Tag Archives: Outliers

Hardcover Business Best Sellers, the latest list from the New York Times (Oct., 2010)

Here’s the latest list of Hardcover Business Best Sellers.  The New York Times publishes this on the first weekend each month.

We have presented many of these at the First Friday Book Synospis, and blogged about some of the others.  (Bob Morris has especially taken us into the Robert Sutton book, Good Boss, Bad Boss).

Here’s one observation – look at the how long a few of these have been on the list.  The “champion” for the longevity prize has to be the Ferriss book, The 4-Hour Work Week, which came out in April, 2007.  Gladwell’s Outliers came out in November, 2008.  Both still on the best seller list.  Amazing!   Plenty of others from the list have been around quite some time!

1 DELIVERING HAPPINESS, by Tony Hsieh. (Grand Central, $23.99.) Lessons from business (pizza place, worm farm, Zappos) and life. (†)
2 OUTLIERS, by Malcolm Gladwell. (Little, Brown, $27.99.) Why some people succeed — it has to do with luck and opportunities as well as talent — from the author of “Blink” and “The Tipping Point.”
3 THE BIG SHORT, by Michael Lewis. (Norton, $27.95.) The people who saw the real estate crash coming and made billions from their foresight.
4 SWITCH, by Chip Heath and Dan Heath. (Broadway Business, $26.) How everyday people can effect transformative change at work and in life. (†)
5 THE TOTAL MONEY MAKEOVER, by Dave Ramsey (Thomas Nelson, $24.99.) Debt reduction and fiscal fitness for families, by the radio talk-show host. (†)
6 GOOD BOSS, BAD BOSS, by Robert I. Sutton. (Business Plus, $23.99.) How great bosses differ from the just so-so, or worse. (†)
7* THE MENTOR LEADER, by Tony Dungy. (Tyndale House, $24.99.) The former head coach of the Indianapolis Colts football team offers tips for helping to inspire growth. (†)
8 THE 4-HOUR WORKWEEK, by Timothy Ferriss. (Crown, $22.) Reconstructing your life so that it’s not all about work. (†)
9 THE ORANGE REVOLUTION, by Adrian Gostick and Chester Elton. (Free Press, $25.) A guide to building high-performance teams capable of transforming organizations. (†)
10* STRENGTHS BASED LEADERSHIP, by Tom Rath and Barry Conchie. (Gallup, $24.95.) Three keys to being a more effective leader. (†)
11 AFTERSHOCK, by Robert B. Reich. (Knopf, $25.) Looking at the future of the United States economy, the Clinton-era labor secretary fears that inevitable national belt-tightening could trigger a political convulsion.
12 REWORK, by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson. (Crown Business, $22.) Counterintuitive rules for small-business success, like “Ignore the details early on” and “Good enough is fine.” (†)
13 DRIVE, by Daniel H. Pink. (Riverhead, $26.95.) What really motivates people is the quest for autonomy, mastery and purpose, not external rewards.
14 SUPERFREAKONOMICS, by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner. (Morrow/HarperCollins, $29.99.) A scholar and a journalist apply economic thinking to everything: the sequel.
15 THE ONE MINUTE NEGOTIATOR, by Don Hutson and George Lucas. (Berrett-Koehler, $21.95.) Simple steps for reaching better agreements. (†)

From Roger Staubach to Title IX Babies – Athletic Endeavor Really Can Lead to Business Success

Roger Staubach: Super Bowl Winner in Football -- Super Bowl winner in Business (Real Estate)

Legendary is not a strong enough word.  Here in Dallas, whatever punch the word “legendary” carries, it is not enough to describe the name Roger Staubach.  The winner of two Super Bowls for the Dallas Cowboys, Roger Staubach is simply the man.  And his success on the field carried over into a vast Real Estate success.  When I moved to Dallas in 1987, it seemed that the name Roger Staubach was always staring at me from one corner or another.

We have always known that athletic contests build some kind of inner something that carries over into life in ways that are almost too numerous to mention, or even fully grasp.  Now researchers are trying to find those ways.

And it is true for women as well as men.  In a fascinating article on the Daily Beast, Female Jocks Rule the World by Danielle Friedman, we learn quite a bit about this.  Here are a number of excerpts.  (I will follow with a few observations of my own).

Athletic women make more money and hold more upper-management positions than those who shun sports—and their numbers are growing. Danielle Friedman on why it pays to play.

