Why Do We Love Tall Men?

Q and A with Malcolm

1. What is Blink about?

It’s a book about rapid cognition, buy information pills about the kind of thinking that happens in a blink of an eye. When you meet someone for the first time, or walk into a house you are thinking of buying, or read the first few sentences of a book, your mind takes about two seconds to jump to a series of conclusions. Well, Blink is a book about those two seconds, because I think those instant conclusions that we reach are really powerful and really important and, occasionally, really good.

You could also say that it’s a book about intuition, except that I don’t like that word. In fact it never appears in Blink. Intuition strikes me as a concept we use to describe emotional reactions, gut feelings–thoughts and impressions that don’t seem entirely rational. But I think that what goes on in that first two seconds is perfectly rational. It’s thinking–its just thinking that moves a little faster and operates a little more mysteriously than the kind of deliberate, conscious decision-making that we usually associate with “thinking.” In Blink I’m trying to understand those two seconds. What is going on inside our heads when we engage in rapid cognition? When are snap judgments good and when are they not? What kinds of things can we do to make our powers of rapid cognition better?

2. How can thinking that takes place so quickly be at all useful? Don’t we make the best decisions when we take the time to carefully evaluate all available and relevant information?

Certainly that’s what we’ve always been told. We live in a society dedicated to the idea that we’re always better off gathering as much information and spending as much time as possible in deliberation. As children, this lesson is drummed into us again and again: haste makes waste, look before you leap, stop and think. But I don’t think this is true. There are lots of situations–particularly at times of high pressure and stress–when haste does not make waste, when our snap judgments and first impressions offer a much better means of making sense of the world.

One of the stories I tell in Blink is about the Emergency Room doctors at Cook County Hospital in Chicago. That’s the big public hospital in Chicago, and a few years ago they changed the way they diagnosed heart attacks. They instructed their doctors to gather less information on their patients: they encouraged them to zero in on just a few critical pieces of information about patients suffering from chest pain–like blood pressure and the ECG–while ignoring everything else, like the patient’s age and weight and medical history. And what happened? Cook County is now one of the best places in the United States at diagnosing chest pain.

Not surprisingly, it was really hard to convince the physicians at Cook County to go along with the plan, because, like all of us, they were committed to the idea that more information is always better. But I describe lots of cases in Blink where that simply isn’t true. There’s a wonderful phrase in psychology–“the power of thin slicing”–which says that as human beings we are capable of making sense of situations based on the thinnest slice of experience. I have an entire chapter in Blink on how unbelievably powerful our thin-slicing skills are. I have to say that I still find some of the examples in that chapter hard to believe.

3. Where did you get the idea for Blink?

Believe it or not, it’s because I decided, a few years ago, to grow my hair long. If you look at the author photo on my last book, The Tipping Point, you’ll see that it used to be cut very short and conservatively. But, on a whim, I let it grow wild, as it had been when I was teenager. Immediately, in very small but significant ways, my life changed. I started getting speeding tickets all the time–and I had never gotten any before. I started getting pulled out of airport security lines for special attention. And one day, while walking along 14th Street in downtown Manhattan, a police van pulled up on the sidewalk, and three officers jumped out. They were looking, it turned out, for a rapist, and the rapist, they said, looked a lot like me. They pulled out the sketch and the description. I looked at it, and pointed out to them as nicely as I could that in fact the rapist looked nothing at all like me. He was much taller, and much heavier, and about fifteen years younger (and, I added, in a largely futile attempt at humor, not nearly as good-looking.) All we had in common was a large head of curly hair. After twenty minutes or so, the officers finally agreed with me, and let me go. On a scale of things, I realize this was a trivial misunderstanding. African-Americans in the United States suffer indignities far worse than this all the time. But what struck me was how even more subtle and absurd the stereotyping was in my case: this wasn’t about something really obvious like skin color, or age, or height, or weight. It was just about hair. Something about the first impression created by my hair derailed every other consideration in the hunt for the rapist, and the impression formed in those first two seconds exerted a powerful hold over the officers’ thinking over the next twenty minutes. That episode on the street got me thinking about the weird power of first impressions.

4. But that’s an example of a bad case of thin-slicing. The police officers jumped to a conclusion about you that was wrong. Does Blink talk about when rapid cognition goes awry?

Yes. That’s a big part of the book as well. I’m very interested in figuring out those kinds of situations where we need to be careful with our powers of rapid cognition. For instance, I have a chapter where I talk a lot about what it means for a man to be tall. I called up several hundred of the Fortune 500 companies in the U.S. and asked them how tall their CEOs were. And the answer is that they are almost all tall. Now that’s weird. There is no correlation between height and intelligence, or height and judgment, or height and the ability to motivate and lead people. But for some reason corporations overwhelmingly choose tall people for leadership roles. I think that’s an example of bad rapid cognition: there is something going on in the first few seconds of meeting a tall person which makes us predisposed toward thinking of that person as an effective leader, the same way that the police looked at my hair and decided I resembled a criminal. I call this the “Warren Harding Error” (you’ll have to read Blink to figure out why), and I think we make Warren Harding Errors in all kind of situations– particularly when it comes to hiring. With Blink, I’m trying to help people distinguish their good rapid cognition from their bad rapid cognition.

5. What kind of a book is Blink?

I used to get that question all the time with The Tipping Point, and I never really had a good answer. The best I could come up with was to say that it was an intellectual adventure story. I would describe Blink the same way. There is a lot of psychology in this book. In fact, the core of the book is research from a very new and quite extraordinary field in psychology that hasn’t really been written about yet for a general audience. But those ideas are illustrated using stories from literally every corner of society. In just the first four chapters, I discuss, among other things: marriage, World War Two code-breaking, ancient Greek sculpture, New Jersey’s best car dealer, Tom Hanks, speed-dating, medical malpractice, how to hit a topspin forehand, and what you can learn from someone by looking around their bedroom. So what does that make Blink? Fun, I hope.

6. What do you want people to take away from Blink?

I guess I just want to get people to take rapid cognition seriously. When it comes to something like dating, we all readily admit to the importance of what happens in the first instant when two people meet. But we won’t admit to the importance of what happens in the first two seconds when we talk about what happens when someone encounters a new idea, or when we interview someone for a job, or when a military general has to make a decision in the heat of battle.

