Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Outliers** by Malcom Gladwell

In the triology of Gladwell books, this is not a case of the third time being a charm. Blink was the best, and Tipping Point was a revelation as well. There are definitely some points to ponder, but I found the final chapter about the Gladwell's family history to be the most interesting, since I've come to know Malcolm over the years from his work. 

Why was the mortality rate from all causes so low (30 to 35% lower than usual) in Roseto, PA?

Dieticians analyzed the typical Rosetan’s eating habits, and they found a whopping 41% of their calories came from fat. Nor was this a town where people got up at dawn to do yoga and run a brisk 6 miles. They smoked heavily, and many were struggling with obesity. If diet and exercise didn’t explain the findings, then what about genetics? Researchers tracked down relatives of the Rosetans who were living in other parts of the US to see if they shared the same remarkable good health. They didn’t. Was it possible that there was something about the eastern foothills of Pennsylvania? The 2 closest towns were just a few miles away, but it turned out that the death rate from heart disease for men over 65 was 3 times higher in these towns. The secret wasn’t diet, exercise, genes or location – but Roseto itself… The inhabitants had transplanted the paesani culture of Southern Italy creating a powerful protective social structure capable of insulating them from the pressures of the modern world. P9


Research suggests that once a musician has enough ability to get into a top music school, the thing that distinguishes one performer from another is how hard he works. That’s it. And what’s more, the people at the very top don’t just work harder or even much harder. They work, much, much harder… In fact, researchers have settled on what they believe is the magic number for true expertise in an endeavor: 10,000 hours. P39


10,000 hours is an enormous amount of time. It’s all but impossible to reach that number all by yourself by the time you’re a young adult. You have to have parents that encourage and support you. You can’t be poor, because if you have to hold down a part time job, there won’t be enough time left in the day to practice enough. In fact, most people can reach that number only if they get into a special program – or some extraordinary opportunity that gives them a chance to put in those hours. P42


If you live some rocky mountainside, you can’t farm. You probably raise goats or sheep, and the kind of culture that develops around being herdsmen is very different from that which develops around the growing of crops. The survival of a farmer depends on cooperation in a community. A herdsmen is off by himself. Farmers don’t have to worry that their livelihood will be stolen in the night… Herdsmen have to be aggressive; he has to make it clear in his words and deeds that he is not weak. A culture of honor develops in such herding areas… The Appalachia region in the US is a mountainous region where such a culture of honor developed, as well as the wild west ranch and range lands. P167


The plane loss rate for an airline like United between 1988 and 1998 was .27 per million departures (or 1 plane crash per 4 million takeoffs)… The loss rate for Korean Air in the same period was 4.79 – more than 17 times higher! P180


In a typical crash, the weather is poor – not terrible, but bad enough that the pilot feels a little more stressed than usual. The plane is behind schedule, so the pilots are hurrying. In 52% of crashes the pilot has been awake for 12 or more hours, meaning that he is tired and not thinking sharply. And 44% of the time, the pilot/co-pilot have not flown together before, so they’re not comfortable with each other. P184


The typical accident involves 7 consecutive human errors… These 7 errors are rarely problems of knowledge or skill. The kinds of errors that cause plane crashes are invariably errors of teamwork and communication. One pilot knows something important and somehow doesn’t tell the other pilot. One pilot does something wrong, and the other doesn’t catch the error. P184


Planes are safer when the least experienced pilot is flying, because it means the second pilot isn’t going to be afraid to speak up. P197


Many airlines now teach a standardized procedure for copilots to challenge the pilot if he thinks something has gone awry. First, he states that he’s concerned about this problem. If the captain fails to respond, he then says that the situation is unsafe. And if that fails, the first officer is required to take over the airplane. P197


Here are the top and bottom 5 countries based upon Power Distance Index (attitudes toward hierarchy & respect of authority)

