brilliant. I mean, who would’ve thunk to relate teachers and quarterbacks? And make it entertaining too?
Let’s face it: Gladwell is just plain interesting.
As I read through the book, I’ve been sharing the stuff inside it with everyone that will listen because there are so many interesting stories inside. So I’m going to try to highlight those interesting things without totally ruining the book for those that want to read it themselves.
Gladwell opens the book by telling us what he’s setting out to do, and that’s explain how success happens. He’s basically taking a shot at the whole myth of the self-made man, of the genius. According to Gladwell, there is no such thing as a person who rose from nothing and did it all by himself.
By using real-world examples and backing it all up with hard data, Gladwell sets out to prove that there is no such thing as genius as we typically think of it. There’s a lot going on behind the scenes, and he goes about putting his case together one quality at at a time.
According to Gladwell, it takes luck, preparation, opportunity, nature, cultivation, and culture.
If you had to guess what the most important quality was for a great hockey player, what would it be?
Stamina? Strength? Toughness?
Gladwell opens up the book by showing us charts of different Canadian junior league hockey-team rosters. Specifically, he wants to show us the birth dates for all those players. This is what Gladwell does: he points at something that seems insignificant and then he tells you what’s really happening behind the scenes.
It turns out most really good hockey prospects are born in January, February, or March.
The more he looked, the more Barnsley came to believe that what he was seeing was not a chance occurrence but an iron law of Canadian hockey: in any elite group of hockey players—the very best of the best—40 percent of the players will have been born between January and March, 30 percent between April and June, 20 percent between July and September, and 10 percent between October and December.
How does Gladwell make sense of this data? In his words, “The explanation for this is quite simple.” It’s about the cutoff date that separates players from the different age brackets. The cutoff date in Canadian hockey is January 1. So if you’re 10 years old and born in January, you could be playing with kids that won’t turn 10 until the end of the year.
That means the odds of you being stronger, faster, and tougher are pretty high.
The Canadian hockey players born in January, February, and March all have a huge advantage. An advantage over their peers that will compound and grow bigger as time goes on. This advantage, however, is born purely from luck—nothing more.
But there’s more to being a success than luck—you also have to prepare to put yourself in a position to take advantage of any luck that might come your way. And that’s where preparation comes into play.
We talkin’ about practice? Yes Allan, we’re talking about practice. Gladwell devotes a whole chapter to the idea of practice and the research keeps churning out one magical number: 10,000. As in 10,000 hours of practice.
“The emerging picture from such studies is that ten thousand hours of practice is required to achieve the level of mastery associated with being a world-class expert—in anything.” —Neurologist Daniel Levitin
According to the research, it takes 10,000 hours of practice to become a “world-class expert” at something, anything. I guess now we know why Allan Iverson is so upset in his rant about practice—he’s more than likely already put in his 10,000 hours. So we’ll forgive him for that little rant.
Gladwell gives us examples of people like Mozart, Bill Gates, and Bill Joy, but my favorite one is the one about the Beatles.
Turns out one of the most important places in the history of the Beatles isn’t Strawberry Fields or London, it’s Hamburg. Way before they became superstars, back in 1960, they got a gig in Hamburg that had nothing glamorous about it. It was basically playing at a glorified strip club filled with drunks and perverts. Not your idea of a place where geniuses hang out, now is it?
But they played for up to five hours at a time, seven days a week.
All told, they performed for 270 nights in just over a year and a half. By the time they had their first burst of success in 1964, in fact, they had performed live an estimated twelve hundred times. Do you know how extraordinary that is? Most bands today don’t perform twelve hundred times in their entire careers. The Hamburg crucible is one of the things that set the Beatles apart.
Gladwell isn’t saying the Beatles had no talent or special skills—far from it. He’s simply showing us the huge advantage they had over other bands by the time they came stateside—in Hamburg alone they had already gotten in their 10,000 hours. The US had no chance but to surrender to Beatle-mania—they may have been new on the scene, but they were already grizzled veterans.
Think about that number for a second: 10,000 hours. It got me thinking about myself, and I think you should do the same. What’s the one thing you practiced longer than anything else since you were a kid? Maybe it was a musical instrument or maybe it was a sport.
For me, it was baseball. I started practicing when I was 7, but I was terrible. So when I was 8 I began practicing five days a week, for two and a half hours every day. From when I was seven to when I was seventeen, the one thing I did more than anything else in my life was practice and play baseball. I played for the Guatemalan National team in Japan, in Panama, in Colombia, and in Mexico. When you’re on the National team, you practice a LOT. And guess what? I’m still not even close.
All told, from when I was 7 until I was 17, I managed to crank out just 4,000 hours of practice. And that was my passion—it was all I ever did or thought of. And I’m still 6,000 hours short! I guess that’s why I didn’t walk on to my college baseball team. I like to think of it as being unlucky: I wasn’t born in August (that’s the cut-off date in baseball).
How many hours can you account for on any one topic? If you’re anywhere near 10,000 hours, email me at thewriter at thewriterscoin.com because I’d love for you to be in my network (or at least give me an autograph).