The Tipping Point was concerned with grand themes, with figuring out the rules by which social change happens. Blink is quite different. It is concerned with the smallest components of our everyday lives–with the content and origin of those instantaneous impressions and conclusions that bubble up whenever we meet a new person, or confront a complex situation, or have to make a decision under conditions of stress. I think its time we paid more attention to those fleeting moments. I think that if we did, it would change the way wars are fought, the kind of products we see on the shelves, the kinds of movies that get made, the way police officers are trained, the way couples are counseled, the way job interviews are conducted and on and on–and if you combine all those little changes together you end up with a different and happier world.

Q and A with Malcolm

1. What is Blink about?

It’s a book about rapid cognition, buy information pills about the kind of thinking that happens in a blink of an eye. When you meet someone for the first time, or walk into a house you are thinking of buying, or read the first few sentences of a book, your mind takes about two seconds to jump to a series of conclusions. Well, Blink is a book about those two seconds, because I think those instant conclusions that we reach are really powerful and really important and, occasionally, really good.

You could also say that it’s a book about intuition, except that I don’t like that word. In fact it never appears in Blink. Intuition strikes me as a concept we use to describe emotional reactions, gut feelings–thoughts and impressions that don’t seem entirely rational. But I think that what goes on in that first two seconds is perfectly rational. It’s thinking–its just thinking that moves a little faster and operates a little more mysteriously than the kind of deliberate, conscious decision-making that we usually associate with “thinking.” In Blink I’m trying to understand those two seconds. What is going on inside our heads when we engage in rapid cognition? When are snap judgments good and when are they not? What kinds of things can we do to make our powers of rapid cognition better?

2. How can thinking that takes place so quickly be at all useful? Don’t we make the best decisions when we take the time to carefully evaluate all available and relevant information?

Certainly that’s what we’ve always been told. We live in a society dedicated to the idea that we’re always better off gathering as much information and spending as much time as possible in deliberation. As children, this lesson is drummed into us again and again: haste makes waste, look before you leap, stop and think. But I don’t think this is true. There are lots of situations–particularly at times of high pressure and stress–when haste does not make waste, when our snap judgments and first impressions offer a much better means of making sense of the world.

One of the stories I tell in Blink is about the Emergency Room doctors at Cook County Hospital in Chicago. That’s the big public hospital in Chicago, and a few years ago they changed the way they diagnosed heart attacks. They instructed their doctors to gather less information on their patients: they encouraged them to zero in on just a few critical pieces of information about patients suffering from chest pain–like blood pressure and the ECG–while ignoring everything else, like the patient’s age and weight and medical history. And what happened? Cook County is now one of the best places in the United States at diagnosing chest pain.

Not surprisingly, it was really hard to convince the physicians at Cook County to go along with the plan, because, like all of us, they were committed to the idea that more information is always better. But I describe lots of cases in Blink where that simply isn’t true. There’s a wonderful phrase in psychology–“the power of thin slicing”–which says that as human beings we are capable of making sense of situations based on the thinnest slice of experience. I have an entire chapter in Blink on how unbelievably powerful our thin-slicing skills are. I have to say that I still find some of the examples in that chapter hard to believe.

3. Where did you get the idea for Blink?

Believe it or not, it’s because I decided, a few years ago, to grow my hair long. If you look at the author photo on my last book, The Tipping Point, you’ll see that it used to be cut very short and conservatively. But, on a whim, I let it grow wild, as it had been when I was teenager. Immediately, in very small but significant ways, my life changed. I started getting speeding tickets all the time–and I had never gotten any before. I started getting pulled out of airport security lines for special attention. And one day, while walking along 14th Street in downtown Manhattan, a police van pulled up on the sidewalk, and three officers jumped out. They were looking, it turned out, for a rapist, and the rapist, they said, looked a lot like me. They pulled out the sketch and the description. I looked at it, and pointed out to them as nicely as I could that in fact the rapist looked nothing at all like me. He was much taller, and much heavier, and about fifteen years younger (and, I added, in a largely futile attempt at humor, not nearly as good-looking.) All we had in common was a large head of curly hair. After twenty minutes or so, the officers finally agreed with me, and let me go. On a scale of things, I realize this was a trivial misunderstanding. African-Americans in the United States suffer indignities far worse than this all the time. But what struck me was how even more subtle and absurd the stereotyping was in my case: this wasn’t about something really obvious like skin color, or age, or height, or weight. It was just about hair. Something about the first impression created by my hair derailed every other consideration in the hunt for the rapist, and the impression formed in those first two seconds exerted a powerful hold over the officers’ thinking over the next twenty minutes. That episode on the street got me thinking about the weird power of first impressions.

4. But that’s an example of a bad case of thin-slicing. The police officers jumped to a conclusion about you that was wrong. Does Blink talk about when rapid cognition goes awry?

Yes. That’s a big part of the book as well. I’m very interested in figuring out those kinds of situations where we need to be careful with our powers of rapid cognition. For instance, I have a chapter where I talk a lot about what it means for a man to be tall. I called up several hundred of the Fortune 500 companies in the U.S. and asked them how tall their CEOs were. And the answer is that they are almost all tall. Now that’s weird. There is no correlation between height and intelligence, or height and judgment, or height and the ability to motivate and lead people. But for some reason corporations overwhelmingly choose tall people for leadership roles. I think that’s an example of bad rapid cognition: there is something going on in the first few seconds of meeting a tall person which makes us predisposed toward thinking of that person as an effective leader, the same way that the police looked at my hair and decided I resembled a criminal. I call this the “Warren Harding Error” (you’ll have to read Blink to figure out why), and I think we make Warren Harding Errors in all kind of situations– particularly when it comes to hiring. With Blink, I’m trying to help people distinguish their good rapid cognition from their bad rapid cognition.

5. What kind of a book is Blink?

I used to get that question all the time with The Tipping Point, and I never really had a good answer. The best I could come up with was to say that it was an intellectual adventure story. I would describe Blink the same way. There is a lot of psychology in this book. In fact, the core of the book is research from a very new and quite extraordinary field in psychology that hasn’t really been written about yet for a general audience. But those ideas are illustrated using stories from literally every corner of society. In just the first four chapters, I discuss, among other things: marriage, World War Two code-breaking, ancient Greek sculpture, New Jersey’s best car dealer, Tom Hanks, speed-dating, medical malpractice, how to hit a topspin forehand, and what you can learn from someone by looking around their bedroom. So what does that make Blink? Fun, I hope.

6. What do you want people to take away from Blink?

I guess I just want to get people to take rapid cognition seriously. When it comes to something like dating, we all readily admit to the importance of what happens in the first instant when two people meet. But we won’t admit to the importance of what happens in the first two seconds when we talk about what happens when someone encounters a new idea, or when we interview someone for a job, or when a military general has to make a decision in the heat of battle.