5 highest

  1. Brazil
  2. South Korea
  3. Morocco
  4. Mexico
  5. Philippines

5 lowest

5. US

4. Ireland

3. South Africa

2. Australia

1. New Zealand

If you compare this list to the ranking of plane crashes by country, they match up very closely. P209


Here’s a report of an actual event in the cockpit of a Korean Air flight:

The 1st officer got confused while listening to Air Traffic Control, and mistakenly put the plane on a course intended for another plane. The flight engineer picked up that something was wrong, but said nothing. 1st officer was also not happy, but said nothing… Despite good visual conditions, the crew didn’t look out and see that the current heading would not bring them to the airport. Finally the radar in the plane announced the mistake, and the captain HIT the 1st officer with the back of his hand for making the error. Hit him with the back of his hand? P214


Take a look at this sequence, reading them aloud. Look away for 20 seconds and try to memorize them:

4 8 5 3 9 7 6

If you speak English, you have 50% chance of remembering all of them in order correctly. If you’re Chinese, you’re almost certain to get it right every time. Why is that? Because the human brain stores digits in a memory loop that runs for 2 seconds. Saying the numbers in English often takes more than 2 seconds. The Chinese language allows them to fit all 7 numbers into 2 seconds. P228


The number system in English is highly irregular. Not so in China, Japan, and Korea. They have a logical counting system. 11 is ten one. 12 is ten two. 24 is two tens fours, and so on. That difference means that asian children learn to count much faster than Americans. 4 year old Chinese can on avg count to 40, while Americans can only reach 15 on avg, and don’t reach 40 until age 5, so they are a year behind. P229


Bushmen and women work no more than 12 to 19 hours per week to satisfy their caloric needs. That’s less than 1000 hours per year… A peasant in 18th century Europe worked from dawn to noon 200 days/year or 1200 hours per year. This was often interspersed with brief periods of tremendous work during spring planting and fall harvest, with idleness in summer and winter… If you were a peasant in southern China by contrast, you didn’t sleep through the winter, you worked 3000 hours per year. P235


The thing about rice farming is not only do you need phenomenal amounts of labor, but its very exacting. The fields must be perfectly level, that the water is present for just the right amount of time, the distance the seedlings are spaced. It’s not like putting corn in the ground in mid-march, waiting for the rain, and harvesting in the late summer. You’re controlling all of the inputs in a very direct way. And when you have something that requires that much care, the overlord must have a system that gives the actual laborer some set of incentives. That’s why you get fixed rents in China. Thus a good crop provides an incentive to the rice farmer to innovate to increase yields. Rice is a crop that doesn’t do well with slavery or feudal wage labor. It would be just too easy to leave the irrigation water open a few seconds too long and there goes the whole field. P237


The countries that score the highest in math and science achievement are those countries where the students are willing to concentrate and sit still long enough and focus on answering every single question in an endless questionnaire are the same whose students do the best in solving math problems… We could predict precisely the order in which every country would finish in a Math Olympics without asking a single math question. All we would have to do is give them some task measure how hard they were willing to work. P248


When it comes to reading skills, poor kids learn nothing when school is not in session. The reading scores for rich kids go up by a whopping amount. Virtually all of the advantage that wealthy students have over poor students is a result of the difference in the way privileged kids learn while they are not in school. P258


MountainLaurel said...

I also enjoyed Gladwell's writing style. The problem with his chapter on Appalachia is that it's simply incorrect. He states that traditionally Appalachians were herders due to the inhospitability of the land. While the land is inhospitable, before the turn of the century (1900s), most of them were subsistence farmers with a bit of livestock, hardly the herders that Gladwell portrays.

If you'd like to find out more about this misunderstood culture, let me know. I'll hook you up with some sources that were researched, unlike Gladwell's.

viagra online said...

Indeed his books are awesome, specially this trilogy, its full with amazing detailed descriptions and facts.

pharmacy said...

A strong social culture is necesary for us ! I mean it !