Tag Archives: malcolm gladwell

Football, dogfighting, and brain damage: The New Yorker

I just finished reading (and loving) Malcolm Gladwell’s newest book, Outliers, and I highly recommend it. I’ve just now had a chance to catch up with his New Yorker articles, the latest of which asks the question, what do football and dogfighting have in common? The answer: somebody’s getting hurt for somebody else.

“They cleared me for practice that Thursday. I probably shouldn’t have. I don’t know what damage I did from that, because my head was really hurting. But when you’re coming off an injury you’re frustrated. I wanted to play the next game. I was just so mad that this happened to me that I’m overdoing it. I was just going after guys in practice. I was really trying to use my head more, because I was so frustrated, and the coaches on the sidelines are, like, ‘Yeah. We’re going to win this game. He’s going to lead the team.’ That’s football. You’re told either that you’re hurt or that you’re injured. There is no middle ground. If you are hurt, you can play. If you are injured, you can’t, and the line is whether you can walk and if you can put on a helmet and pads.”

Football, dogfighting, and brain damage : The New Yorker.

Is the Future Free?

Yesterday I listened to a bit of the CBC radio documentary News 2.0: The Future of News in an Age of Social Media, (The mp3 is here) about changes to our understanding of ‘journalism’ now that anyone can create, report and publish news.

Chris Anderson, editor in chief at Wired Magazine, coined the term the Long Tail to describe the niche business strategy of selling a large number of unique items, each in relatively small quantities. He translates this model to the news industry, invoking a new kind of reputation economics, implying that monetary rewards are not the only incentives for those reporting the news. He believes “free” is the future of business.

[Anderson] believes that low-cost digital distribution has reduced the break-even price of many products (movies, books, music) to near zero. As a result, giving your product away for free has become a viable economic model.

For example, a musician might decide to give recorded music away for nothing, knowing that the widespread distribution of the latest CD would give a considerable boost to ticket sales for the next concert. The profit is made in the concerts, not the music. And in case you were wondering, no, Chris Anderson will not be giving copies of his latest book away for free.

Malcolm Gladwell thinks Chris Anderson is wrong about the future of free. In his new article in The New Yorker, PRICED TO SELL, Gladwell rebuffs Anderson’s idea that free journalism is the future of news, and that despite a growing trend of technology and other goods becoming “too cheap to meter”, it’s unlikely the future cost of our commodities will actually be free.

Update: Chris Anderson Responds to Gladwell’s criticisms.

When Underdogs Break the Rules

Malcolm Gladwell’s interesting article, How David Beats Goliath is about how underdogs, when playing by their own strategies, can beat out the favorite much more often than one would suspect.

Eurisko was an underdog. The other gamers were people steeped in military strategy and history. They were the sort who could tell you how Wellington had outfoxed Napoleon at Waterloo, or what exactly happened at Antietam. They had been raised on Dungeons and Dragons. They were insiders. Eurisko, on the other hand, knew nothing but the rule book. It had no common sense. As Lenat points out, a human being understands the meaning of the sentences “Johnny robbed a bank. He is now serving twenty years in prison,” but Eurisko could not, because as a computer it was perfectly literal; it could not fill in the missing step-”Johnny was caught, tried, and convicted.” Eurisko was an outsider. But it was precisely that outsiderness that led to Eurisko’s victory: not knowing the conventions of the game turned out to be an advantage.

Gladwell responds to a couple of criticisms aimed at the section dealing with Rick Pitino and college basketball.

Malcolm Gladwell on The Advantages of Disadvantages

In preparation for the release of his new book, Outliers, next week, Malcolm Gladwell has published an article, The Uses of Adversity, explaining that sometimes disadvantages come with unexpected advantages.

Writing about the piece afterwards, Gladwell expounded the approach that being an outsider, having a disability or coming from a social-economic disadvantage, can sometimes be exactly what one needs to succeed.

From Gladwell’s blog:

If dyslexia can—under certain circumstances—be advantageous, what are other disadvantages that can have the same effect?

In the article, I mention, in passing, the question of class size, and the data on class size is really quite fascinating. Time and time again studies fail to show any significant advantage to reducing the size of classes—except in the case of very poor children in the very earliest of grades.

