Sunday, January 4, 2009

what I'm reading: outliers

I just finished reading Outliers: The Story of Success - the newest book by Tipping Point author Malcolm Gladwell.  It was one of about a dozen books I got for Christmas, and I chose to start with it because I knew it would be an easier, enjoyable read.  Just as with the Tipping Point, Gladwell looks at the world around us and comes up with new reasons for why things happen the way they do.

In Outliers, he argues that success is not so much a product of personal achievement, but occurs by a combination of circumstance, opportunities, and culture.  It is often factors beyond our control that create the opportunities for some people to be enormously successful.  While its difficult to disagree with Gladwell's arguments, I find them a bit frustrating.  It really seems like so much of success happens by chance, and while Gladwell gives examples of how society's can increase their peoples chances of success, there doesn't seem to be a lot you can do on an individual level.

The most interesting concept for me was the idea that it takes 10,000 hours to truly become proficient at something.  Gladwell sites examples ranging from professional Canadian hockey players, to Bill Gates, to the Beatles - all of whom had opportunities to get in 10,000 hours before their peers, thereby making them more successful.

The 10,000 hours concept makes me curious about the students I teach.  Every semester that I teach beginning jewelry/metals, I always have one or two students who seem to have a natural affinity for the material - an innate set of hand skills.  After reading Outliers, I wonder if this is actually the case.  I'd love to know more about the childhoods of my students.  Did the ones with the "natural ability" spend more time building and making things and just using their hands as children?  Were they already closer to 10,000 hours of manual dexterity than their peers?  Is there a way to predict which students will be the most talented metalsmiths based on their childhood experiences?  

I'm already interested in understanding the growing lack of hand skills among my students.  Now, I'd like to apply the theories in Outliers to see if there really is a way to predict which students might be the most successful metalsmiths and if there is a way to help all my students become more successful.


michelle pajak-reynolds said...

Very interesting. Outliers is on my list of books to read for 2009.

I have an idea for learning more about your students' childhood experinces. Have them make a piece that represents one of their favorite childhood hands-on memories. In addition to the physical act of making, they could write a small essay about their piece and the memory that it illustrates.

aumantm said...

Tactile experiences evoke strong emotional responses because memories are encoded in the limbic system. Also a multi-modal approach such as working with a hands on activity and then switching over to a written essay can help to reflect upon the experience.

megan said...

thanks michelle - that's a really nice idea. now i'm trying to think which project that would fit best with.

boy tim - when did you get so smart?