But the young entrepreneurs have undoubtedly carried lessons from their days as varsity athletes into the boardroom, attributing many of their managerial skills to their sporty pasts.

“Our coach always had us write our goals on the back of our hands to be constantly reminded of them, to give one example,” says Jenny Carter Fleiss, who was captain of her track team in Riverdale, New York. “Today, I still keep a list of my personal goals posted right in front of me—and encourage everyone else at Rent the Runway to do this—as a constant reminder of the bigger-picture things we’re working on.”

Perhaps not surprisingly, Carter Fleiss and Hyman are in good company. Former high school and college athletes of all abilities hold positions of power in an array of arenas, from Sarah Palin (basketball) to Ellen DeGeneres (tennis). Eight-two percent of executive businesswomen played organized sports after elementary school, according to a 2002 study by mutual fund company Oppenheimer, and evidence suggests that figure will likely rise over the next few decades, as more post-Title IX babies enter the workforce.

“There’s a whole lot of anecdotal evidence that disparities between women and men in the workplace are caused by a lack of athletic training and experience,” says Kathryn Kolbert, director of the Athena Center for Leadership Studies at Barnard College. “We’d now like to do the research to prove it.”

In addition to gaining valuable skills, women who played (or passionately follow, for that matter) sports gain unique access to “boys” networks that they’d otherwise be excluded from, experts say. Also compelling: The Oppenheimer study found that one in six adult women identify themselves as athletic—but the figure rises to almost half of women who make more than $75,000.

Stevenson found that ramping up girls’ participation in sports had a direct effect on their education and employment, explaining about 20 percent of the increase in education and about 40 percent of the rise in employment for women ages 25 to 34,

“It’s not just that the people who are going to do well in life play sports, but that sports help people do better in life,” Stevenson told Parker-Pope. “While I only show this for girls, it’s reasonable to believe it’s true for boys as well.”

…evidence suggests that participating in an organized sport can benefit nearly all women, deeply instilling lessons from the value of practice to teamwork, says Kolbert. It provides participants with a peer group, and a feeling of inclusion. And perhaps most importantly, it helps cultivate resilience.

My observations:
I was a tennis player.  (The operative word is “was”).  I was ranked fairly high in Texas my Senior year in high school, had a great, great experience on my tennis teams, both in high school and in college, and my college degree was substantially paid for by my tennis scholarship.  I was good – not anywhere near great (I could not challenge the best – and in my years, the best was Trinity University), but good.

To this day, when I run into an old tennis buddy or opponent, my heart beats faster, and the conversation just starts flying.

In my years studying business success, the wisdom of a good coach or athlete seems to lift the level of the thought and conversation.  On this blog, the single most viewed article we’ve ever had (fueled somewhat by his death) was about John Wooden – simply the greatest coach who ever lived.  (Here’s the article: Wisdom from Coach Wooden: “A coach is someone who can give correction without creating resentment”).  And blog posts about Peyton Manning, Coach Bear Bryant, Tony Dungy, John Madden, all have brought more than the average number of page views than articles about the other mere mortals in business seem to generate.

And in one area of business endeavor, the illustrations just seem to come in an avalanche:  the 10,000 hour rule, and the need for deliberate practice, is simply best explained by athletic discipline success stories (though music stories, dance stories, and many others, could certainly make the point in powerful ways also).  Though Malcolm Gladwell includes stories of Bill Gates and the Beatles in his discussion of the 10,000 hour rule in Outliers, he begins it with stories of Canadian Junior Hockey and international junior soccer competition.

And if you want to understand the impact of, the power of, work ethic and discipline and the need for constant improvement, you may as well just bow down to the legendary practices of such athletes as Michael Jordan and Jerry Rice and Peyton Manning and Nolan Ryan and…

And if you want the best cautionary tales, just check into stories of athletes who could have been great, but lacked those qualities that could have kept them on the path to such greatness.  (For one such cautionary tale, just consider the tale of one-game-wonder Clint Longley, the “mad bomber.”  A great quarterback that never was…)

The article I quoted above offers a lot to help us understand the power of such athletic undergirdings to business success.  But here’s something else to throw in the mix.  When I read about deliberate practice, the place/role of a good coach, the 10,000 hour rule, I do look back on my athletic successes, but my athletic failures and disappointments are what I really remember.  And in remembering those, I feel somewhat driven to do better at this chapter of my life.  Maybe the challenge of athletic disappointment drives us to do better at doing better later in life.

