Outliers: The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Reading Gladwell for me is a delight not just because of the way it changes how I see the world, but because of the stories and carefully crafted way he presents his arguments. "Outliers" turns the idea of expertise and skill on its head by referencing things like family legacy, culture, history, communication, and the random luck of a combination of factors and timing. While we often view people like Bill Gates or the Beatles as being extra special and genius, Gladwell helps us see that while they are remarkable in their own right, these individuals did not get to their place in history unaided. Parents, location, and other factors of chance IN ADDITION to incredible work ethic and passion, make up the recipe for success that virtually every super star in any field experiences. In other words, outliers are outliers because they enjoy a unique blend of wonderful variables and they take the opportunity with all their strength.
The concept in the book made sense to me, though I finished it with the thought of something like "so . . . what?" Gladwell makes a few points about how we might change things to improve the world, like move the cut off dates for hockey teams and arrange classrooms differently then by just a single birthdate deadline. But really I felt wishing for more, and perhaps that is what Gladwell wants. Indeed this could be a depressing book! If all success comes from people in the right times and places, then what the heck can I do? I admit I thought this a few times, but I think the moral of the story for me is that rather than spending extra time and energy seeking things that are simply not within my range, I should exert more strength in discovering what unique setting I am already placed in and determining the best way to use that with my full range of skills and background. For example, if I was born more than 2 hours away from a gym that offered gymnastics, the possibility of me getting the 10,000 hours of deliberate practice by age 15 are pretty slim! If being a gold medalist in gymnastics is my one and only dream then I am kidding myself.
The stories about rice paddies, influence of the power ratio in plane crashes, the smartest man in American getting snubbed by his math teacher, and many others (Bill Gates & Bill Joy) are great parables of success, and make this book and the contents within both memorable and exciting. Gladwell's book is an interesting read and has important implications for education and a host of other fields.
The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything by Ken Robinson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
If it wasn't Ken Robinson, the title of this book would have led me to believe it would be about some overdone self-help topic. But I decided to read it because I've appreciated Robinson's TED talks in the past, and was curious about what he would say in a more extended venue. Much of what he says in the book is not new and can be traced to works such as "Flow" and the field of positive psychology. Basically the "element" is a flow-like zone in which one finds the thing they love which matches the thing they are really good at doing. It can be a job, a hobby, a side job, or a service. It can be discovered early on and fostered, or hidden and deferred only to be uncovered in old age. This got me thinking quite a bit about what might be my element. What do I love and what am I good at? Robinson's point was that we should all seek to find and understand this in ourselves, our schools, and our communities. As we foster the element on all levels of human living then we will be a better society for it. The final section of the book makes a brilliant comparison to the condition of the climate and the condition of our school system, and I really buy into his argument.
Additionally Robinson makes some points about experts and successful artists and business people that sound similar to all the pop psychology books citing the 10,000 hour rule and other overly discussed studies. While doing this, however, he is careful to keep his comments balanced and warns that not everyone can or will be famous or even make more money by finding their "element", which I appreciate.
Where Robinson shines in being unique and creative with "The Element", is his application of all these ideas above to the American education system. He makes some convincing points about transforming the system (not reforming it) and focuses on the importance of individualized 1:1 teaching. He calls for a system that views teachers and teaching as a critical aspect of education which sounds commonsensical, but ironically it is quite revolutionary. Ultimately it seems he is trying to reframe the "problem" of education in America as more to do with what we value as a society and in human life. This reframing of why we even have schools and send our children to them is, in my opinion, one of the most important and critical things we can and should be discussing. I haven't heard anyone else so publicly and eloquently present critical directions on this topic and for that I applaud Sir Ken and his wonderful book about finding your passion.
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I am a graduate student in Instructional Psychology and Technology at Brigham Young University. I enjoy writing, hiking, and spending time with my family.