More reflection on Outliers

Posted by gminks in outliers | Tagged , , , , , , | 3 Comments

In my last post, I gave my review of Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers. Craig Randall, one of EMC’s Distinguished Engineers and fellow EMC blogger, asked a lot of thoughtful questions about my reaction to the book. I decided to just write another post answer all his questions. Craig is actually who got me interested in the book in the first place when he reviewed the book on his blog back in December.

Here is what he asked:

How would you describe Gladwell’s “community lens”? I’m still not sure. It’s hard for me to comprehend that it is some big revelation that class could actually have a bearing on success.  I think its safe to say Gladwell is not from a lower class background. He could have asked anyone from a lower class background if being poor has created an environment that hinders gifted people from becoming successful. Here’s the answer he would have received: DUH!
What do you mean by “native descent” (referring to Gladwell himself)? I thought that Gladwell had said in the chapter “A Jamaican story” that his great-great grandmother was native, but she was actually an Igbo tribeswoman (from Africa). So he’s not of Native, or Indigenous, descent like I am. So, my poor attention to detail tripped me up there – I just couldn’t figure out how he could have been around Native women and he didn’t understand this idea that community shapes you.

So nevermind. 🙂

10,000 hour rule: Craig said this:

In my read, I took away that it’s *deliberate* practice plus (i.e. “and” not “or”) opportunity/lucky breaks/exceptional circumstances, etc. that tend to produce “success.” For example, the body of scientific research that Gladwell references concerning the 10,000 hours strikes me as generally applicable; it’s just that some of us take more calendar time to acrue these critical hours than others. Do you agree?

I’m not sure I accept the idea that if you get to that 10K hour mark, you are going to be a success, even if you have the opportunities and right circumstances.

The work that Gladwell quotes from Anders Ericsson is not really on successful people, its about how does a person become an expert. So, is an expert automatically successful? If you are successful, are you automatically an expert? Ericsson says this about what makes an expert:

Still, devoting extensive time to improving selected aspects is only part of the deliberate practice equation, Ericsson cautions. Developed within the crucible of strategic goal setting—frequently with the help of a teacher or coach—constant self-evaluation against those goals and an ongoing discipline of refining one’s skills, deliberate practice far exceeds the mundane repetition of standard drills and baseline training techniques commonly employed by lower-level performers, he says (emphasis mine).

I think the reason people never get to that 10K time mark is that most folks aren’t doing the necessary reflecting on what they are practicing. Instead, they learn the bit they need to know and then they are done. The ones who are successful can’t let go of that one small thing that doesn’t make sense to them until they reflect, retry, manipulate, etc until they can completely understand what they are working with.

And the sad thing is that in business, this type of person (ones who are hooked into a concept) can be annoying. They can drive you crazy if you are paying them to perform one task and all they want to think and talk about is another (perhaps tangently related) task. If they don’t stay on task, they may lose their job. If they lose their job, you may be getting rid of one of these outliers who could usher in the next wave of innovation.

There are interesting discussions to be had around the work of Dr. Anders Ericsson, but I’ll leave that for another day. Maybe I convince one of my colleagues in Education Services @ EMC to join in that discussion online, we were actually discussing this today. I’ll even let him guest blog. 🙂

BTW, Dr. Ericsson is a professor at  Florida State!! Wonder if he teaches online courses…how cool would it be to take a course on expert performance from him?

3 Responses to More reflection on Outliers

  1. Thanks for the follow-up, Gina.

    I don’t think that Gladwell is saying that 10K hours equals success; rather, I think he’s saying that 10K hours is one important prerequisite to success.

    Success and expertise can be, in my view, be separate characteristics–not to mention that both terms can be rather subjective. (I hold a “peer reviewed” perspective on such things.) One doesn’t have to be an expert to succeed; one doesn’t have to succeed to be an expert (e.g. undiscovered talent, unpopular skill in a commercial context, etc.).

    Mentoring, coaching, being a constant student (being teachable)–these are all important factors in developing expertise and using such expertise successfully, IMHO.

    >> I think the reason people never get to that 10K time mark
    >> is that most folks aren’t doing the necessary reflecting on
    >> what they are practicing. Instead, they learn the bit they
    >> need to know and then they are done.

    Sad but often true, I’m afraid. Often the deliberate/determined/reflective nature of practice is missing; so, the hours are wasted, too (i.e. don’t count).

    If you can get Dr. Ericsson to speak to EMC, I’d be very interested to learn from him.


  2. Ken Allan says:

    Kia ora Gina

    You say, “So, is an expert automatically successful?”

    One way of looking at success is by achieving expertise. But that definition is a bit like the chicken and the egg and asking which came first.

    I think we have to define what’s meant by ‘success’ in the same way as we may also have to define what an ‘expert’ is.

    Catchya later
    from Middle-earth

  3. Charlie Brooks says:

    Good post, Gina.

    Two thoughts on expertise and success. There’s an old joke that goes: “How can you fire someone with 5 years of experience?” “I didn’t: I fired someone with 1 year of experience repeated 4 times.”

    “Becoming an expert” connotes achieving a particular level of mastery of a field or endeavor. Achieving that mastery can be considered a success, but this assumes that the achievement was the result of pursuing an implicit goal. To restate: expertise in a (field, endeavor, body of knowledge) implies success in mastering that endeavor, but doesn’t speak to the goal-orientation of the individual, nor does it speak to external recognition of the attainment of that expertise as “a success.”

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