Malcolm Gladwell, author of best selling business books "Blink" and "The Tipping Point" and regular contributing writer for The New Yorker Magazine, gave a short talk tonight at U of T's Convocation Hall. The topic? His latest book "The Outliers". No, this is not a Clint Eastwood Western or a M. Night Shyamalan screenplay (although it could easily be the premise for the latter). No, and "Outlier" is a scientific term to describe things or phenomena that lie outside normal experience.
The format was an informal interview by Rotman's Dean, Roger Martin in front of full house at Convocation Hall. Turns out, Martin and Gladwell grew up in the same community near Waterloo in the heart of Mennonite Community. Gladwell was best friends with Martin's younger brother Terry which produced some quite amusing stories and witty banter from the two scholars, making the 70 minutes fly by. Gladwell, albeit peculiar in his ways, is a fascinating fellow chalk full of statistics, stories and analogies that make you go "hmmmm". He is a master at breaking down our perceptions and helping us to see things differently (although one of the first principals in his book states that to become a master (read: expert) requires 10,000 hrs of practise).
The talk covered some of the concepts in his new book, The Outliers, with a focus on how some people (or groups of people) are successful in turning a disadvantage in life into an advantage. How compensating for ones weakness might actually be a more effective learning strategy than focusing on ones strengths. He talked about Community and how critical it is to overcoming obstacles and achieving success, however it may be painted. He talked of Human Capitalization (defined as the rate at which people reach their potential) and how the way we interpret success of others (or groups) distorts a simple truth that we choose to ignore.
The flow of conversation zig-zagged from U2's new album to a better golf club; from John Grisham to Google, yet the delivery and message was amazingly brilliant and on course. What allows people with seemingly large obstacles in front of them to reach successes that no one would have imagined possible let alone likely. Why do so many successful business leaders and sports legends (from Charles Schwab to Tiger Woods) suffer from Dyslexia disproportionately to the general population? How is it that 9 of the worlds 75 most wealthy and powerful individuals since the beginning of recorded history were born in the same decade, in the same country, from disadvantaged families? Gladwell dispels our common beliefs and opens our eyes to another reality through interpretation of statistics, demographics and economic data that otherwise would give me a headache to read!
Keep an eye on the Rotman Home Page for the video of this not only enlightening but largely entertaining talk. I positioned myself in a seat beside the video guy so I could get the skinny on when this should be posted...psssst: by Friday December 5th. http://media.rotman.utoronto.ca/vod?AdminView=yes&mediaid=1186