The rice paddies
To explain the role of culture in achieving success, Gladwell decides to take a look at a very scary subject: plane crashes. Specifically, he’s looking at an accident that happened involving a Korea Air plane that went down without any panic in the cockpit.
Then he went to the tapes and analyzed what was happening—it turns out the captain was missing the signs that something was wrong but his underlings did not want to correct him or contradict him. He was, after all, the captain. So the plane crashed and they all died. All because, in Korean culture, there is an enormous respect for authority and the chain of command.
How crazy is that?
Gladwell then lines up statistics on countries that respect authority over all other things and saw a direct connection between that “respect” and airplane crashes. The cockpit becomes a death trap because no one wants to “show up” the captain.
He also brings up a stereotype about Asian people that most people wouldn’t even want to touch. Gladwell not only puts it out there…he tries to give us an explanation. One has to do with how the Chinese language deals with numbers—numbers are shorter and so it’s easier for kids to pick up. That means they start counting before we can—you could also file this away under luck.
But the real answer lies in the rice paddies of China.
Turns out there is a huge difference between farming culture as we think of it and the rice-farming culture of China. When I think of farming, I think of some grueling months of hard work followed by months of inactivity and “hibernation.” The rice paddies aren’t like that—Gladwell tells us that the average workload for a rice farmer is around 3,000 hours a year (that’s around a 50-hour workweek, 52 weeks a year, no time off…). This is the way it’s been since back in the day, so it’s become part of the culture.
But back to mathematics. Earlier on, Gladwell tells us what the three components are to finding your work satisfying: autonomy, complexity, and a connection between effort and reward. And it turns out rice farming has this in droves. It’s a very exact science that needs to be tweaked just right, you can do it all on your own, and every tweak you make leads to a better result. That’s why rice farmers diversify their crop—it protects them in case one of them doesn’t do as well. Even in the rice paddies, Chinese kids are learning a lesson in portfolio diversification!
According to Gladwell, once you’ve put in the work and had a little bit of luck go your way, you still to get a chance. The Beatles had Hamburg, the lawyer he uses as an example—Joe Flom—got his opportunity by being excluded because he was Jewish. But that turned out to be the break he needed.
Then you have a man Gladwell spends a lot of time on: Chris Langan. Langan might be the smartest person in the world—his IQ is between 195 and 210. According to that number, he’s “smarter” that Albert Einstein. But he isn’t a stuffy professor that looks like a Star Trek nerd. Nope—Chris Langan was a bouncer at a bar and loves lifting weights.
There are more clips on Chris Langan over on YouTube.
Gladwell’s point about Chris Langan isn’t that he’s a failed genius, it’s that he wasn’t given the tools he needed to fully exploit his genius. He can’t relate to people very well and that’s what has kept him on the outside looking in his whole life. He was lucky, in a way, but he wasn’t given the tools he needed to interact with other people so his genius could be fully enjoyed.
I’ve only scratched the surface of all the interesting stuff Gladwell talks about. He goes on to explain how education can be fixes without buying fancy computers or hiring “better” teachers, but by having students spend more time at school instead of going on summer vacation. He analyzes the KIPP-style of school to make his point, and by the end of it you’ll be convinced he’s onto something.
But after he shows you how all these dots are connected in these very surprising, very interesting ways, you start to wonder: how can we use this information to give more people a chance? To try to “give” more people the chance at luck and preparation? He briefly mentions this and, really, it’s not this book’s job to go into any depth on it. But I would’ve liked more.
Hopefully someone will use this book as a model to create better ways to educate kids and give them all a better chance at being successful.
Until then, Gladwell has done an incredible job of writing something that informs, entertains, and creates a platform on how the world can become a better place.
I just finished reading Malcom Gladwell’s (who also wrote Blink and The Tipping Point) fantastic book about success, Outliers. It’s a great read and it’s filled with tons of really interesting nuggets of information, but there’s something he writes in the acknowledgements section that got me thinking, and I wanted to ask what other people thought about it.
Here is the quote:
My earliest memories of my father are of seeing him work at his desk and realizing that he was happy. I did not know it then, but that was one of the most precious gifts a father can give his child.
I thought that was really deep, especially after watching Revolution Road and how much DiCaprio’s character hated his job.
Do you love what you do? If not, does it matter to you what kind of example this sets for your kid?
Most Likely to Succeed, by Malcolm Gladwell: I first heard about this article on The Simple Dollar, but I wanted to wait until my issue of the magazine showed up in the mail (I guess I’m not ready for a Kindle just yet…). Anyway, this is an engrossing look at education and its “quarterback problem.” Why does this appeal to me? I’m intrigued in how one teacher can be considered “better” than another and because I’m obsessed with the backup-quarterback position in the NFL. That jump from college football to the NFL is one that I love reading about. So if you’re a teacher or you love football (or if you’re both like me), this one is right up your alley. This is really really good stuff.
How Are Retirees Losing 50% of Their Portfolio? Check this one out over at GenXFinance. I was also wondering this very same question because I’ve heard a lot of people talking about it. If you’re near retirement, why would you have so much of your portfolio in stocks? Because the person handling your money told you to? Or because you wanted to ride the bullish wave we’ve been on since 2002? Either way, it’s a good topic to ponder a little…or a lot, depending on how old you are.