The tale of two books

I re-read Touching the Void. And I ordered Into Thin Air. But here, I want to talk about Outliers, which I briefly touched on yesterday.

Compared to The World is Flat, which I reviewed a couple of days ago, I like Outliers better. Both are pulling real life examples to prove their point. But Gladwell is much better at using popular culture and writing to connect with the reader. Granted, the two discuss two topics that are very different in seriousness, but still...

Anyway, a good read doesn't mean it's a good book. Essentially, what Outlier does is to find the Outliers and then trace how they have succeeded... eventually, every success story is broken down and the author concludes that a lot of it is the situation. Yup, this sounds like organizational behavior all over again. And therein lies the problem of the book: Yes, it's the situation that made the success. But of course it is! You identify successful people and then, ex-post, examine the components:
  • Yes, they were smart
  • Yes, they were born in the right year
  • Yes, they family supported what they did
  • Yes, their cultural background benefited them
  • Yes, all these opportunities fell ontheir laps and they seized it
Amazing stories, yes. Amazing conclusions, not really.

When I read the chapter on Korean Air, however, I found it quite odd. If the Korean hierarchy and lack of communication caused multiple accidents, why hasn't the same occurred in Japanese or Chinese airlines? A lot of these academic -> pop culture books have this problem... correlation, yes, but no causation link.

Which is why I've always like Freakenomics, who have a good academic approach to proving their point with popular data.

Verdict: Recommended.

Some random thoughts too: basically, you need to practice 10,000 hours of something to become very good at it. Hmmm... and you need to be born into an era where there's a boom somewhere so you can make your millions. Am I screwed already? I don't know. Let's hope there's a new boom coming up before I become too old to benefit from it!

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