Success and Malcolm Gladwell

October 7, 2008
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One of the biggest sociological buzz books in recent years was Malcolm Gladwell's "The Tipping Point," in which the journalist looked at the root causes of popularity--what are the circumstances that lead to a sudden skyrocketing of awareness

His next book, "Blink," examined the decisions we make in an instant--and whether those decisions are more or less reliable than those we agonize over.

I just gave an advance read through his next book, "Outliers," which is due out next month, and I'm guessing this page-turner will be just as talked about, if not more, than his previous two bestsellers.

His premise this time is that, when it comes to the best and the brightest (according to the galley's jacket copy), "we pay too much attention to what successful people are like and too little attention to where they are from: that is, their culture, their family, their generation, and the idiosyncratic experiences of their upbringing."

What does this have to do with arts and entertainment?

Well, Gladwell early on quotes studies that he believes establish that there aren't "naturals" when it comes to outstanding musicians (violinists, in his example). It really is hard work and other factors that takes them there, not genetics. And that specific kind of hard work is only encouraged under certain sociological conditions.

He takes that idea into pop music as well, making the case that the Beatles wouldn't have become what they became without playing approximately 1200 life gigs before they achieved "overnight" success in 1964. And to do that required, again, certain sociological conditions.

There's much more to the book. Gladwell soaks up information from studies of everything from Canadian hockey players to the pioneers of computer science in his quest to understand why certain people make it and others don't. What does rice farming have to do with mathmatical ability? How does a culture's attitude toward authority influence plane crash statistics?

And where, Gladwell asks, is the line between understanding the impact of culture and unfairly stereotyping?

Expect to hear much more about "Outliers" from the press--and from the people in your marketing department--after the book is released on November 18.

Your thoughts?
  • 'Sounds like an interesting read! I'll wait until I read it myself before I say more.

    But speaking of sociological conditions... I love that you wrote about Second Life in your most recent print piece.

    Some YA librarians around the country think that Second Life is the greatest thing since sliced bread for reaching teens and other library patrons who have not been in a first-life library building in years.

    Others say, I don't have enough time, money, or resources to do all of the work that patrons want and deserve from me, their local librarian, in my first life! How am I supposed to add a second life?!

    I confess that I am in the second camp, at least for now.

    And that's just at my day job. As far as my free time, as far as my consumption of art goes, especially theatre, I still prefer it to be live.

    However, I have heard two presentations from web 2.0 guru Sarah Robbins in which she touts the advantages of Second Life. (Maybe you saw her while you were on/in SL? She has bright pink hair and sometimes goes by Intellagirl. She works for MediaSauce company but is also working on a PhD through Ball State.)

    I might reach a tipping point about Second Life one of these days and create my own avatar.

    We'll see.

    Hope Baugh
  • I take exception to the author's claim that there are no naturals when it comes to talent. I've seen too many three-to-five-year-olds on Jay Leno's show and elsewhere playing advanced classical music on pianos, violins, guitars, banjos, or singing at levels far beyond their young ages. These kinds of talents are extremely rare, but they do happen. How does the author explain these?

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  3. "But that doesn't change how the piece plays to most of the people who will see it." If it stands out so little during the day as you seem to suggest maybe most of the people who actually see it will be those present when it is dark enough to experience its full effects.

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