Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell

The experiment went like this. The social sciences building at the University of Michigan has a long, narrow hallway in the basement lined with filing cabinets. The young men were called into a classroom, one by one, and asked to fill out a questionnaire. Then they were told to drop off the questionnaire at the end of the hallway and return to the classroom–a simple, seemingly innocent academic exercise.

For half of the young men, that was it. They were the control group. For the other half, there was a catch. As they walked down the hallway with their questionnaire, a man–a confederate of the experimenters–walked past them and pulled out a drawer in one of the filing cabinets. The already narrow hallway now became even narrower. As the young men tried to squeeze by, the confederate looked up, annoyed. He slammed the filing cabinet drawer shut, jostled the young men with his shoulder, and in a low but audible voice said the trigger word: “Asshole” . . . The results were unequivocal. There were clear differences in how the young men responded to being called a bad name. For some, it changed their behavior. For some it didn’t. The deciding factor in how they reacted wasn’t how emotionally secure they were, or whether they were intellectuals or jocks, or whether they were physically imposing or not. What mattered–and I think you can guess where this is heading–was where they were from. Most of the young men from the northern part of the United States treated the incident with amusement. They laughed it off. Their handshakes were unchanged. Their levels of cortisol actually went down, as if they were unconsciously trying to defuse their own anger . . . But the southerners? Oh, my. They were angry. Their cortisol and testesterone jumped. Their handshakes got firm . . . Call a southerner an asshole, and he’s itching for a fight. – Malcolm Gladwell, Outliers

I read this to Mike, and he mentioned that, yes, it does sound like me a little bit. Maybe just a little. It is certainly interesting to think about how people could be affected by geographic culture. Outliers is about success, how opportunity and legacy affect people. When we talk about successful people, the story is usually about how hard they work and how smart they are. But there’s more to the story than that. According to Gladwell, where you are born and when you are born and your family and your class all affect your success.

I haven’t read The Tipping Point, but I have read Blink and I enjoyed it very much. Outliers was also very good – I enjoy books like this and Freakonomics that challenge the ways that we understand the patterns in the world. It’s hard to read a book like this quickly, because there is a lot of information to process. It also made me realize that I don’t really want to work hard enough to be hugely successful like Bill Gates. And most of it, it made me wonder if I was ever going to be able to control my temper. If the above passage is any indication . . . maybe not.

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