I guess all of this is my way of saying that I am not surprised at the evidence that athletic endeavor — practice, teamwork, competition, the role of a good coach — all help lead to success later in life.

And for women to rise as fast as they have after the adoption of Title IX — well, let’s just say we shouldn’t be surprised.

It Takes 10,000 Hours, But It Really Has To Be The Right 10,000 Hours – A Lesson From The Big Short

The legendary screenwriter William Goldman was said to have shouted “Nobody knows anything!” in relation to the prediction of movie sales…
Quoted in The Black Swan, by Nassim Nicholas Taleb


I recently presented my synopsis of The Big Short by Michael Lewis to an audience of sharp folks for the downtown edition of the Urban Engagement Book Club for Central Dallas Ministries.  If you haven’t read the book, it is worth your time.  (You might want to read my earlier blog post:  A Quick Graphic Overview of The Big Short).  Next month, for the same group, I am presenting my synopsis of Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell, so that was on our mind also.  Especially this key idea, popularized by Gladwell:  it takes 10,000 hours to get really world-class good at something.  At anything.

During our discussion of the book The Big Short, one woman, who had read both books, noted that there weren’t enough people on Wall Street who put in the 10,000 hours they should have on the safety of and the implications of the investments they were selling.  This failure was catastrophic!

And — this is a brilliant observation!

In The Big Short, Michael Lewis describes the work of Dr. Michael Burry, the one-eyed Doctor with Asperger’s, obsessed with “fairness.”  He was one guy in a dark room, pouring over publicly available information.  He began his successful investment career turning up “ick investments – taking a special analytical interest in stocks that inspire a first reaction of ‘ick.’”  He then turned his attention to the current environment.

Dr. Michael Burry - 10,000+ hours of work finding the dangers just around the corner

Here’s a key quote about Burry from the book:

He likely became the only investor to do the sort of old-fashioned bank credit analysis on the home loans that should have been done before they were made.  He was the opposite of an old-fashioned banker, however.  He was looking not for the best loans to make but the worst loans – so that he could bet against them.

What does this mean?  I think it means this.  There were plenty of people who put in the time, but not on the right aspects of “their job.”  Wall Street had no shortage of people who put in many, many hours –10,000+ for sure – packaging, reconfiguring, selling these products.  They may have been great “salesmen,” but not so great “is this what we should be selling for the good of our economy?” folks.

Here are some more quotes from The Big Short.  Ignorance — true, dangerous ignorance — seems to be the common denominator.

In Vegas the question lingering at the back of our minds ceased to be, Do these bond market people know something we do not?  It was replaced by, Do they deserve merely to be fired, or should they be put in jail?  Are they delusional, or do they know what they are doing?…  There were more morons than crooks, but the crooks were higher up.”

It’s too much to expect the people who run big Wall Street firms to speak in plain English, since so much of their livelihood depends on people believing that what they do cannot be translated into plain English…  No one at Morgan Stanley had a clue what risks Howie Hubler was running – and neither did Howie Hubler.

The big Wall Street firms had somehow become the dumb money.  The people who ran them did not understand their own businesses, and regulators obviously knew even less.  “No one knows what to do…”  they had always assumed that there was some grown-up in charge of the financial system whom they had never met; now, they saw there was not.

The only solution to ignorance is education.  You have to learn what you do not know.

Now, we are all ignorant, amazingly ignorant, about a lot of things.  And most ignorance is acceptable ignorance.  I do not know how to fly a plane, perform surgery, fill a cavity in a tooth, tie a scarf, drill for oil…  the list of areas in which I am ignorant is really very, very long.  And it is ok that I am ignorant about such matters.

But if someone hires me to do a job; if I am “perceived as expert” in a field; then it is my responsibility to be knowledgeable in this field.  If I am not knowledgeable, if I am ignorant, then this is the kind of ignorance that leads to disaster.

This woman’s observation at our gathering was right on the money.  We needed plenty of people investing 10,0000 hours on the right things.  We needed an army of Michael Burrys.  Instead, we got an army of greedy, ignorant salespeople, who never spent even 10 hours, much less 10,000 hours, on the “is this really the right thing to be doing/selling?” question.

And it cost us all – our entire economy, our entire country, our entire planet —  a great deal.

