Posted by: fosterreisz | March 25, 2010

Outliers: The Story of Success – Rice Paddies and Math Tests

This chapter, which sounds almost derogatory in nature, challenges the notion that certain Asian cultures are born with a mathematical skill that, on average, no other culture can compete with. While they have an advanced mathematical skill, it is not something they are born with. Gladwell once again solidifies the fact that cultural background and the construct of our family have more influence on us later in life than we choose to consciously admit. We are all truly products of our environment, and are guilty of association down to the most basic of influences.

Rice cultivation is one of the most tedious farming jobs in its industry. It is an extremely detailed process and the slightest miscalculation in irrigation or clay pan solidity can ruin your crop. It is said that rice farmers work harder than any other farmers. Rice farming is also skill-oriented, as compared to tech-oriented farming in Western civilizations. If we use the 10,000 hour rule with a rice farmers 3000 average hours of work per year, then they could become world-class experts in barely over three years. That is about twenty more hours per week than our average here in the states, and is a testament to their work ethic. Being raised in this environment as a child develops a personality that doesn’t recognize it as hard work. It recognizes it as the standard. The same is said when it comes to their study habits. Gladwell observes, “Asian students have a reputation for being in the library long after everyone else has left.” Many take offense to this reputation, but it should only contribute to a greater sense of pride.

The significance of mathematics:

Certain Asian cultures have an early head-start in math compared to their Western counterparts, but it is not due to studying at an earlier age. It is based in the fundamentals of their language. The linguistics of our numerical system is organized in a very clumsy manner, and its structure doesn’t make a lot of sense. The following passage from this chapter could not have been stated any better:

In English, we say fourteen, sixteen, seventeen, eighteen, and nineteen, so one might expect that we would also say oneteen, twoteen, threeteen, and fiveteen. But we don’t. We use a different form: eleven, twelve, thirteen, and fifteen. Similarly, we have forty, and sixty, which sound like the words they are related to (four and six). But we also say fifty and thirty and twenty, which sort of sound like five and three and two, but not really. And, for that matter, for numbers above twenty, we put the “decade” first and the unit number second (twenty-one, twenty-two), whereas for the teens, we do it the other way around (fourteen, seventeen, eighteen). The number system in English is highly irregular. Not so in China, Japan, and Korea. They have a logical counting system. Eleven is ten-one. Twenty is ten-two. Twenty-four is two-tens-four and so on.

The base numbers in these languages are also shorter to say, think, and therefore mentally process. It is no wonder why they are more advanced mathematically. Our system just makes it more difficult on us. Their experience tied with the work ethic of their culture makes them prime candidates to surpass us numerically. Considering the fact they run circles around us in numbers, it kind of makes you wonder how long the Chinese have been manipulating their currency, if in fact the accusation is true.

“Don’t depend on heaven for food, but on your own two hands carrying the load.”


The Ethnic Theory of Plane Crashes uncovers some surprising reasons airlines from certain countries are more prone to have plane crashes than others. It turns out that culture has a lot to do with it. Speaking mannerisms and class division play a major role. Korean Air used to have a horrible accident record. They also have a culture with a large PDI or Power Distance Index. This means there is a large distance felt, perceived  or actually in place between those in the highest levels and those “below” them in a country or business power structure. In these societies, those not in power don’t always speak up when those in power are wrong. The PDI listing of countries was compared to airplane crash statistics, and they pretty much follow along with each other. The captain of the plain is usually the highest paid or ranking airline employee on board. If the plane is run by those from a high PDI country, the co-pilot(s) will be less likely to speak up even if they know the captain is doing something wrong. The captain is also less likely to listen to the next in command when he/she is from a culture where it is so common for him not to be challenged. When this happens mistakes are made, the plane crashes and people die.

