Photo by shashiBellamkonda
A few days ago I finished reading “Outliers” by Malcolm Gladwell. Usually, the day I finish a book is the day I start to write (and usually publish) something about it in my blog. But this book was so overwhelmingly new and interesting that I guess it took me a few days to digest everything. I am still doing it.
I really don’t want to ruin it for you, because no matter what your field is, this one is a must read. And if you are in business or education and/or are parents to young children, you should do everything you can to read it.
The main thesis of the book is that the way we measure success is totally wrong. Gladwell tries to explain that the glorified story of the man (or woman) that came from nowhere and did it on his own is false. We are actually deriving the wrong lessons from these stories. Great successes are usually a result of two things – opportunities and social legacies. Not that Gladwell is trying to say that talent or hard-work are not important for people’s success. Quite the opposite. What he tries to say is that we put too much importance on these factors and totally ignore other important factors – especially, opportunities and cultural heritage.
As usual, just a number of my thoughts after reading:
- Education – It is amazing to learn how much our education systems are a result of old habits and inertia. I already mentioned here that I think schools are not doing enough in order to tap into the strengths of students. What I discovered after reading the book is that in the US and it is the same in Israel, the education system is built in a way that actually hampers successes. Gladwell puts a lot of the blame for the failure of these systems on the long vacations. I humbly agree and think that the stories in the book illustrate that our schools are teaching our kids the wrong process (and something I had as hunch turned out to be true after reading the book – check out my post in Hebrew – the effect the home environment has on our education is profound). But it is more than that. Our education systems is so focused on developing analytical thinking (OR IQ) that they neglect to teach the kids practical intelligence (or what some call EQ) – how to communicate, how to speak to authority, how to imagine, how to speak publicly, how our day to day economies work (Hebrew link) and much much more. In Israel and in Australia there are worries these days about the scores of children in the Standardized tests. I think the problems lie much deeper.
- Are you recruiting only from the best schools? – One of the messages in the book is that you don’t have to be the smartest in order to succussed. You just have to be smart enough. In contrary to what we think, Harvard and Yale graduates, even though they are much smarter IQ wise, don’t succussed more than graduates off other good and sometimes even mediocre schools. I think that coming from a university which is not the best in Israel I can vouch for that. My friends, most of which were not able to get into the good faculties (because of money or just childhood neglect of their studies) are doing just a good as any group form any university, and even more so. What does that say for business recruitment? Where should the hireling come from? How much should a company insist on recruiting from the best schools? Maybe a better strategy is to find the people that are just smart enough, but have better complimentary skills, including people skills, in order to really succeed.
- Processes – If you are a regular reader of this blog, you know I am firm believer in processes. One of the chapters of my e-book is dedicated to the importance of processes. The book just reaffirms my view. I think one of the most powerful chapters in the book is the chapter where Gladwell explains why ignoring the cultural differences and heritages intertwined into people behaviour is so dangerous that it can actually make plains crush. We don’t all work the same and it is important to understand that people from different countries act differently just because they are from a different country. The example is of Korean air which was one the most dangerous air companies until it acknowledged that only by making their pilots act in opposite to their culture will improve the rate of its air collisions. The ways to achieve that are by creating processes that hinder the effects of these cultural heritages. The same is true about creating greater pools of talent. One amazing example in the book is that all the best hockey players in Canada were born between January and March. All of them. By recognizing this pattern and creating a process that will give a chance to more talent, we can actually quadruple the talent pool. It is all in the process.
- Don’t be too polite. We are different – One last thing. Next month I will be starting an MBA program. This MBA gathers people from more the 40 nationalities. My intuitive, polite, politicly correct approach was to treat them all the same. Now, because of the book, I am thinking a little differently. What are the cultural heritages these people bring with them to the table? This is something that should be discussed. If someone is giving an example from his/her country, shouldn’t it be analysed taking into account the characteristics/cultural heritage of that country. Carefully, politely, but it should be on the table. Not only of individual people different, but the world’s peoples are different and we should recognize it.