Read What You Want to Read – Just be Sure to Keep Reading

Here is the problem.  As Malcolm Galdwell out it in Outliers,

When it comes to reading skills, poor kids learn nothing when school is not in session. The only problem with school, for the kids who aren’t achieving, is that there isn’t enough of it… For its poorest students, America doesn’t have a school problem.  It has a summer vacation problem…

The New York Times just published this:  Summer Must-Read for Kids? Any Book by Tara Parker-Pope.  Here are some key excerpts:

Although adults often jump at the chance to catch up on their reading during vacations, many children and teenagers, particularly those from low-income families, read few, if any, books during the summer break from school.

But the price for keeping the books closed is a high one. Several studies have documented a “summer slide” in reading skills once school lets out each spring. The decline in reading and spelling skills are greatest among low-income students, who lose the equivalent of about two months of school each summer, according to the National Summer Learning Association, an education advocacy group. And the loss compounds each year.

Now new research offers a surprisingly simple, and affordable, solution to the summer reading slide. In a three-year study, researchers at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville found that simply giving low-income children access to books at spring fairs — and allowing them to choose books that most interested them — had a significant effect on the summer reading gap.

It really does seem that there is a simple solution to help close the reading gap:  give school children some books to read over the summer vacation (how about the rest of the year, too?) – books they choose themselves.  Which, by the way, is the way most adults build their own reading stack – they get to choose the books themselves.  And the key message is this:  read what you want to read — just be sure to keep reading.

Outliers, Talent Is Overrated, And Others – Creating Conversations About Success

I’m a little fuzzy on “the point” of this article in Slate.com.  But I know this, she is right about the popularity of Outliers, and the overall subject.

Here’s the article:  Give It a Rest, Genius — What the new success books don’t tell you about superachievement by Ann Hulbert.  Of the books discussed in the article, I have presented synopses of two:  Talent is Overrated by Geoff Colvin, and Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell.

She describes the (relatively) new-found fixation on the 10,000 hour rule.  She is right to say that Colvin’s Talent is Overrated is more specific, more “demanding” than Outliers.  Here are a couple of paragraphs from her article:

In their calculus of success, these books endorse perspiration over inspiration as the key to extraordinary performance. The prevailing term is “deliberate practice,” introduced by K. Anders Ericsson, a psychologist cited in every one of these books for research that has led to the “10,000-hour rule.” That’s how much intensely focused training it takes to reach the expert level, in any field. Coyle’s more New Age coinage is “deep practice.”

Higher expectations can indeed work wonders for anyone, but truly relentless drive is a rarity. Amid all the recycled material in Bounce, Syed offers a sobering firsthand reminder from the sports front: The necessary fanatical commitment to mastery is most commonly inspired by competition, which has a way of winnowing ruthlessly. But in an era when plenty of American workers feel we’re running in place and just barely keeping up, the mixed message of this genre is one we’re understandably more eager to hear: Maybe we don’t have to become magnitudes more frenetic than we already are—just a whole lot more focused—and we, too, stand a chance of zooming ahead.

I remember this thought from Lewis’ Moneyball.  By the time a baseball player is a young adult, it is simply too late to teach him not to swing at a ball.  Here’s the quote:

What most scouts thought of as a learned skill of secondary importance (the ability to take a lot of pitches) the A’s management had come, through hard experience, to view virtually as a genetic trait, and the one most likely to lead to baseball success.

The A’s acknowledged that it probably could be taught – if you could begin at about age 5…

So, what does all of this say to us as adults in the actual pursuit of current and future success.  I think two things:

1.  You may not ever be world class, but you can get better with deliberate practice. For example, do you speak, and is speaking a key part of your path to success?  Then watch yourself on video, hire a speech coach, scrutinize every part of your speaking, from content, to delivery, to gestures, to eye contact.  Extrapolate this principle into any work you actually do.  Watch yourself do it.  Hire a coach to catch your flaws (you’ll probably not be able to see them – and, I hate to tell you – you do have some!).  You have to work hard at developing the talent needed to excel.

2.  Every job requires this kind of attention to get better. You know that line “this call might be monitored.”  I wonder if anybody who monitors such calls is doing so to help the people on the calls get better, or are they just trying to catch them doing something wrong?

Help yourself, and others, get better – day in and day out — by focusing on getting better.  That may be the take-away message of these books!


You can purchase my synopses of both Outliers and Talent is Overrated, with audio + handouts, at our companion site, 15minutebusinessbooks.com.