Outstanding Questions for Outliers



Just knocked back Malcom Gladwell's brain candy Outliers like it was a shot of Jameson, minus the nasty hangover. Outliers is an easy and engaging read, I finished it in less than a day, so it's worth a go if you have a moment to spare. Hell, why not? Everyone seems to be reading it.


Couple of things I thought about. First, where are the women at!?!? All of Gladwell's outlier examples are male. Bill Gates. Bill Joy. Steve Jobs. Chris Langan. And so on.


Second, Gladwell's argument on "legacy," especially in regards to Harlan, Kentucky's history of feuds and violence intrigues. In a nutshell, he argues that the county was so violent at one point because the antecedents of the people of that county came from herding communities in England/Ireland/Scotland. That is, they came from agriculturally marginal places where livelihood (i.e. livestock) was easily thieved (compared to having your crops stolen, for example). So, personal attacks and affronts were taken more seriously and dealt with more seriously. Hence the legacy of bloodshed in argiculturally marginal Harlan, KY--feuds were solved violently less honor and livelihoods be forsaken.

I wonder if Gladwell's analysis would hold up with other herding and tribal/clan immigrant populations. Is murder based on personal vendettas prevalent in America's Yemeni, Afghani, or Northwest Pakistani settlements, for example? Somebody please do that research and get back to me.


Lastly, Gladwell's premise--which I don't think is much of a shocker--is that success is not determined by ingenuity or genius alone. It takes being born at the right time in the right place in combination with fortuitous openings of doors with sprinklings of luck all on a bed of hard work. In other words, nobody ever makes it to the top alone. This is no surprise.


Imagine if we made these same, for example, educational opportunities available to everyone across the United States. Imagine if every kid had access to a computer and pictures from the Hubble Telescope and Galileo's writings and Stephen Hawking's lectures and excited teachers and so forth. Imagine how many Brian Greenes and Neil deGrasse Tysons could we create? Dozens? Hundreds? More?


Imagine if this same potential were provided in developing countries. The most obvious characteristic underscoring all of Gladwell's outliers is that they were all born in modern Western countries with access to democracy, information, decent health care and so on. Imagine how many THOUSANDS of Greenes and Tysons humanity could create if we all were lucky enough to be born in places like Brooklyn or Ann Arbor.



Malcom Gladwell