The United States apparently has a low PDI listing, but I’m sure if you did a PDI for Corporate America that the result would be much higher there, especially on Wall Street. This area has a culture of catering to those at the top. They make so much money, even those well below the CEO level, that they are too comfortable to say when things are going wrong. Those at the bottom of the food chain in Corporate America (FYI: The people who actually run the companies), have probably never met their CEO, and probably don’t think highly of them if they did. Sure the employees fill out yearly surveys to make them think they make a difference, but in the end those at the top really only give a shit about themselves. It’s about the continuity of self at the CEO level. Why else would they be running away with millions of dollars a year in bonuses. For example: Let’s say you make $45,000 a year (average yearly salary in NYC) and the CEO of your company made $18,000,000 last year for just their bonus (an amount recently awarded on Wall Street in 2009). Start praying for some major breakthroughs in science, because it’s going to take you 400 years to make that amount. Korean Air got their act together eventually. It looks like we could use some restructuring ourselves.

“Good evening. This is your captain. We are about to attempt a crash landing. Please extinguish all cigarettes. Place your tray tables in their upright locked positions. Your captain says: Put your head on your knees. Captain says: Put your head in your hands. Captain says: Put your hands on your head, put your hands on your hips. He he.. This is your captain. We are going down. We are all going down, together. And I said uh oh. This is going to be some day. Stand by… This is the time, and this is the record of the time.” – Laurie Anderson

Posted by: fosterreisz | March 4, 2010

Outliers: The Story of Success – Harlan, Kentucky

This is a pretty short chapter in the book. It provides a brief personal story related to Harlan, Kentucky, but the main point is how we as “apples” don’t fall far from the roots of our “trees.” Trees having a meaning ranging from surrounding environment to family blood-line. Those from Harlan, Kentucky, if traced back through generations, can be ancestrally tied to the Scotch-Irish. People from this lineage are notorious for being potentially volatile. Ever heard of the Fighting Irish? They were herdsmen in their home country. They had to fight for what was theirs. There was no time for BS, and there was no exception when it came time for them to immigrate to the New World. They moved to remote areas, with little or no law enforcement to tell them what to do, and in some cases they actually told law enforcement what to do. When you have this type of ancestral line, these characteristics carry through the generations, and present themselves in present-day society. A study is examined that showed Southerners to be more hot-tempered than Northerners. Even though not all Southerners can be tied to a Scotch-Irish lineage, they live in an environment that was formed by the Scotch-Irish. The hot-tempered, no BS attitudes that were prevalent in the very beginning transcended through the generations, and are interwoven in today’s culture, people and attitudes. Northerners usually end up calming down, while Southerners tend to blow up. While there are obviously exceptions to these rules, it just goes to show you how much we can be a product of our environment.

“When one family fights with another, it’s a feud. When lots of families fight with one another in identical little towns up and down the same mountain range, it’s a pattern.”

Posted by: fosterreisz | February 25, 2010

Outliers: The Story of Success – The Three Lessons of Joe Flom

The introduction to this chapter starts off with a description of Joe Flom’s background. Joe Flom is a lawyer, and is “the last living “named” partner of the law firm Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher and Flom.” There are obviously three key points to be learned after reading this chapter.

The first lesson is “The Importance of Being Jewish.” The lesson sounds somewhat Masonic in nature, but it’s idea was a result of the discrimination the Jews experienced in the job market of the forties and fifties. Many Jewish lawyers were shut out of the big Wall Street firms, because of discriminatory hiring policies that catered mostly to White Anglo-Saxon Protestants. This rejection ended up being a blessing, because it gave the Jewish law community vast experience in cases the “white shoe” firms would not touch. It ended up that the need for representation of these “untouchable” cases would substantially increase, and the only ones with the experience were the Jewish lawyers. This, in effect, made them rich and successful, sometimes more than the firms that rejected them.

The second lesson is “Demographic Luck.” This lesson compares those born in the very early 1900’s to determine what factors and birth years helped to make them more successful later in life. If you were born from 1903 to 1911, there were more chances of you having and unlucky future than if you were born from 1912 to 1917. The first set of dates graduates from college just in time to have the job market most detrimentally affected by the Great Depression. The draft for World War II also adversely affected this age group, as they were almost in their forties at the time. Those born in the later set of birth dates were out of college after the depression had mostly dissipated, and them being drafted to war could be counted more as job experience than an interruption to their lives. This lesson also brings to light the benefits of being born in a depression/recession era. Less babies are born during these times, due to the costs involved when raising a family. Those that are actually born during these times benefit from smaller class sizes, less competition, and a larger upcoming generation that will require their services. Those who were lucky enough to be in the New York City area at this time had access to the best public school education in the world. This helped them gain experience that others could just not achieve.