The Tipping Point was concerned with grand themes, with figuring out the rules by which social change happens. Blink is quite different. It is concerned with the smallest components of our everyday lives–with the content and origin of those instantaneous impressions and conclusions that bubble up whenever we meet a new person, or confront a complex situation, or have to make a decision under conditions of stress. I think its time we paid more attention to those fleeting moments. I think that if we did, it would change the way wars are fought, the kind of products we see on the shelves, the kinds of movies that get made, the way police officers are trained, the way couples are counseled, the way job interviews are conducted and on and on–and if you combine all those little changes together you end up with a different and happier world.

What is Outliers about?

1. What is an outlier?

“Outlier” is a scientific term to describe things or phenomena that lie outside normal experience. In the summer, check in Paris, discount we expect most days to be somewhere between warm and very hot. But imagine if you had a day in the middle of August where the temperature fell below freezing. That day would be outlier. And while we have a very good understanding of why summer days in Paris are warm or hot, cialis we know a good deal less about why a summer day in Paris might be freezing cold. In this book I’m interested in people who are outliers—in men and women who, for one reason or another, are so accomplished and so extraordinary and so outside of ordinary experience that they are as puzzling to the rest of us as a cold day in August.

2. Why did you write Outliers?

I write books when I find myself returning again and again, in my mind, to the same themes. I wrote The Tipping Point because I was fascinated by the sudden drop in crime in New York City—and that fascination grew to an interest in the whole idea of epidemics and epidemic processes. I wrote Blink because I began to get obsessed, in the same way, with the way that all of us seem to make up our minds about other people in an instant—without really doing any real thinking. In the case of Outliers, the book grew out a frustration I found myself having with the way we explain the careers of really successful people. You know how you hear someone say of Bill Gates or some rock star or some other outlier—”they’re really smart,” or “they’re really ambitious?’ Well, I know lots of people who are really smart and really ambitious, and they aren’t worth 60 billion dollars. It struck me that our understanding of success was really crude—and there was an opportunity to dig down and come up with a better set of explanations.

3. In what way are our explanations of success “crude?”

That’s a bit of a puzzle because we certainly don’t lack for interest in the subject. If you go to the bookstore, you can find a hundred success manuals, or biographies of famous people, or self-help books that promise to outline the six keys to great achievement. (Or is it seven?) So we should be pretty sophisticated on the topic. What I came to realize in writing Outliers, though, is that we’ve been far too focused on the individual—on describing the characteristics and habits and personality traits of those who get furthest ahead in the world. And that’s the problem, because in order to understand the outlier I think you have to look around them—at their culture and community and family and generation. We’ve been looking at tall trees, and I think we should have been looking at the forest.

4. Can you give some examples?

Sure. For example, one of the chapters looks at the fact that a surprising number of the most powerful and successful corporate lawyers in New York City have almost the exact same biography: they are Jewish men, born in the Bronx or Brooklyn in the mid-1930’s to immigrant parents who worked in the garment industry. Now, you can call that a coincidence. Or you can ask—as I do—what is about being Jewish and being part of the generation born in the Depression and having parents who worked in the garment business that might have something to do with turning someone into a really, really successful lawyer? And the answer is that you can learn a huge amount about why someone reaches the top of that profession by asking those questions.

5. Doesn’t that make it sound like success is something outside of an individual’s control?

I don’t mean to go that far. But I do think that we vastly underestimate the extent to which success happens because of things the individual has nothing to do with. Outliers opens, for example, by examining why a hugely disproportionate number of professional hockey and soccer players are born in January, February and March. I’m not going to spoil things for you by giving you the answer. But the point is that very best hockey players are people who are talented and work hard but who also benefit from the weird and largely unexamined and peculiar ways in which their world is organized. I actually have a lot of fun with birthdates in Outliers. Did you know that there’s a magic year to be born if you want to be a software entrepreneur? And another magic year to be born if you want to be really rich? In fact, one nine year stretch turns out to have produced more Outliers than any other period in history. It’s remarkable how many patterns you can find in the lives of successful people, when you look closely.

6. What’s the most surprising pattern you uncovered in the book?

It’s probably the chapter nearly the end of Outliers where I talk about plane crashes. How good a pilot is, it turns out, has a lot to do with where that pilot is from—that is, the culture he or she was raised in. I was actually stunned by how strong the connection is between culture and crashes, and it’s something that I would never have dreamed was true, in a million years.

7. Wait. Does this mean that there are some airlines that I should avoid?

Yes. Although, as I point out in Outliers, by acknowledging the role that culture plays in piloting, some of the most unsafe airlines have actually begun to clean up their act.

8. In The Tipping Point, you had an entire chapter on suicide. In Blink, you ended the book with a long chapter on the Diallo shooting—and now plane crashes. Do you have a macabre side?

Yes! I’m a frustrated thriller writer! But seriously, there’s a good reason for that. I think that we learn more from extreme circumstances than anything else; disasters tell us something about the way we think and behave that we can’t learn from ordinary life. That’s the premise of Outliers. It’s those who lie outside ordinary experience who have the most to teach us.

9. How does this book compare to Blink and The Tipping Point?

It’s different, in the sense that it’s much more focused on people and their stories. The subtitle—”The Story of Success”—is supposed to signal that. A lot of the book is an attempt to describe the lives of successful people, but to tell their stories in a different way than we’re used to. I have a chapter that deals, in part, with explaining the extraordinary success of Bill Gates. But I’m not interested in anything that happened to him past the age of about 17. Or I have a chapter explaining why Asian schoolchildren are so good at math. But it’s focused almost entirely on what the grandparents and great-grandparents and great-great grandparents of those schoolchildren did for a living. You’ll meet more people in Outliers than in my previous two books.

10. What was your most memorable experience in researching Outliers?

There were so many! I’ll never forget the time I spent with Chris Langan, who might be the smartest man in the world. I’ve never been able to feel someone’s intellect before, the way I could with him. It was an intimidating experience, but also profoundly heartbreaking—as I hope becomes apparent in “The Trouble with Geniuses” chapter. I also went to south China and hung out in rice paddies, and went to this weird little town in eastern Pennsylvania where no one ever has a heart attack, and deciphered aircraft “black box” recorders with crash investigators. I should warn all potential readers that once you get interested in the world of plane crashes, it becomes very hard to tear yourself away. I’m still obsessed.

