Malcolm Gladwell (Geek Pop Star) on Outliers

November 12th, 2008

New York magazine has an article (Geek Pop Star) on Malcolm Gladwell whose new book, Outliers: The Story of Success, is due out later this fall.

“Malcolm Gladwell’s elegant and wildly popular theories about modern life have turned his name into an adjective—Gladwellian! But in his new book, he seeks to undercut the cult of success, including his own, by explaining how little control we have over it.”

His book explains why I never became a hockey star — I was born too late in the year. A disproportionate number of top Canadian Hockey players are born in the first half of the year. Gladwell’s explanation is that the cut-off for joining a junior hockey league is that you must be 10 years old by January 1. So if you were born on January 2nd, you will start playing with the advantage of being older, larger and stronger than your peers. I’m not sure that my August birthday explains my own poor skating skills, though.

This quote from the article addresses by Bill Gates did so well.

“Or take the case of Bill Gates. Gladwell cites a body of research finding that the “magic number for true expertise” is 10,000 hours of practice. “Practice isn’t the thing you do once you’re good,” Gladwell writes. “It’s the thing you do that makes you good.” Gladwell shows how Gates accumulated his 10,000 hours while in middle and high school in Seattle thanks to a series of nine incredibly fortunate opportunities—ranging from the fact that his private school had a computer club with access to (and money for) a sophisticated computer, to his childhood home’s proximity to the University of Washington, where he had access to an even more sophisticated computer. “By the time Gates dropped out of Harvard after his sophomore year to try his hand at his own computer software company,” Gladwell writes, “he’d been programming practically nonstop for seven consecutive years. He was way past 10,000 hours.” Yes, Gates is obviously brilliant, Gladwell concludes, but without the lucky breaks he had as a kid, he never could have had the opportunity to fulfill the true potential of that brilliance. How many similarly brilliant people never get that opportunity?”

I guess I spent my own 10,000 hours hacking Lisp too late in life.