Malcolm Gladwell on Outliers

by Limbic on November 23, 2008

The Observer have a series of interviews with Malcolm Gladwell, best known for his superb book “The Tipping Point”, and and extracts from his new book “Outliers: The Story of Success“:

Stating the obvious, but oh so cleverly (Sun 23rd Nov 2008) – In investigating what sets geniuses apart, is Malcolm Gladwell also asking what makes him so special, wonders Jason Cowley

The man who can’t stop thinking (Sun Nov 16th 2008) – Malcolm Gladwell is a global phenomenon, one of the most brilliant and influential writers of his generation. His bestselling books, including The Tipping Point and Blink, explore and capture social trends and behaviour in ways that define the age. On the eve of his new book about the nature of success he discusses racial politics, obsessiveness, girlfriends – and his own fear of failure.

Why Asian children are better at maths (Sun Nov 16th 2008) – Extract from Malcolm Gladwell’s new book, ‘Outliers’

A gift or hard graft? – (sat Nov 15th 2008) – [Extract from Malcolm Gladwell's new book, 'Outliers' ] We look at outrageously talented and successful people – the Beatles, Mozart, Rockefeller, Bill Gates – and assume there is such a thing as pure genius. Not necessarily, argues Malcolm Gladwell…

Outliers: The Story of Success – Amazon.co.uk / Amazon.com .

A few more resources:

An introduction to the book and some of its ideas at Malcolm Gladwell’s website.

Secrets of their success (CNN Money) – What separates the legendary CEO from the chronically dissatisfied cubicle dweller? It’s not innate talent, argues Tipping Point author Malcolm Gladwell in his new book.

How to fly high: A genius guide, by Malcolm Gladwell (The Independent) – Malcolm Gladwell, author of ‘Blink’ and ‘The Tipping Point’, looks at the secrets of high achievers in his new book. Here he explains why outsiders like himself always have an edge, and why Obama’s recent win fits his theories

Slate discusses “Outliers”

Outliers: The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell (The Times) – reviewed by AC Grayling

The Uses of Adversity – Can underprivileged outsiders have an advantage? by Malcolm Gladwell (New Yorker, Nov 2008)

Malcolm Gladwell: Success Comes from Social Advantages – Psyblog (Nov 2008)

Geek Pop Star – Malcolm Gladwell’s elegant and wildly popular theories about modern life have turned his name into an adjective—Gladwellian! But in his new book, he seeks to undercut the cult of success, including his own, by explaining how little control we have over it. (9th Nov 2008)

Backlash against Gladwell and his ideas?

Is the Tipping Point Toast? – Marketers spend a billion dollars a year targeting influentials. Duncan Watts says they’re wasting their money. (Fast Company, February 2008)

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Ben R November 24, 2008 at 4:08 am

Gladwell seems to overlook the findings from Dan Seligman’s book “A Question of Intelligence”, when attributing Asian math performance to rice cultivation and Jewish success in law on being born in NYC in 1930.

Seligman notes the above average performance on jewish people on the verbal component of psychometric tests. The recent paper by Cochran & Harpending on Ashkenazi Jewish intelligence indicated there was a genetic basis for this:

“What accounts for this remarkable record? A full answer must call on many characteristics of Jewish culture, but intelligence has to be at the center of the answer. Jews have been found to have an unusually high mean intelligence as measured by IQ tests since the first Jewish samples were tested. (The widely repeated story that Jewish immigrants to this country in the early 20th century tested low on IQ is a canard.) Exactly how high has been difficult to pin down, because Jewish sub-samples in the available surveys are seldom perfectly representative. But it is currently accepted that the mean is somewhere in the range of 107 to 115, with 110 being a plausible compromise.

The IQ mean for the American population is “normed” to be 100, with a standard deviation of 15. If the Jewish mean is 110, then the mathematics of the normal distribution says that the average Jew is at the 75th percentile. Underlying that mean in overall IQ is a consistent pattern on IQ subtests: Jews are only about average on the subtests measuring visuo-spatial skills, but extremely high on subtests that measure verbal and reasoning skills.”

The three authors conclude this part of their argument with an elegant corollary that matches the known test profiles of today’s Ashkenazim with the historical experience of their ancestors:

The suggested selective process explains the pattern of mental abilities in Ashkenazi Jews: high verbal and mathematical ability but relatively low spatio-visual ability. Verbal and mathematical talent helped medieval businessmen succeed, while spatio-visual abilities were irrelevant.
The rest of their presentation is a lengthy and technical discussion of the genetics of selection for IQ, indirect evidence linking elevated Jewish IQ with a variety of genetically based diseases found among Ashkenazim, and evidence that most of these selection effects have occurred within the last 1,200 years.”

In terms of East Asian math/science performance, Seligman notes they tend to perform above average on the non-verbal component of psychometric tests which is consistent with the math/science performance:

“Severely compressed, his explanation goes about like this: Some sixty thousand years ago, when the lee Age descended on the Northern Hemisphere, the Mongoloid populations faced uniquely hostile “selection pressure” for greater intelligence. Northeast Asia during the Ice Age was the coldest part of the world inhabited by man. Survival required major advances in hunting skills. Lynn’s 1987 paper refers to “the ability to isolate slight variations in visual stimulation from a relatively featureless landscape, such as the movement of a white Arctic hare against a background of snow and ice; to recall visual landmarks on long hunting expeditions away from home and to develop a good spatial map of an extensive terrain.” These, Lynn believes, were the pressures that ultimately produced the world’s best visuospatial abilities.”

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