11. What do you want people to take away from Outliers?

I think this is the way in which Outliers is a lot like Blink and The Tipping Point. They are all attempts to make us think about the world a little differently. The hope with The Tipping Point was it would help the reader understand that real change was possible. With Blink, I wanted to get people to take the enormous power of their intuition seriously. My wish with Outliers is that it makes us understand how much of a group project success is. When outliers become outliers it is not just because of their own efforts. It’s because of the contributions of lots of different people and lots of different circumstances— and that means that we, as a society, have more control about who succeeds—and how many of us succeed—than we think. That’s an amazingly hopeful and uplifting idea.

12. I noticed that the book is dedicated to “Daisy.” Who is she?

Daisy is my grandmother. She was a remarkable woman, who was responsible for my mother’s success—for the fact that my mother was able to get out of the little rural village in Jamaica where she grew up, get a university education in England and ultimately meet and marry my father. The last chapter of Outliers is an attempt to understand how Daisy was able to make that happen—using all the lessons learned over the course of the book. I’ve never written something quite this personal before. I hope readers find her story as moving as I did.

Q and A with Malcolm

1. What is Blink about?

It’s a book about rapid cognition, buy information pills about the kind of thinking that happens in a blink of an eye. When you meet someone for the first time, or walk into a house you are thinking of buying, or read the first few sentences of a book, your mind takes about two seconds to jump to a series of conclusions. Well, Blink is a book about those two seconds, because I think those instant conclusions that we reach are really powerful and really important and, occasionally, really good.

You could also say that it’s a book about intuition, except that I don’t like that word. In fact it never appears in Blink. Intuition strikes me as a concept we use to describe emotional reactions, gut feelings–thoughts and impressions that don’t seem entirely rational. But I think that what goes on in that first two seconds is perfectly rational. It’s thinking–its just thinking that moves a little faster and operates a little more mysteriously than the kind of deliberate, conscious decision-making that we usually associate with “thinking.” In Blink I’m trying to understand those two seconds. What is going on inside our heads when we engage in rapid cognition? When are snap judgments good and when are they not? What kinds of things can we do to make our powers of rapid cognition better?

2. How can thinking that takes place so quickly be at all useful? Don’t we make the best decisions when we take the time to carefully evaluate all available and relevant information?

Certainly that’s what we’ve always been told. We live in a society dedicated to the idea that we’re always better off gathering as much information and spending as much time as possible in deliberation. As children, this lesson is drummed into us again and again: haste makes waste, look before you leap, stop and think. But I don’t think this is true. There are lots of situations–particularly at times of high pressure and stress–when haste does not make waste, when our snap judgments and first impressions offer a much better means of making sense of the world.

One of the stories I tell in Blink is about the Emergency Room doctors at Cook County Hospital in Chicago. That’s the big public hospital in Chicago, and a few years ago they changed the way they diagnosed heart attacks. They instructed their doctors to gather less information on their patients: they encouraged them to zero in on just a few critical pieces of information about patients suffering from chest pain–like blood pressure and the ECG–while ignoring everything else, like the patient’s age and weight and medical history. And what happened? Cook County is now one of the best places in the United States at diagnosing chest pain.

Not surprisingly, it was really hard to convince the physicians at Cook County to go along with the plan, because, like all of us, they were committed to the idea that more information is always better. But I describe lots of cases in Blink where that simply isn’t true. There’s a wonderful phrase in psychology–“the power of thin slicing”–which says that as human beings we are capable of making sense of situations based on the thinnest slice of experience. I have an entire chapter in Blink on how unbelievably powerful our thin-slicing skills are. I have to say that I still find some of the examples in that chapter hard to believe.

3. Where did you get the idea for Blink?

Believe it or not, it’s because I decided, a few years ago, to grow my hair long. If you look at the author photo on my last book, The Tipping Point, you’ll see that it used to be cut very short and conservatively. But, on a whim, I let it grow wild, as it had been when I was teenager. Immediately, in very small but significant ways, my life changed. I started getting speeding tickets all the time–and I had never gotten any before. I started getting pulled out of airport security lines for special attention. And one day, while walking along 14th Street in downtown Manhattan, a police van pulled up on the sidewalk, and three officers jumped out. They were looking, it turned out, for a rapist, and the rapist, they said, looked a lot like me. They pulled out the sketch and the description. I looked at it, and pointed out to them as nicely as I could that in fact the rapist looked nothing at all like me. He was much taller, and much heavier, and about fifteen years younger (and, I added, in a largely futile attempt at humor, not nearly as good-looking.) All we had in common was a large head of curly hair. After twenty minutes or so, the officers finally agreed with me, and let me go. On a scale of things, I realize this was a trivial misunderstanding. African-Americans in the United States suffer indignities far worse than this all the time. But what struck me was how even more subtle and absurd the stereotyping was in my case: this wasn’t about something really obvious like skin color, or age, or height, or weight. It was just about hair. Something about the first impression created by my hair derailed every other consideration in the hunt for the rapist, and the impression formed in those first two seconds exerted a powerful hold over the officers’ thinking over the next twenty minutes. That episode on the street got me thinking about the weird power of first impressions.

4. But that’s an example of a bad case of thin-slicing. The police officers jumped to a conclusion about you that was wrong. Does Blink talk about when rapid cognition goes awry?

Yes. That’s a big part of the book as well. I’m very interested in figuring out those kinds of situations where we need to be careful with our powers of rapid cognition. For instance, I have a chapter where I talk a lot about what it means for a man to be tall. I called up several hundred of the Fortune 500 companies in the U.S. and asked them how tall their CEOs were. And the answer is that they are almost all tall. Now that’s weird. There is no correlation between height and intelligence, or height and judgment, or height and the ability to motivate and lead people. But for some reason corporations overwhelmingly choose tall people for leadership roles. I think that’s an example of bad rapid cognition: there is something going on in the first few seconds of meeting a tall person which makes us predisposed toward thinking of that person as an effective leader, the same way that the police looked at my hair and decided I resembled a criminal. I call this the “Warren Harding Error” (you’ll have to read Blink to figure out why), and I think we make Warren Harding Errors in all kind of situations– particularly when it comes to hiring. With Blink, I’m trying to help people distinguish their good rapid cognition from their bad rapid cognition.

5. What kind of a book is Blink?

I used to get that question all the time with The Tipping Point, and I never really had a good answer. The best I could come up with was to say that it was an intellectual adventure story. I would describe Blink the same way. There is a lot of psychology in this book. In fact, the core of the book is research from a very new and quite extraordinary field in psychology that hasn’t really been written about yet for a general audience. But those ideas are illustrated using stories from literally every corner of society. In just the first four chapters, I discuss, among other things: marriage, World War Two code-breaking, ancient Greek sculpture, New Jersey’s best car dealer, Tom Hanks, speed-dating, medical malpractice, how to hit a topspin forehand, and what you can learn from someone by looking around their bedroom. So what does that make Blink? Fun, I hope.