The third lesson is “The Garment Industry and Meaningful Work.” This lesson exposes the community that helped cultivate Jewish lawyers. There is a certain upbringing that is cohesive to success and the belief that it can be achieved. Family trees are studied, and time and time again, Jewish families that started in the garment industry end up having a  family tree-lined with doctors and lawyers. One family tree started out with a small grocer, and the grocer ended up with eleven grandchildren who were doctors and lawyers. This was just one example, but there were many more cited. The garment industry was hard work. When you are raised by people with this work mentality, it lets you know that  a lot will be expected of you as well. Family businesses are created, children are made into experts, and a profit is made. This profit allows grand children to pursue the best education available, such as attending law or medical school.

This book ends up sounding more like the survival of statistics than the survival of the fittest. It doesn’t matter which one applies, as both can be applied to anyone. A lot of us, no matter what we do, will never become rich and/or famous. There are certain things that affect our lives that are beyond our control. My only recommendations are to seek knowledge, show respect, and hope for success. A disaster that chose a path of ignorance is far worse than a disaster that sought knowledge.

“Hard work is a prison sentence only if it does not have meaning.”

This section of the book focuses on Chris Langan. He was briefly mentioned in the beginning of The Trouble with Geniuses, Part 1. The chapter discusses his family history, mentioning how poor his family was in his upbringing. They had to wash clothes naked, because they only had one pair, the pair they were washing. It goes on to state that he lost a scholarship to Reed College, because Reed College, “didn’t give a shit about their students. There was no counseling, no mentoring, nothing.” This probably sounds familiar to many students today, as college move away from being educational institutions and move closer to becoming inhuman corporate machines. He moved back home after losing his scholarship, had a few labor-intensive jobs, and eventually enrolled at Montana State University where the college experience continued to leave him with a bad taste in his mouth. They were unwilling to help him with schedule difficulties when his car broke down, because of the bad grades he received at Reed College. He lost his scholarship. It wasn’t his fault. Reed College never even notified him. But that’s life. He decided then that the college experience was not for him.

Comparisons are then made between Langan and Robert Oppenheimer, the famous physicist who helped develop the nuclear bomb. Oppenheimer tried to kill his tutor at Cambridge University, but was only put on probation and psychiatric treatment. Langan committed no crime, but was forced out of school. The difference is really only charisma, and people skills. Both were geniuses. Oppenheimer just happened to be a charismatic genius as well. Comparisons are then made between their backgrounds. Langan was obviously from a less fortunate background, and Oppenheimer was from a well-to-do background. More often than not, family background has a greater influence on your success than anything else. There are cultural and fundamental differences in the way the upper and lower classes raise their children. The upper class are able to afford all kinds of things that put their children at an advantage. Whether it be little league, piano lessons, or anything of that nature, the lower class have less access to these types of learning experiences for their children. They have more of a self-nurtured upbringing, and success is rarely a solo achievement.

“…no one – not rock stars, not professional athletes, not software billionaires, and not even geniuses – ever makes it alone.”

This was yet another interesting chapter in Outliers that proves more examples of populous believe to sound more like populous fantasy. IQ levels from mentally handicapped all the way to genius are discussed. A higher IQ commonly results in more education, more money, and a longer life. A popular myth is the higher your IQ score, the better chance you have of winning, let’s say, the Nobel Prize. This is not actually true. Obviously there is on average a minimum IQ for those that win this prize. However, once you reach a minimum level genius IQ, you have as much a chance to win a Nobel Prize as a high level genius IQ.

The Harvard student admissions process is also brought into question in this chapter. In the year 2008, Harvard only accepted 1,600 out of 27,462 applicants. That number is far less than the number of applicants who scored perfect on their SAT’s or those who were number one in their high school graduating class. The truth of Harvard genius is obviously skewed with so many eligible applicants not being considered, especially when we take note that any genius level IQ and above have the same opportunity for achievement.