This, of course, defies common sense. We know that teacher feedback is a big component in learning. So why wouldn’t learning be enhanced by lower teacher: student ratios? One answer might be that large classes are a disadvantage with advantages: that in coping with the difficulty of competing for teacher attention, kids learn something more important—namely self-reliance. This might also explain why the highest achieving schools—those in places like Japan and Korea—tend to have much larger classes than in the United States.

Aside from the many, many variables that might make comparing class sizes across nations and cultures difficult, I also wonder if teachers instructing inconsistently large or small classes might not be changing their styles to meet the particular needs of a particular class size. It stands to reason that one would teach a class of 10 quite a bit differently than a class of 30—however it’s also very understandable that teachers tend to teach the same way from lesson to lesson and stick to it—regardless of class size.

Late Bloomers

Malcolm Gladwell’s new article Late Bloomers is up at the New Yorker.

Genius, in the popular conception, is inextricably tied up with precocity—doing something truly creative, we’re inclined to think, requires the freshness and exuberance and energy of youth. Orson Welles made his masterpiece, “Citizen Kane,” at twenty-five. Herman Melville wrote a book a year through his late twenties, culminating, at age thirty-two, with “Moby-Dick.” Mozart wrote his breakthrough Piano Concerto No. 9 in E-Flat-Major at the age of twenty-one. In some creative forms, like lyric poetry, the importance of precocity has hardened into an iron law.

Are you still a genius if it’s only later in life that you do anything truly brilliant?

Gladwell discusses the article in a podcast and will be answering reader questions about it later in the week.

Outliers: Why Some People Succeed and Some Don’t

I’ve been super excited for Malcolm Gladwell’s new book, “Outliers: Why Some People Succeed and Some Don’t”. The release date of November 18, 2008 was just announced on Amazon, as well they’ve got a product description up too:

In this stunning new book, Malcolm Gladwell takes us on an intellectual journey through the world of “outliers”—the best and the brightest, the most famous and the most successful. He asks the question: what makes high-achievers different? His answer is that 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. Along the way he explains the secrets of software billionaires, what it takes to be a great soccer player, why Asians are good at math, and what made the Beatles the greatest rock band.

Brilliant and entertaining, OUTLIERS is a landmark work that will simultaneously delight and illuminate.

Here’s a list of writings and talks by and about Gladwell that cover genius/prodigy, education, and working:

Gladwell on Innovation

A new Malcolm Gladwell article up at the New Yorker illustrates that inventions, scientific discovery, and ideas aren’t locked down in the minds of a few genius, rather they’re simply waiting for the initiated: In the Air: Who says big ideas are rare?

In 1999, when Nathan Myhrvold left Microsoft and struck out on his own, he set himself an unusual goal. He wanted to see whether the kind of insight that leads to invention could be engineered. He formed a company called Intellectual Ventures. He raised hundreds of millions of dollars. He hired the smartest people he knew. It was not a venture-capital firm. Venture capitalists fund insights—that is, they let the magical process that generates new ideas take its course, and then they jump in. Myhrvold wanted to make insights—to come up with ideas, patent them, and then license them to interested companies. He thought that if he brought lots of very clever people together he could reconstruct that moment by the Grand River.

The article focuses on a theme that his new book is going to cover (coming November 18, 2008), the difference in results between an individual genius working on a project and collaborative brainstorming by many intelligent people. It turns out, you don’t have to be a genius to come up with something brilliant, you just need to get in a room with a lot of other smart people and bounce the ideas around.

Gladwell Raises New and Troubling Questions

I just listened to last week’s episode (#348 Tough Room) of This American Life.

This week we bring you backstage with comedy writers at The Onion. They start with over 600 potential headlines for their fake-news newspaper each week, and over the course of two days, in the very tough room that is their editorial conference room, they select 16 to go in the paper. Plus other people speaking their minds in very tough rooms.

One of the contributors, Malcolm Gladwell, relates some prankery from his days at The Washington Post. The mp3 is available on TAL’s website, and you can also get it on iTunes. For those not interested in digesting stories aurally, Gladwell wrote a version of this story for Slate in 1996.