6. What do you want people to take away from Blink?

I guess I just want to get people to take rapid cognition seriously. When it comes to something like dating, we all readily admit to the importance of what happens in the first instant when two people meet. But we won’t admit to the importance of what happens in the first two seconds when we talk about what happens when someone encounters a new idea, or when we interview someone for a job, or when a military general has to make a decision in the heat of battle.

The Tipping Point was concerned with grand themes, with figuring out the rules by which social change happens. Blink is quite different. It is concerned with the smallest components of our everyday lives–with the content and origin of those instantaneous impressions and conclusions that bubble up whenever we meet a new person, or confront a complex situation, or have to make a decision under conditions of stress. I think its time we paid more attention to those fleeting moments. I think that if we did, it would change the way wars are fought, the kind of products we see on the shelves, the kinds of movies that get made, the way police officers are trained, the way couples are counseled, the way job interviews are conducted and on and on–and if you combine all those little changes together you end up with a different and happier world.

What is Outliers about?

1. What is an outlier?

“Outlier” is a scientific term to describe things or phenomena that lie outside normal experience. In the summer, check in Paris, discount we expect most days to be somewhere between warm and very hot. But imagine if you had a day in the middle of August where the temperature fell below freezing. That day would be outlier. And while we have a very good understanding of why summer days in Paris are warm or hot, cialis we know a good deal less about why a summer day in Paris might be freezing cold. In this book I’m interested in people who are outliers—in men and women who, for one reason or another, are so accomplished and so extraordinary and so outside of ordinary experience that they are as puzzling to the rest of us as a cold day in August.

2. Why did you write Outliers?

I write books when I find myself returning again and again, in my mind, to the same themes. I wrote The Tipping Point because I was fascinated by the sudden drop in crime in New York City—and that fascination grew to an interest in the whole idea of epidemics and epidemic processes. I wrote Blink because I began to get obsessed, in the same way, with the way that all of us seem to make up our minds about other people in an instant—without really doing any real thinking. In the case of Outliers, the book grew out a frustration I found myself having with the way we explain the careers of really successful people. You know how you hear someone say of Bill Gates or some rock star or some other outlier—”they’re really smart,” or “they’re really ambitious?’ Well, I know lots of people who are really smart and really ambitious, and they aren’t worth 60 billion dollars. It struck me that our understanding of success was really crude—and there was an opportunity to dig down and come up with a better set of explanations.

3. In what way are our explanations of success “crude?”

That’s a bit of a puzzle because we certainly don’t lack for interest in the subject. If you go to the bookstore, you can find a hundred success manuals, or biographies of famous people, or self-help books that promise to outline the six keys to great achievement. (Or is it seven?) So we should be pretty sophisticated on the topic. What I came to realize in writing Outliers, though, is that we’ve been far too focused on the individual—on describing the characteristics and habits and personality traits of those who get furthest ahead in the world. And that’s the problem, because in order to understand the outlier I think you have to look around them—at their culture and community and family and generation. We’ve been looking at tall trees, and I think we should have been looking at the forest.

4. Can you give some examples?

Sure. For example, one of the chapters looks at the fact that a surprising number of the most powerful and successful corporate lawyers in New York City have almost the exact same biography: they are Jewish men, born in the Bronx or Brooklyn in the mid-1930’s to immigrant parents who worked in the garment industry. Now, you can call that a coincidence. Or you can ask—as I do—what is about being Jewish and being part of the generation born in the Depression and having parents who worked in the garment business that might have something to do with turning someone into a really, really successful lawyer? And the answer is that you can learn a huge amount about why someone reaches the top of that profession by asking those questions.

5. Doesn’t that make it sound like success is something outside of an individual’s control?

I don’t mean to go that far. But I do think that we vastly underestimate the extent to which success happens because of things the individual has nothing to do with. Outliers opens, for example, by examining why a hugely disproportionate number of professional hockey and soccer players are born in January, February and March. I’m not going to spoil things for you by giving you the answer. But the point is that very best hockey players are people who are talented and work hard but who also benefit from the weird and largely unexamined and peculiar ways in which their world is organized. I actually have a lot of fun with birthdates in Outliers. Did you know that there’s a magic year to be born if you want to be a software entrepreneur? And another magic year to be born if you want to be really rich? In fact, one nine year stretch turns out to have produced more Outliers than any other period in history. It’s remarkable how many patterns you can find in the lives of successful people, when you look closely.

6. What’s the most surprising pattern you uncovered in the book?

It’s probably the chapter nearly the end of Outliers where I talk about plane crashes. How good a pilot is, it turns out, has a lot to do with where that pilot is from—that is, the culture he or she was raised in. I was actually stunned by how strong the connection is between culture and crashes, and it’s something that I would never have dreamed was true, in a million years.

7. Wait. Does this mean that there are some airlines that I should avoid?

Yes. Although, as I point out in Outliers, by acknowledging the role that culture plays in piloting, some of the most unsafe airlines have actually begun to clean up their act.

8. In The Tipping Point, you had an entire chapter on suicide. In Blink, you ended the book with a long chapter on the Diallo shooting—and now plane crashes. Do you have a macabre side?

Yes! I’m a frustrated thriller writer! But seriously, there’s a good reason for that. I think that we learn more from extreme circumstances than anything else; disasters tell us something about the way we think and behave that we can’t learn from ordinary life. That’s the premise of Outliers. It’s those who lie outside ordinary experience who have the most to teach us.

9. How does this book compare to Blink and The Tipping Point?

It’s different, in the sense that it’s much more focused on people and their stories. The subtitle—”The Story of Success”—is supposed to signal that. A lot of the book is an attempt to describe the lives of successful people, but to tell their stories in a different way than we’re used to. I have a chapter that deals, in part, with explaining the extraordinary success of Bill Gates. But I’m not interested in anything that happened to him past the age of about 17. Or I have a chapter explaining why Asian schoolchildren are so good at math. But it’s focused almost entirely on what the grandparents and great-grandparents and great-great grandparents of those schoolchildren did for a living. You’ll meet more people in Outliers than in my previous two books.

10. What was your most memorable experience in researching Outliers?

There were so many! I’ll never forget the time I spent with Chris Langan, who might be the smartest man in the world. I’ve never been able to feel someone’s intellect before, the way I could with him. It was an intimidating experience, but also profoundly heartbreaking—as I hope becomes apparent in “The Trouble with Geniuses” chapter. I also went to south China and hung out in rice paddies, and went to this weird little town in eastern Pennsylvania where no one ever has a heart attack, and deciphered aircraft “black box” recorders with crash investigators. I should warn all potential readers that once you get interested in the world of plane crashes, it becomes very hard to tear yourself away. I’m still obsessed.

11. What do you want people to take away from Outliers?

I think this is the way in which Outliers is a lot like Blink and The Tipping Point. They are all attempts to make us think about the world a little differently. The hope with The Tipping Point was it would help the reader understand that real change was possible. With Blink, I wanted to get people to take the enormous power of their intuition seriously. My wish with Outliers is that it makes us understand how much of a group project success is. When outliers become outliers it is not just because of their own efforts. It’s because of the contributions of lots of different people and lots of different circumstances— and that means that we, as a society, have more control about who succeeds—and how many of us succeed—than we think. That’s an amazingly hopeful and uplifting idea.

12. I noticed that the book is dedicated to “Daisy.” Who is she?

Daisy is my grandmother. She was a remarkable woman, who was responsible for my mother’s success—for the fact that my mother was able to get out of the little rural village in Jamaica where she grew up, get a university education in England and ultimately meet and marry my father. The last chapter of Outliers is an attempt to understand how Daisy was able to make that happen—using all the lessons learned over the course of the book. I’ve never written something quite this personal before. I hope readers find her story as moving as I did.

What is the Tipping Point?

1. What is The Tipping Point about?

It’s a book about change. In particular, cialis it’s a book that presents a new way of understanding why change so often happens as quickly and as unexpectedly as it does. For example, why did crime drop so dramatically in New York City in the mid-1990’s? How does a novel written by an unknown author end up as national bestseller? Why do teens smoke in greater and greater numbers, when every single person in the country knows that cigarettes kill? Why is word-of-mouth so powerful? What makes TV shows like Sesame Street so good at teaching kids how to read? I think the answer to all those questions is the same. It’s that ideas and behavior and messages and products sometimes behave just like outbreaks of infectious disease. They are social epidemics. The Tipping Point is an examination of the social epidemics that surround us.

2. What does it mean to think about life as an epidemic? Why does thinking in terms of epidemics change the way we view the world?

Because epidemics behave in a very unusual and counterintuitive way. Think, for a moment, about an epidemic of measles in a kindergarten class. One child brings in the virus. It spreads to every other child in the class in a matter of days. And then, within a week or so, it completely dies out and none of the children will ever get measles again. That’s typical behavior for epidemics: they can blow up and then die out really quickly, and even the smallest change — like one child with a virus — can get them started. My argument is that it is also the way that change often happens in the rest of the world. Things can happen all at once, and little changes can make a huge difference. That’s a little bit counterintuitive. As human beings, we always expect everyday change to happen slowly and steadily, and for there to be some relationship between cause and effect. And when there isn’t — when crime drops dramatically in New York for no apparent reason, or when a movie made on a shoestring budget ends up making hundreds of millions of dollars — we’re surprised. I’m saying, don’t be surprised. This is the way social epidemics work.

3. Where did you get the idea for the book?

Before I went to work for The New Yorker, I was a reporter for the Washington Post and I covered the AIDS epidemic. And one of the things that struck me as I learned more and more about HIV was how strange epidemics were. If you talk to the people who study epidemics–epidemiologists–you realize that they have a strikingly different way of looking at the world. They don’t share the assumptions the rest of us have about how and why change happens. The word “Tipping Point”, for example, comes from the world of epidemiology. It’s the name given to that moment in an epidemic when a virus reaches critical mass. It’s the boiling point. It’s the moment on the graph when the line starts to shoot straight upwards. AIDS tipped in 1982, when it went from a rare disease affecting a few gay men to a worldwide epidemic. Crime in New York City tipped in the mid 1990’s, when the murder rate suddenly plummeted. When I heard that phrase for the first time I remember thinking–wow. What if everything has a Tipping Point? Wouldn’t it be cool to try and look for Tipping Points in business, or in social policy, or in advertising or in any number of other nonmedical areas?

4. Why do you think the epidemic example is so relevant for other kinds of change? Is it just that it’s an unusual and interesting way to think about the world?

No. I think it’s much more than that, because once you start to understand this pattern you start to see it everywhere. I’m convinced that ideas and behaviors and new products move through a population very much like a disease does. This isn’t just a metaphor, in other words. I’m talking about a very literal analogy. One of the things I explore in the book is that ideas can be contagious in exactly the same way that a virus is. One chapter, for example, deals with the very strange epidemic of teenage suicide in the South Pacific islands of Micronesia. In the 1970’s and 1980’s, Micronesia had teen suicide rates ten times higher than anywhere else in the world. Teenagers were literally being infected with the suicide bug, and one after another they were killing themselves in exactly the same way under exactly the same circumstances. We like to use words like contagiousness and infectiousness just to apply to the medical realm. But I assure you that after you read about what happened in Micronesia you’ll be convinced that behavior can be transmitted from one person to another as easily as the flu or the measles can. In fact, I don’t think you have to go to Micronesia to see this pattern in action. Isn’t this the explanation for the current epidemic of teen smoking in this country? And what about the rash of mass shootings we’re facing at the moment–from Columbine through the Atlanta stockbroker through the neo-Nazi in Los Angeles?

5. Are you talking about the idea of memes, that has become so popular in academic circles recently?

It’s very similar. A meme is a idea that behaves like a virus–that moves through a population, taking hold in each person it infects. I must say, though, that I don’t much like that term. The thing that bothers me about the discussion of memes is that no one ever tries to define exactly what they are, and what makes a meme so contagious. I mean, you can put a virus under a microscope and point to all the genes on its surface that are responsible for making it so dangerous. So what happens when you look at an infectious idea under a microscope? I have a chapter where I try to do that. I use the example of children’s television shows like Sesame Street and the new Nickelodeon program called Blues Clues. Both those are examples of shows that started learning epidemics in preschoolers, that turned kids onto reading and “infected” them with literacy. We sometimes think of Sesame Street as purely the result of the creative genius of people like Jim Henson and Frank Oz. But the truth is that it is carefully and painstaking engineered, down to the smallest details. There’s a wonderful story, in fact, about the particular scientific reason for the creation of Big Bird. It’s very funny. But I won’t spoil it for you.

6. How would you classify The Tipping Point? Is it a science book?

I like to think of it as an intellectual adventure story. It draws from psychology and sociology and epidemiology, and uses examples from the worlds of business and education and fashion and media. If I had to draw an analogy to another book, I’d say it was like Daniel Goleman’s Emotional Intelligence, in the sense that it takes theories and ideas from the social sciences and shows how they can have real relevance to our lives. There’s a whole section of the book devoted to explaining the phenomenon of word of mouth, for example. I think that word of mouth is something created by three very rare and special psychological types, whom I call Connectors, Mavens, and Salesmen. I profile three people who I think embody those types, and then I use the example of Paul Revere and his midnight ride to point out the subtle characteristics of this kind of social epidemic. So just in that chapter there is a little bit of sociology, a little of psychology and a little bit of history, all in aid of explaining a very common but mysterious phenomenon that we deal with every day. I guess what I’m saying is that I’m not sure that this book fits into any one category. That’s why I call it an adventure story. I think it will appeal to anyone who wants to understand the world around them in a different way. I think it can give the reader an advantage–a new set of tools. Of course, I also think they’ll be in for a very fun ride.

7. What do you hope readers will take away from the book?

One of the things I’d like to do is to show people how to start “positive” epidemics of their own. The virtue of an epidemic, after all, is that just a little input is enough to get it started, and it can spread very, very quickly. That makes it something of obvious and enormous interest to everyone from educators trying to reach students, to businesses trying to spread the word about their product, or for that matter to anyone who’s trying to create a change with limited resources. The book has a number of case studies of people who have successfully started epidemics–an advertising agency, for example, and a breast cancer activist. I think they are really fascinating. I also take a pressing social issue, teenage smoking, and break it down and analyze what an epidemic approach to solving that problem would look like. The point is that by the end of the book I think the reader will have a clear idea of what starting an epidemic actually takes. This is not an abstract, academic book. It’s very practical. And it’s very hopeful. It’s brain software.

Beyond that, I think that The Tipping Point is a way of making sense of the world, because I’m not sure that the world always makes as much sense to us as we would hope. I spent a great deal of time in the book talking about the way our minds work–and the peculiar and sometimes problematic ways in which our brains process information. Our intuitions, as humans, aren’t always very good. Changes that happen really suddenly, on the strength of the most minor of input, can be deeply confusing. People who understand The Tipping Point, I think, have a way of decoding the world around them.

Q and A with Malcolm

1. What is Blink about?

It’s a book about rapid cognition, buy information pills about the kind of thinking that happens in a blink of an eye. When you meet someone for the first time, or walk into a house you are thinking of buying, or read the first few sentences of a book, your mind takes about two seconds to jump to a series of conclusions. Well, Blink is a book about those two seconds, because I think those instant conclusions that we reach are really powerful and really important and, occasionally, really good.

You could also say that it’s a book about intuition, except that I don’t like that word. In fact it never appears in Blink. Intuition strikes me as a concept we use to describe emotional reactions, gut feelings–thoughts and impressions that don’t seem entirely rational. But I think that what goes on in that first two seconds is perfectly rational. It’s thinking–its just thinking that moves a little faster and operates a little more mysteriously than the kind of deliberate, conscious decision-making that we usually associate with “thinking.” In Blink I’m trying to understand those two seconds. What is going on inside our heads when we engage in rapid cognition? When are snap judgments good and when are they not? What kinds of things can we do to make our powers of rapid cognition better?

2. How can thinking that takes place so quickly be at all useful? Don’t we make the best decisions when we take the time to carefully evaluate all available and relevant information?

Certainly that’s what we’ve always been told. We live in a society dedicated to the idea that we’re always better off gathering as much information and spending as much time as possible in deliberation. As children, this lesson is drummed into us again and again: haste makes waste, look before you leap, stop and think. But I don’t think this is true. There are lots of situations–particularly at times of high pressure and stress–when haste does not make waste, when our snap judgments and first impressions offer a much better means of making sense of the world.

One of the stories I tell in Blink is about the Emergency Room doctors at Cook County Hospital in Chicago. That’s the big public hospital in Chicago, and a few years ago they changed the way they diagnosed heart attacks. They instructed their doctors to gather less information on their patients: they encouraged them to zero in on just a few critical pieces of information about patients suffering from chest pain–like blood pressure and the ECG–while ignoring everything else, like the patient’s age and weight and medical history. And what happened? Cook County is now one of the best places in the United States at diagnosing chest pain.

Not surprisingly, it was really hard to convince the physicians at Cook County to go along with the plan, because, like all of us, they were committed to the idea that more information is always better. But I describe lots of cases in Blink where that simply isn’t true. There’s a wonderful phrase in psychology–“the power of thin slicing”–which says that as human beings we are capable of making sense of situations based on the thinnest slice of experience. I have an entire chapter in Blink on how unbelievably powerful our thin-slicing skills are. I have to say that I still find some of the examples in that chapter hard to believe.

3. Where did you get the idea for Blink?

Believe it or not, it’s because I decided, a few years ago, to grow my hair long. If you look at the author photo on my last book, The Tipping Point, you’ll see that it used to be cut very short and conservatively. But, on a whim, I let it grow wild, as it had been when I was teenager. Immediately, in very small but significant ways, my life changed. I started getting speeding tickets all the time–and I had never gotten any before. I started getting pulled out of airport security lines for special attention. And one day, while walking along 14th Street in downtown Manhattan, a police van pulled up on the sidewalk, and three officers jumped out. They were looking, it turned out, for a rapist, and the rapist, they said, looked a lot like me. They pulled out the sketch and the description. I looked at it, and pointed out to them as nicely as I could that in fact the rapist looked nothing at all like me. He was much taller, and much heavier, and about fifteen years younger (and, I added, in a largely futile attempt at humor, not nearly as good-looking.) All we had in common was a large head of curly hair. After twenty minutes or so, the officers finally agreed with me, and let me go. On a scale of things, I realize this was a trivial misunderstanding. African-Americans in the United States suffer indignities far worse than this all the time. But what struck me was how even more subtle and absurd the stereotyping was in my case: this wasn’t about something really obvious like skin color, or age, or height, or weight. It was just about hair. Something about the first impression created by my hair derailed every other consideration in the hunt for the rapist, and the impression formed in those first two seconds exerted a powerful hold over the officers’ thinking over the next twenty minutes. That episode on the street got me thinking about the weird power of first impressions.