The issue of Affirmative Action is also mentioned. The law school at the University of Michigan performed a case study on students accepted to the school based on this policy. More leniency is provided to minority groups or those from less fortunate backgrounds to allow them an equal opportunity at education. They may have lower test scores than normal applicants, but are still within the minimum level genius IQ. When the school looked at all aspects of the lives of its graduates, it found no major disparities between the Affirmative Action applicants, and the regular applicants.

The only question is.. Do you have the minimum genius IQ level?

“Knowledge of a boy’s IQ is of little help if you are faced with a formful of clever boys.”

Posted by: fosterreisz | February 2, 2010

Outliers: The Story of Success – The 10,000 Hour Rule

There are a number of topics discussed in this section of the book. The main idea of the chapter states that you need to accumulate at least ten-thousand hours of practice in your field to become a world-class talent. Gladwell, once again analyzes compiled statistics to discover the facts behind what has made certain people in recent successful. Gladwell covers information on Bill Gates, The Beatles and seventy-five of the richest people in history going back all the way to Cleopatra. Twenty percent of those people are Americans born between 1831 and 1840. He uses that information to substantiate his argument that time of birth is sometimes more important than hard work itself. The Americans born in the 1800’s were the perfect age around the time Wall Street was born and many railroad companies began to thrive. We can use this to form an analogy against those who made it big in the present-day computer age. The nine leaders of Sun Microsystems, Microsoft, Apple, and Google were all born between 1953 and 1956. They were all born within three years of each other almost six decades ago, and founded today’s computer world that we can’t live without. There are obviously successful people in their professions born outside of those dates, but the facts definitely prove that there are those with a birthright. It takes a perfect storm of coincidence, favor, luck, hard work, and timing to become rich and powerful. You have to completely devote yourself to what you do, and just hope that you end up in the eye of the storm.

“Practice isn’t the thing you do once you’re good. It’s the thing you do that makes you good.”

Posted by: fosterreisz | January 26, 2010

Outliers: The Story of Success – The Matthew Effect

In The Matthew Effect, Gladwell talks in-depth about the birth dates of hockey players. It sounds, at first, like an amazing thing that they all fall at the beginning of the year. It turns out that there is a cut off date for age-class hockey enrollment. The date is the second day of the year. Due to the fact that those born closer to the date have a longer time period to mature over the others in their enrollment year, those born earlier are naturally chosen for the extra time they’ve had to develop their talents. Gladwell continues the argument by comparing hockey to other sports that have age-class enrollment deadlines, inevitably proving his point across the board. He goes on to state that many people are unfairly overlooked in the educational system as well. He brings up valid points that need to be addressed by those in power, but things probably won’t change for a while. That takes time, effort and money, and we all know our politicians like keeping all of those things to themselves.

“For unto everyone that hath shall be given, and he shall have abundance. But from him that hath not shall be taken away even that which he hath.” – Matthew 25:29

Posted by: fosterreisz | January 26, 2010

Outliers: The Story of Success – The Roseto Mystery

The introduction to Outliers tells a story about the town of Roseto, Pennsylvania, where the people originally migrated from Roseto, Italy. The people of Roseto, PA amazed doctors with the low occurence of heart disease in their community. People here were more prone to die from old age thank anything else. Many of the inhabitants were obese, but still lived long lives. The doctors performed all kinds of tests, but couldn’t figure out why this was. They then looked to the social structure of Roseto. Many of the residents would stop to chat with neighbors. Sometimes three generations of a family would live under one roof. It seems as though it was the sense of community and togetherness that made them live happy, long lives. With American families dividing after high school and college, it is no wonder why our situation proves Roseto’s so true.

Posted by: fosterreisz | January 21, 2010

Individual Book Reading

The book I chose for this class is Malcolm Gladwell’s:

Outliers: The Story of Success.

This book, from my understanding, is not so much about successful people, but the people that surround successful people.

I chose this book for a number of reasons:

  • It’s on the best sellers list.
  • It was the same author of another book recommended for the assignment.
  • It was 30% off.
  • It talks about success and the what surrounds success.
  • It sounds like a good book that I can stay interested in.

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