Tuesday, September 14, 2010


In Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell argues that there is something profoundly wrong with the way we make sense of success.
It makes a difference where and when we grew up. The culture we belong to and the legacies passed down by our forebears shape the patterns of our achievement.

The emerging picture from studies is that then thousand hours of practice is required to achieve the level of mastery associated with being a worldclass expert – in anything. So, you need to have parents who encourage and support you. You can’t be poor.
But before we can become an expert, someone has to give you the opportunity to learn hw to be an expert.

What truly distinguishes outliers is not their extraordinary talent, but their extraordinary opportunities. Their success was not just of their own making. It was a product of the world in which they grew up.

IQ is a measure, to some degree, of innate ability. But social savy is knowledge. It’s a set of skills that have to be learned. It has to come from your families. Did you have that opportunity?

The sense of possibility so necessary for success comes not jusr from inside us or from our parents. It comes from our time: from the particular opportunities that our particular place in history presents us with.

Success arises out of the steady accumulation of advantages: when and where you were born, what your parents did for a living, and what the circumstances of your upbringing were. The traditions and attitudes we inherit from our forebears play the same role.

Sucess follows a predictable course. It is not the brightest who succeed. Nor is sucess simply the sum of the decisions and efforts we make on our own behalf. Outliers are those who have been given opportunies – and who have had the strenght and presence of mind to seize them.

Outliers are products of history and community, of opportunity and legacy.

In Iconoclast, Gregory Berns explains how the brain sabotages creative thinking for most ordinary people.

An iconoclast is a person who does something that others say can’t be done.
The iconoclastic brain differs in these three functions and the circuits that implement them:

  • Perception
  • Fear response
  • Social intelligence

Perception is heavily influenced by past experience and what other people say. To see things differently the most effective solution is to bombard the brain with things it has never encountered before. Novelty releases the perceptual process from the shackles of past experience and forces the brain to make new judgments.

The iconoclast perceives things differently than everyone else.
The key to seeing like an iconoclast is to look at things that you have never seen before. Unfamiliarity forces the brain to discard its usual categories of perception and create new ones.

Only when you consciously confront your brain’s reliance on categories will you be able to imagine outside of its boundaries.

Novelty triggers the fear system of the brain. Fear of uncertainty/the unknown (ambiguity), fear of failure and fear of public ridicule inhibit iconoclastic thinking. The true iconoclast. although he may still experience these fears, does not let them inhibit his actions.

Fear of the unknown, the other great inhibitor of innovation and iconoclasm, can also be managed through the same techniques of reappraisal (replace a negative reaction with a positive one) and extinction (any fear can be managed through practice). If individuals reappraise all sources of stress as an opportunity to discover something new or find a market niche that other people are afraid of, stress may itself decrease.

The truth is that many of our thoughts originate from other people. Conformity: we know what we see, and we know right from wrong, but with enough social pressure, we cave in to the fear of standing alone.
The most effective strategy for dealing with a group is to recruit one like-minded individual. Committees should not be required to arrive at a unanimous decision.

The individual must sell his ideas to other people. The modern iconoclast navigates a dynamic social network and elicits change that begins with altered perception and ends with effecting change in other people (or dying a failure).

Connecting with iconoclast depends on two key aspects of social intelligence: familiarity (face and name recognition) and reputation. Increase the world’s familiarity with you through productivity and exposure. And develop a reputation so that people are drawn to you and not repelled. To be successful, the iconoclast must foster networks. Iconoclasts need connectors. Without them, he stands no chance of achieving success.

So, what CAN you still do if you want to make a difference?

  • Practice makes perfect. Put in these ten thousand hours to become an expert.
  • Bombard your brain with new experiences
  • Team up with like-minded people
  • Improve your social skills
  • Continuously build your reputation
  • Provide meaningful work


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