After reading Malcolm Gladwell’s book, Outliers this weekend, about people who are extraordinarily successful, I was intrigued by the idea that birth year, family culture back several generations and other seemly unimportant factors combined with dedicated practice can provide the foundation to make talented people great.
The lesson for the younger generation who seek instant results is that Gladwell found it takes over 10,000 hours of practice to become really, really good at something. And, it is the time spent practicing that differentiates the ordinary from the extraordinary. Your environment, family, birth month or other seemingly arbitrary factor may provide the opportunity to get in more practice hours.
With my work encouraging students to consider technical education paths at Sierra College leading to technical careers, I was fascinated with Gladwell’s review of how language and culture may predispose some students to excel at math. Again, it is about putting in long hours of practice to become really proficient. Our culture, schools and families may not be emphasizing the need for math practice enough to prepare future engineers. Gladwell also reviewed the importance of struggling, without giving up, to find a solution to a math problem as a way of developing problem solving skills. Employers I’ve interviewed continually mention their desire to find prospective employees with problem solving skills. (224-249)
As a marketer, I found Gladwell’s review of communication styles among pilots interesting. He suggested that your culture and its associated way of dealing with uncertainty and its sense of hierarchy influence your communication style. Depending on the situation, this may advantageous or disastrous. Gladwell showed how an employer, after realizing what communication is style is needed in the cockpit during an emergency for example, can train pilots in methods to enhance understanding and result in better outcomes. (200-212)
All in all, Outliers is an interesting read, especially if you enjoy statistics and stories. I was somewhat disappointed that the reader is left to come up with his or her own conclusions about how to use this information to enhance an organization’s success. Now I’m seeking a way to turn the fun facts into action.