Outliers

Posted by on Mar 6, 2009 in Leadership | No Comments

I finished reading Malcom Gladwell’s latest book, Outliers, a few nights ago.

I know what I have to say about this book is going to be completely esoteric, in the sense that you will likely have to read it before fully participating. Not that you’re not brilliant people; I’m sure you can easily make sense out of my words. But my fear is that if you haven’t read it, you may be tempted to take some of the things I say at face value, which is not how they’re written — they’re written with the mental tapestry of Outliers as a background. I’m not sure of another way to do this, as I want to attempt to take the concepts Gladwell presents in Outliers one step further.

You should probably view these initial paragraphs as much of a disclaimer as anything else, as I don’t want to “give away” the book for you. Go read it and come on back!

I enjoyed this read immensely, as I have all of Gladwell’s works, and this is perhaps even my favorite. Where all his works provide plenty of abstract intellectual fodder for my mind to gleefully process for weeks, Outliers has a sharp edge of pragmatism that makes it special. It also contains tinges of the kind of social activism that really revs my engine, turns my crank, places my soapbox before a microphone… that kind of thing. Here’s a few thoughts:

1. Education
How can the educational system continue to ignore works like this? In Outliers, Gladwell presents a bevy of facts (not to mention crystal clear logic) for how and why the college admission process, for one thing, is mostly an outdated ludicrous absurdity. But he doesn’t stop there; it turns out, the social constructs we’ve built around most organized projects (schools, sports, music, etc.) have become self-fulfilling prophecies, archetypal facades that have been built on so many layers of edifice that they can no longer even see where they began, and for what purpose.

How does one even go about reforming these magnificent disasters of greed and perpetual fragmentation? Do we even try? I’m inclined to encourage the beginning of something else; to foster and support a brand new educational model, for example, that can hopefully someday replace the current system. (Gladly, some of this discussion has already begun: P21, KIPP, etc..)

2. Self-Made BS
I love the idea that the “self-made man” is a total myth. I’ve suspected this to be true for awhile, intuitively, so it’s nice to see some logical background for it. The truth is, nobody makes it on their own. EVER.

This makes infinitely more sense to me. People don’t live in a vacuum; we are constantly “made” by our social surroundings. That’s not to say we have no control, but once we begin to realize that we need to change our surroundings and not just ourselves, I think we’ll be a long way towards undersatnding how to better create the future.

3. Social Assessments
How can we connect an understanding of the social construction component in success with studies of our own lives, past and future?

This is the issue that intrigues me the most about the implications of Outliers: is there a way to somehow extrapolate a model from Gladwell’s work to where we could analyze our own life story — our own social constructs, our family backgrounds, the month and year in which we were born, and the particular moment of history we were born into — and combine it with personal research into individual talents and strengths, and then multiply that knowledge by what we are passionate about, thereby providing a much more insigntful process into each person’s unique “place in the world”…??

Seems like a an intense endeavor, to say the least, but just imagine the possibilities if we could! We’ve already made so much progress within individualized assessments (psychological, emotional, talent, etc.); why couldn’t we develop systems to generate “social” or “contextual” assessments?

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If you liked that post, then try these…

Gen Y Isn’t The Problem You Think It Is by Josh Allan Dykstra on May 23rd, 2011

There Are Two Sides To Work: “Me” & “We” by Josh Allan Dykstra on October 30th, 2011

How To Kill A Passionate Startup by Josh Allan Dykstra on May 30th, 2011

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