Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Gladwell's Outliers Provides Plenty of Food for Thought

I'm going to add another book to my list of recommended books for educational leaders: Malcolm Gladwell's fascinating and astounding Outliers. In this book Gladwell explores the topic of outliers, or, as Gladwell says, "men and women who, for one reason or another, are so accomplished and so extraordinary and so outside of ordinary experience that they are as puzzling to the rest of us as a cold day in August."

Gladwell examines professional hockey players, musicians, entrepreneurs, lawyers and more, all of whom are considered exceptional. What Gladwell discovers is, in my opinion, incredible. To put his findings in a brief summary, Gladwell argues the following about outliers:

Outliers must be smart enough or talented enough, not always the smartest or most talented

Outliers, almost without exception, are not only smart enough or talented enough but also are presented with extraordinary opportunities and circumstances during the course of their lifetime (birth date, geography, cultural heritage, and more)

Outliers share a magic number of 10,000 hours of work or practice at whatever it is that makes them uniquely successful

Outliers have the desire and drive to work more than others when presented with the opportunity to do so

On some level, Gladwell debunks the myth of the self-made man by explaining how some of the greatest self-made men were affected by all of the factors I listed above. It should be noted that the accomplishments of the outliers should not be considered any less extraordinary but, rather, just perceived differently.

So, what does this book mean for educational leaders? When we look at our student populations we should remember a few key points:

  • Extraordinary future success (academic, athletic, artistic, etc.) will not be limited only to the most gifted, most intelligent, etc., but instead will be available to all who are gifted or intelligent enough.
  • Those who are gifted and/or intelligent enough must be presented with as much opportunity as possible while they are within our sphere of influence.
  • While parents certainly play a major role in providing opportunity, schools must take seriously the responsibility to provide opportunity for students.
  • Providing adequate opportunity for students will require a great deal of resources, much energy, and much creativity; differentiation is not easy.

Also of interest to educators, Gladwell discusses culture and its impact on individuals and regions, information that may help answer puzzling questions about a school's students and their parents. Additionally, Gladwell presents some interesting information regarding year-round schooling and its effects on kids. There is far too much information in Outliers to cover in a single blog post so I will leave you with a simple challenge: add this book to your reading list.

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