Thursday, February 4, 2010

Book Report: Outliers

Everyone has heard of Outliers. If you haven't, you might actually be an Outlier. HEYO! Anyway, I was reading a post about becoming an expert, by Penelope Trunk. Penelope links to a couple posts. And although Penelope's post and links have more to do with the first part of Outliers (Opportunity) none of them discussed the book at all. And it would have been interesting if those articles explored the Legacy aspect the way Gladwell does.


The part about Outliers that was the least accessible to me was his quote from Matthew at the VERY beginning of the book:

Matthew 25:29 - "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."

This quote did not make much sense to me so I asked my cousin if he could expound. Which he did with aplomb:

The verse comes at the end of a parable that Jesus tells called “the parable of the talents”. In brief, a master leaves 3 men in charge of a great deal of money (a ‘talent’ may be the equivalent of 20 years of wages, so in other words, a boat load of cash. This is important because it is not about ‘natural talents’.) (for a modern translation, read: this [sic]).

To one guy he leaves 5 talents, to the second 2 talents, and the third 1 talent. The first two dudes double the money, but the last guy takes the money and hides it in a hole. He’s worried that the master will be mad if he looses any, so when the master comes back, he gives all of the money back, down to the last cent.

Well, that pisses the master off, and the master takes the money and gives it to the guy who has done really well, leaving the the 3rd guy with nothing. Which leads to the verse in question.

Why is the master so upset? He got his money back. Well, technically the 3rd guy did ‘less than the least’. The ‘least’ he could have done was taken the money to the bank and collected interest. But he didn’t even do that. Instead he operated from a place of fear, and the explanation point for Jesus here is that that is the real sin. (side note: the end of the story talks about “throwing the 3rd guy out into the outer darkness”. Its tempting as modern readers to read that as “the third guy” or “people who fail” go to hell. Not the case. Jesus is saying that the fear itself needs to be cast out. But, this is getting off topic.)

Why it works for Gladwell: His book isn’t about people born extraordinary. Bill Gates wasn’t born a computer genius, he was born in a very specific window of time in history and had extraordinary access to technology at a critical age. BUT, he also worked. Hard. 10,000 hours. The first two guys in the story above take what they have, whatever it is, and work. Plain and simple. The third guy does not work. He doesn’t do anything.

The message I most take from Gladwell (and Jesus), is that it is the opportunity directly in front of us that matters. Not the pie in the sky what-ifs, but making the most of what you have each day. And, as ‘proven’ by the 10,000 hours theory, hard will will repay itself. Exactly like Jesus said it would.

No comments: