Archives

Outliers – Malcolm Gladwell

Outliers 我對在智識分子中吹起的Malcolm Gladwell旋風也算後知後覺﹐憑著兩本薄薄的大作Blink和Tipping Point成為最有影響力的當代學者。不過我也是最近一年才聽過他的名堂﹐拜讀他那兩本被譽為必讀書藉的重要著作。此君著作貴精不貴多﹐對上一本Blink已經是05年的事。各界讀者耐心等候了三年﹐總於等到他姍姍來遲的新書Outliers。這本書仍然是薄薄的二百來頁﹐與前作一樣富可讀性﹐從觀察一些生活上的軼事開始﹐輔以嚴緊的學術論文作注腳﹐推論出讓讀者意料之外的結論。

這次Gladwell研究成功人士背後的故事﹐發掘成功人士為什麼會脫穎而出的原因。很多成功人士的傳記﹐總是強調那些名人的先天聰明和後天努力﹐而崇尚個人英雄主義的美國﹐更很多時候把功勞全歸於成功人士的奮鬥。Gladwell用了NHL冰球運動員﹐世界首富Bill Gates以及其他矽谷電腦公司的創辨人﹐美國幾間最大的律師行作例子﹐說明除了個人的努力和聰明外﹐偶然的外在環境因素也是必要的條件。在冰球運動員的例子中﹐若果你出生在後半年﹐你便不要妄想成為冰球員﹐因為小學冰球校隊挑選隊員以每年一月作為分界線。年頭出生的小孩比年尾出生的小孩﹐有差不多發育多一年的優勢﹐因為體能佔優得以進入校隊集訓。進入校隊後得更好的訓練和裁培﹐於是球技差距逐漸拉開拋離﹐中學在小學的校隊選球員﹐而NHL又在中學聯賽中發掘新星。結果因為一條隨意定下來的界線﹐變成大部份冰球球星都是在年頭出世的現像。

Bill Gates和律師行的例子﹐也同樣說明一些偶然的外在因素導致歷史的發展。電腦在Bill Gates讀中學的年代是新事物﹐不是所有大學也有電腦﹐但他就讀的私立中學卻有大學級數的電腦室﹐讓他有機會學習程式設計。而他家恰好可在華盛頓大學附近﹐讓他可以半夜偷走﹐與Paul Allan潛入大學偷用電腦慮積寫程式的經驗。當電腦普及化商機處處時﹐他已經比其他人更早站在起跑點上。至於美國全部大律師行也是猶太人開設的原因﹐先追溯到猶太移民著重教育的文化背景﹐子女大多讀書有成當專業人士。其次是五六十年代美國仍然存在種族歧視﹐猶太人律師畢業後很難進入以白人為主的大律師行工作﹐只好自己開設小律師行﹐接一些大律師行不願接的企業官司。豈料八十年代開始企業官司大行其道﹐專門打這些官司的猶太律師行忽然坐在大金礦上﹐傳統大律師行起步已晚﹐只好看著猶太律師行鯨吞大部份企業生意。

當然努力是成功不可以缺少的重要元素﹐作者就在書中提出了一萬小時理論﹐指出沒有天材不是經過一萬小時的苦練才成器。不過除此之外在適當的時候恰巧站在適當的地方﹐也是成功的必要條件之一﹐換一句話說成功必定要靠點運氣。竟然我們知道環境的成功的重要性﹐作者繼續把推論申延下來﹐說明只要我們改變環境因素﹐就可以令更多人獲得成功。他用了大韓航空和紐約貧民區的實驗學校作例子﹐說明文化因素對成功的影響。大韓航空從每年也有飛機失事的死亡航班﹐透過改造飛機師韓國階級文化的缺點﹐銳變成為全球最安全的航空公司。不過作者倒沒有解釋﹐為什麼同樣受階級文化影響的日本﹐卻沒有年年飛機也發生意外的問題。

有一章講學習數學與我們中國人很有切身關係﹐作者指出中日韓小孩的數學比白人小孩優秀﹐除了在我們語文中數字可是直接表達外﹐還與我們食飯種米有關係。身為中國人我絕對認同用中文數數字﹐的確比英文容易很多。食飯比食麵包的人優秀﹐這個理論我倒是第一次聽。我們小時候常常聽﹐需知盤中餐粒粒皆辛苦﹐原來種米同時是體力和腦力的勞動。相比種麥只有播種和收割時才要工作﹐種米則需要每天的細心照料﹐付出的心機與收成成正比。不同食物的生產孕育不同的文化﹐所以望天打掛的遊牧民族很懶躲﹐種麥做半年休息半年注重生活平衡﹐種米的多勞多得特別勤力。一般人以為學習數學講天份﹐其實數學是各科目中最容易學﹐只要肯花時間一定學得懂。只要學生有心機不斷鑽研﹐一定可以把數學的定律學懂。最有趣的每年國隊數學評校試﹐在考試前考生要填一份很長有關背景資料的問卷。神奇的是每個國家那份問卷完成率的排名﹐竟然﹐與數學試的成績的排名完全一樣。看學生有沒有心機把問卷填完﹐便可以知道學生有沒有心機學習數學﹐肯花在數學的時間越多﹐數學的成績自然越好。

作為一般知識性的讀物﹐這本文筆流暢很引人入勝﹐書中舉出的例子也讓讀者大開眼界。不過看罷全書雖然腦袋覺得很充實﹐但有點像看荷里活大片一樣﹐畫面目不暇昅但內容很空洞的感覺。作者花了大半本書指出的理論﹐其實卻不過是老生常談。我們中國人有句說話﹐一命二運三風水﹐就己慨括他想要說的主題了。我買回來後極速看完這本書﹐想不到今期經濟學人雜誌有篇書評﹐竟然用半頁紙便慨括書中的重點。早知我不用花時間讀全本書﹐用幾分鐘看看書評更省時方便。

13 comments to Outliers – Malcolm Gladwell

  • vwkyau

    我也覺得Outliers非常一般, 所以無買 😀 但Blink我覺得不錯, 值得一讀. 其中作者都算文筆幾有意思. 如果要就同我借啦. 至於Tipping Point, 我覺得就更一般了.

  • vwkyau

    啊! 仲有樣! 我最近看了一套日本劇, Galileo, 我想你都會有興趣. 網址: http://www.crunchyroll.com 內搜索

  • 你是第二個向我推介神探伽里略的人﹐看來這部戲一定要看。
    Blink同Tipping Point我聽audio book﹐有人讀就冇咁悶。

  • Thanks for a well written piece. It should be quite insightful for those that haven’t read the book and like to see if they want to give it a try.

    There are a few minor points of clarification, I hope you don’t mind me being direct.

    1) “小學冰球校隊” is not strictly correct. While I am no hockey expert, but according to this random, non-official site,
    http://www.thehockeysource.tv/sectionsourceknowledge/hockey101.php
    “In hockey, there are teams for each age group from 5 to 17 year old. Each age group has a name as shown in the table below. ”
    So kids that are 5 years old are hardly “小學” yet, I think. 🙂 In Canada, kids start playing hockey when they are tiny (and are quite cute).

    2) In the discussion of the Bill Gates story, it may be useful to point out that his high school was one of the rare one that had computer access.

    3) “至於美國全部大律師行也是猶太人開設的原因” Hmmm, I missed the point that he claimed “美國全部大律師”, it is a rather extraordinary claim if he had made such claim. I doubt it as it is too much work to claim and verify “全部”.

    4) “豈料八十年代開始企業官司大行其道﹐專門打這些官司 …” I think he talked about merger and acquisition, and M&A activities are decidedly NOT lawsuits. 🙂

    5) “銳變成為全球最安全的航空公司。” minor translation error in claiming “最安全的”. It is just one of the “最安全的”, and not (the safest)”最安全的”.

    6) I have to disagree with your statements of
    “我們中國人有句說話﹐一命二運三風水﹐就己慨括他想要說的主題了。” What about his 10,000 hours theory?

    “今期經濟學人雜誌有篇書評﹐竟然用半頁紙便慨括書中的重點。早知我不用花時間讀全本書﹐用幾分鐘看看書評更省時方便。” I am not sure I can politely comment on what you said here (without attacking you and the HK education system), so I won’t say anything. 🙂

    Finally, hevangel, you’ve done a great job with this book highlight. Keep up the good work. I will be sending the link to some of my friends for them to check it out.

    In case you find Warren Buffett’s 900+ pages biography “The Snowball” a possible interesting book to check out, here is my “Best of”/review of the book. And I will never recommend anyone skip reading a good book because they can just read a book review or summary. 🙂
    http://kempton.wordpress.com/2008/09/27/kemptons-snowball/

    Regards,
    Kempton

  • By the way, while he doesn’t have too many books published, but he does keep a somewhat active blog. And he does often write for the New Yorker. Both are available for free reading.

    Here is his blog FYI,
    http://gladwell.typepad.com/

  • Yeap. Yeap. I follow Gladwell’s New Yorker articles. I found he recycle some ideas from New Yorker in Outliers.

  • Yeah, my book summary is a bit sloppy on the use of qualifiers. Malcolm’s book is fine, it’s just my poor writing.

    Regarding the Economist article, Outliers is quite disappointing compare to Blink or Tipping Point. The idea is not that original. It’s a good read, but time can better spent elsewhere.

    一命二運三風水﹐下一句係四積陰德五讀書嘛。10000 hours rule, only apply if you are already in the right place a the right time.

  • Haha, I won’t say sloppy but your uses of qualifiers are quite liberal. 🙂

    Hmm, sometimes you don’t know if you are in the right place or not so it is better spend time on things we love to do anyway and the 10,000 hours may “magically” appear effortlessly.

    I count Warren Buffett’s collecting of sofdrinks bottle caps part of his 10,000 hours but then we only know that time was part of his 10,000 hours in hind sight only.

    Keep up the good work as I love to read more book summaries from you. (remember to double check those qualifiers (big smile))

  • 據那位作者所講,中國人特別聰明,是因為種米經常要用腦,用得多,自然聰明?

    那位猶太人呢?作者有無解釋到呢?

    另,所謂一萬小時的理論,我認為適用於大部份情況,但總有例外,起碼莫札特在成為天才前,肯定沒有經過一萬小時的訓練,反而貝多芬就不止不萬小時。即使貝多芬成才後,也是出名死改爛改的。

  • 薯﹕

    猶太人特別聰明﹐是因為猶太人不能做農民﹐世世代代也是在城市中居住﹐作小生意或半專業人工﹐都係要用腦的工作。

    Malcolm都有講莫札特﹐其實以為莫札特不用訓練是天才只是錯覺﹐他大部份名作都是成年後才寫的﹐那時他已經彈了一萬小時的琴。

    Kempton:
    The 10000 hour rules is a imply operator. A => B means if A is true, B must be true. If you are successful, you must have at least 10000 hours under your belt, but it doesn’t say anything on the other direction.

  • 莫札特三歲懂彈琴,四歲識作曲,跟古往今來的同齡兒童比較,應該是天才吧。

    另,日本人做事認真,倒值得研究一下。

  • 莫札特是天才兒童﹐但是他四歲作的曲不過爾爾﹐還未成大器。

  • Horace,

    As I wrote, “… sometimes you don’t know if you are in the right place or not so it is better spend time on things we love to do anyway and the 10,000 hours may “magically” appear effortlessly.”

    It may be nice if we can plan how we spend our time with the full benefit of hindsight. Unfortunately, and may be fortunately, we don’t always have the benefit of hindsight (which the author has plenty).

    Anyway, while your use of logic is quite demonstrative. The fact that the author didn’t say anything on the other direction should probably not be taken as the 10,000 hours spent on something (or anything is not important).

    Thinking more about your use of the Chinese saying of 一命二運三風水四積陰德五讀書, I think it is rather different from Gladwell’s points of timing plus effort.

Leave a Reply