Wednesday, December 10, 2008


I have yet to read Malcolm Gladwell's new book, Outliers, but I watched a presentation that he gave two months ago, and it is a must-see. Some paraphrased excerpts:

1/6 High school athletes who earn college scholarships actually make it to college. This is a result of poverty (and gang affiliation, which is a byproduct). So the capitalization rate of football, the most important sport in America, is only 16%. Why is the process of getting good enough players into college not more streamlined? It's in the college's best interest to get as many talented prospects as possible.

Why are the vast majority of hockey and soccer players born in the first 6 months of the year? The cutoff date for registration when they are ~8 (And first joining organized competition) is January 1st. So the older (bigger) kids get selected, and get 10 years of specialized coaching which eventually makes them the best players, even when they might not of been the most talented players for their age.

Why is there such a big difference in the percentage of the Asian population in America that is successful compared to the White population? Culture. If you take 10 Chinese students, and 10 American students, and give them 15 minutes to try and solve a very hard math problem, the American students will give up after 2 minutes, and the Chinese will still be working after 15 minutes. The average white person's IQ is actually slightly higher than the average Chinese, but there is a cultural restraint on the idea of hard work, which over time leads to more success for Asian-Americans.

Why do Kenyans dominate long-distance running? It isn't because of superior genetics, but rather that more than a million 12-17 year old boys who run 10-12 miles a day. While the number in the US is probably in the thousands. So those who are talented at running are fully capitalized in Kenya, while me miss thousands of talented runners in the US.

Why is this important? When we look at people who have success, we tend to argue that it is the result of an innate difference in ability. This is wrong. We have a scarcity of achievement not because of a scarcity of talent, but because we are squandering our talent. Which is a good thing because it is something we can improve on.
I have heard a lot of talk about how Outliers is not nearly as good a book as his previous, but I learned a lot from just a short 20 minute presentation. Definitely check it out.

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