Malcolm Gladwell: The True Meaning of “Gifted”


Outliers is definitely Malcolm Gladwell’s finest book to date.  And I am going to keep this review really simple, because the simplicity of Malcolm’s book has earned it.  I read the book in one sitting and found myself welcoming the morining sun as I read the last sentences.  I simply could not put the book down.

According to Malcolm, there are two things that make you gifted.  First, why, how, when, who, where, what and how much you were born into and lived in, the gift of your environment.  Second, how many hours you practiced, the gift of hard work.  And the two were interdependent.  There were no born prodigies or self-made successes in this world.  There were instead many world-made, effort-made successes, and repeating world-made, effort-made success was not that difficult.  The world could be tailored to gift most children by grouping them by narrower margins of maturity, going over the material slowly to develop comprehension and then practice, practice, practice at school and at home.  And if the children need a summer break, a change is better than a rest.  Give them two months of educational field trips or meaningful apprenticeships.

There is even a good argument that we should adopt the Cantonese verbal language for our number system.  It would be the greatest leap forward since we adopted Arabic numerals.

I think Outliers is not only recognition that individuals are gifted by the world and practice, it is also a recognition that we are now in a world of competing agri-cultural philosophies.  The West is accustomed to one planting, a unhurried summer, one harvest and a winter’s hibernation.  The East is accustomed to two to three intense plantings, two to three intense cultivations, two to three intense harvests and an intense preparation over a dry season for the next first planting.  Where the West may only have worked 1000 hours annually the East worked 3000 hours annually.  The gap between Western and Eastern philosophies regarding work are just as profound.

Eastern agricultural philosophy makes the Western agricultural philosophy leisurely and statistics make the self-made man delusional.

The one thing left out is which offers the greater quantity and quality of life?  How much time is spent in the play state as opposed to the work state?  Which gifts us a better world?

3 Responses to “Malcolm Gladwell: The True Meaning of “Gifted””

  1. Rita Haehnlein Says:

    Eastern agricultural philosophy makes the Protestant work ethic leisurely ….

    That sounds jumbled to me. Eastern philosophy …ok, agricultural philosophy….? ….Eastern agricultural philosophy…?…What is that ?….Agriculture …that means farming! Farmers and philosophy?…Science ?…Yes, today’s
    Farming operations are often huge. Farmers turned into business men, into agriculturists with degrees.
    And juxtapositioning “Eastern agricultural philosophy” against Protestant work ethics….what is that?
    Protestant…now we are into religion.
    Why pick on Protestants? What is wrong (or right in this case) with Catholics? Or with all Christians for that matter?

    I think what Grant Czerepak tries to compare are Eastern versus Western work ethics. There might be nothing wrong with either ethic view point per se -It depends on the individual – but rather with the self-concept of each person brought up in either culture; meaning, how they see themselves in their society/community and their commitment to life within it.

    And here is something that speaks to the above and hopefully puts a smile on your face. I can well imagine that
    a letter was the inspiration, before it became ‘doctored’ and embellished. On the other hand it might be completely true.
    Life in the Australian Army…

    Text of a letter from a kid from Eromanga to Mum and Dad. (For those of you not in the know, Eromanga is a small town, west of Quilpie in the far south west of Queensland )

    Dear Mum & Dad,

    I am well. Hope youse are too. Tell me big brothers Doug and Phil that the Army is better than workin’ on the farm – tell them to get in bloody quick smart before the jobs are all gone! I wuz a bit slow in settling down at first, because ya don’t hafta get outta bed until 6am. But I like sleeping in now, cuz all ya gotta do before brekky is make ya bed and shine ya boots and clean ya uniform. No bloody cows to milk, no calves to feed, no feed to stack – nothin’!! Ya haz gotta shower though, but its not so bad, coz there’s lotsa hot water and even a light to see what ya doing!

    At brekky ya get cereal, fruit and eggs but there’s no kangaroo steaks or possum stew like wot Mum makes. You don’t get fed again until noon and by that time all the city boys are buggered because we’ve been on a ‘route march’ – geez its only just like walking to the windmill in the back paddock!!

    This one will kill me brothers Doug and Phil with laughter. I keep getting medals for shootin’ – dunno why. The bullseye is as big as a bloody possum’s bum and it don’t move and it’s not firing back at ya like the Johnsons did when our big scrubber bull got into their prize cows before the Ekka last year! All ya gotta do is make yourself comfortable and hit the target – it’s a piece of piss!! You don’t even load your own cartridges, they comes in little boxes, and ya don’t have to steady yourself against the rollbar of the roo shooting truck when you reload!

    Sometimes ya gotta wrestle with the city boys and I gotta be real careful coz they break easy – it’s not like fighting with Doug and Phil and Jack and Boori and Steve and Muzza all at once like we do at home after the muster.

    Turns out I’m not a bad boxer either and it looks like I’m the best the platoon’s got, and I’ve only been beaten by this one bloke from the Engineers – he’s 6 foot 5 and 15 stone and three pick handles across the shoulders and as ya know I’m only 5 foot 7 and eight stone wringin’ wet, but I fought him till the other blokes carried me off to the boozer.

    I can’t complain about the Army – tell the boys to get in quick before word gets around how bloody good it is.

    Your loving daughter,


  2. Rita Haehnlein Says:

    “…there are two things that make you gifted. First, why, how, when, who, where, what and how much you were born into and lived in. Second, how many hours you practiced. And the two were interdependent. ”
    Now those two points I completely agree with.”Gifted” people are born with certain talents. That -in itself- does not mean much, because talents can and should be developed and honed. Yes, practice, practice practice. If the “gifted” person happens to be a child, often the talent is more based on parents’ wishful thinking than based in reality. Either way, If the child gets pushed beyond its limits it will abandon the pursuit the moment the pressure is off, and possibly even display an extreme aversion to anything related to the subject of its former ‘torture’, the practice!

    Many of you might have heard the saying: How do you get to Carnegie Hall? Practice, practice, practice! Here is an example:

    • grant czerepak Says:

      Rita, I suggest you look into the book. And I think you should learn something about Eastern and Western agriculture.

      Secondly, the book’s message is not that gifted is a trait of the child, it is the trait of the environment the child is born into.

      Thirdly, when prodigies were studied it was found that the only thing that made them prodigies was they had practiced more than anyone else.

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