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Tuesday, 24 April 2012

This book is a study of genius and what makes some people very high achievers.

The author's conclusion is that genius is that genius is not something iniate, an intelligence or gift that a person is born with. Rather it is something that is developed. High achievers often seem to have first mover advantages getting an initial lead that means they build more experience and are that little bit better than those that just miss out. So it is not so much that genius are unique as born in the right place at the right time. He invokes a 10,000 hour rule which is a rule of thumb which states that you are likely to be expert at anything if you devote that much time to it. Often the number of spaces at the top(or in the team or industry or group) are limited. Those who are the first to get 10,000 hours of football in, or hockey, or computer programming will become the elite. Those who get their second will never be able to catch up. This explains why many of the founders of the large computer companies are the same age(they got the 10,000 in first), why footballers tend to have birthdays clustered around certain months(those in certain months get picked for the most game and why the Beatles dominated pop music(they got thousands of hours playing in Germany and Liverpool).

There is an interesting chapter which looks at the history of air crashes and how different societies lead to different interactions between pilot and co-pilot. Cultures where subordinates are able to criticise their superiors have better safety records as co-pilots are actually able to overrule their pilots. The point is presumably the culture is a key driver in human activity. I found this rather fascinating, although it almost seemed like it could be built into another book.

A criticism of the book is that often I do not feel the author actually proves his point. It is still plausible that some geniuses have some innate advantage. He seems to pick a few anecdotes that do back up his argument. But on the other hand it seems his books are often designed to encourage you to think about things in a slightly different way. I suspect that even the author is not discounting natural intelligence or an individual’s hard work, but arguing that environment is important too.