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Malcolm Gladwell

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Gladwell in 2008
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We have, as human beings, a storytelling problem. We're a bit too quick to come up with explanations for things we don't really have an explanation for.
—Malcolm Gladwell, accidentally describing his own work[1]

Malcolm Gladwell (1963–) is a well known British\-born Canadian author of pop-sociology books such as Outliers:The Story of Success, David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants, and Tipping Point: How Little Things Make a Big Difference. The common theme of his works is that major world changing people, events, and ideas, all have innocuous commonalities that are the secret to their success, delivered in the form of several short narratives.

While the human appeal of his stories is very high, the actual utility of his analyses are hampered by immeasurably large sums of bullshit survivorship bias, selection bias, and confirmation bias. For example, in Outliers, Gladwell presents a narrative that all early tech billionaires were born in the exact same year, 1955 (a fact demonstrated by ignoring the ones that weren't), had a childhood hardship that taught them to overcome adversity (but defined in a vague way that can allow it to apply to anyone), and that most dropped out of college. All while carefully ignoring the hundreds of thousands of people who had the same life story and ended up broke.

10,000 Hour Rule[edit]

A now common belief, popularized by Malcolm Gladwell, in the book Outliers, is that 10,000 hours is the "magic number" of diligent focused practice to become a master at a skill. He cited a fairly focused study that looked at amateur and professional musicians at various instruments as the basis for this rule. While subsequent research has found some consistency of the importance of deliberate practice in games, music, and sports, the 10,000 hour barrier seems to be purely an artifact of the methodology of the particular study he cited. And in the area of office professions, to which Outliers implied that the rule was central, deliberate practice hours explains about 1% of variation in performance[2].


  1. Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking by Malcolm Gladwell (2005) Little, Brown and Company. ISBN 0316172324. p. 69.
  2. Deliberate practice and performance in music, games, sports, education, and professions: a meta-analysis. PubMed, 2016.