4. But that’s an example of a bad case of thin-slicing. The police officers jumped to a conclusion about you that was wrong. Does Blink talk about when rapid cognition goes awry?

Yes. That’s a big part of the book as well. I’m very interested in figuring out those kinds of situations where we need to be careful with our powers of rapid cognition. For instance, I have a chapter where I talk a lot about what it means for a man to be tall. I called up several hundred of the Fortune 500 companies in the U.S. and asked them how tall their CEOs were. And the answer is that they are almost all tall. Now that’s weird. There is no correlation between height and intelligence, or height and judgment, or height and the ability to motivate and lead people. But for some reason corporations overwhelmingly choose tall people for leadership roles. I think that’s an example of bad rapid cognition: there is something going on in the first few seconds of meeting a tall person which makes us predisposed toward thinking of that person as an effective leader, the same way that the police looked at my hair and decided I resembled a criminal. I call this the “Warren Harding Error” (you’ll have to read Blink to figure out why), and I think we make Warren Harding Errors in all kind of situations– particularly when it comes to hiring. With Blink, I’m trying to help people distinguish their good rapid cognition from their bad rapid cognition.

5. What kind of a book is Blink?

I used to get that question all the time with The Tipping Point, and I never really had a good answer. The best I could come up with was to say that it was an intellectual adventure story. I would describe Blink the same way. There is a lot of psychology in this book. In fact, the core of the book is research from a very new and quite extraordinary field in psychology that hasn’t really been written about yet for a general audience. But those ideas are illustrated using stories from literally every corner of society. In just the first four chapters, I discuss, among other things: marriage, World War Two code-breaking, ancient Greek sculpture, New Jersey’s best car dealer, Tom Hanks, speed-dating, medical malpractice, how to hit a topspin forehand, and what you can learn from someone by looking around their bedroom. So what does that make Blink? Fun, I hope.

6. What do you want people to take away from Blink?

I guess I just want to get people to take rapid cognition seriously. When it comes to something like dating, we all readily admit to the importance of what happens in the first instant when two people meet. But we won’t admit to the importance of what happens in the first two seconds when we talk about what happens when someone encounters a new idea, or when we interview someone for a job, or when a military general has to make a decision in the heat of battle.

The Tipping Point was concerned with grand themes, with figuring out the rules by which social change happens. Blink is quite different. It is concerned with the smallest components of our everyday lives–with the content and origin of those instantaneous impressions and conclusions that bubble up whenever we meet a new person, or confront a complex situation, or have to make a decision under conditions of stress. I think its time we paid more attention to those fleeting moments. I think that if we did, it would change the way wars are fought, the kind of products we see on the shelves, the kinds of movies that get made, the way police officers are trained, the way couples are counseled, the way job interviews are conducted and on and on–and if you combine all those little changes together you end up with a different and happier world.

What is Outliers about?

1. What is an outlier?

“Outlier” is a scientific term to describe things or phenomena that lie outside normal experience. In the summer, check in Paris, discount we expect most days to be somewhere between warm and very hot. But imagine if you had a day in the middle of August where the temperature fell below freezing. That day would be outlier. And while we have a very good understanding of why summer days in Paris are warm or hot, cialis we know a good deal less about why a summer day in Paris might be freezing cold. In this book I’m interested in people who are outliers—in men and women who, for one reason or another, are so accomplished and so extraordinary and so outside of ordinary experience that they are as puzzling to the rest of us as a cold day in August.

2. Why did you write Outliers?

I write books when I find myself returning again and again, in my mind, to the same themes. I wrote The Tipping Point because I was fascinated by the sudden drop in crime in New York City—and that fascination grew to an interest in the whole idea of epidemics and epidemic processes. I wrote Blink because I began to get obsessed, in the same way, with the way that all of us seem to make up our minds about other people in an instant—without really doing any real thinking. In the case of Outliers, the book grew out a frustration I found myself having with the way we explain the careers of really successful people. You know how you hear someone say of Bill Gates or some rock star or some other outlier—”they’re really smart,” or “they’re really ambitious?’ Well, I know lots of people who are really smart and really ambitious, and they aren’t worth 60 billion dollars. It struck me that our understanding of success was really crude—and there was an opportunity to dig down and come up with a better set of explanations.

3. In what way are our explanations of success “crude?”

That’s a bit of a puzzle because we certainly don’t lack for interest in the subject. If you go to the bookstore, you can find a hundred success manuals, or biographies of famous people, or self-help books that promise to outline the six keys to great achievement. (Or is it seven?) So we should be pretty sophisticated on the topic. What I came to realize in writing Outliers, though, is that we’ve been far too focused on the individual—on describing the characteristics and habits and personality traits of those who get furthest ahead in the world. And that’s the problem, because in order to understand the outlier I think you have to look around them—at their culture and community and family and generation. We’ve been looking at tall trees, and I think we should have been looking at the forest.

4. Can you give some examples?

Sure. For example, one of the chapters looks at the fact that a surprising number of the most powerful and successful corporate lawyers in New York City have almost the exact same biography: they are Jewish men, born in the Bronx or Brooklyn in the mid-1930’s to immigrant parents who worked in the garment industry. Now, you can call that a coincidence. Or you can ask—as I do—what is about being Jewish and being part of the generation born in the Depression and having parents who worked in the garment business that might have something to do with turning someone into a really, really successful lawyer? And the answer is that you can learn a huge amount about why someone reaches the top of that profession by asking those questions.

5. Doesn’t that make it sound like success is something outside of an individual’s control?

I don’t mean to go that far. But I do think that we vastly underestimate the extent to which success happens because of things the individual has nothing to do with. Outliers opens, for example, by examining why a hugely disproportionate number of professional hockey and soccer players are born in January, February and March. I’m not going to spoil things for you by giving you the answer. But the point is that very best hockey players are people who are talented and work hard but who also benefit from the weird and largely unexamined and peculiar ways in which their world is organized. I actually have a lot of fun with birthdates in Outliers. Did you know that there’s a magic year to be born if you want to be a software entrepreneur? And another magic year to be born if you want to be really rich? In fact, one nine year stretch turns out to have produced more Outliers than any other period in history. It’s remarkable how many patterns you can find in the lives of successful people, when you look closely.

6. What’s the most surprising pattern you uncovered in the book?

It’s probably the chapter nearly the end of Outliers where I talk about plane crashes. How good a pilot is, it turns out, has a lot to do with where that pilot is from—that is, the culture he or she was raised in. I was actually stunned by how strong the connection is between culture and crashes, and it’s something that I would never have dreamed was true, in a million years.

7. Wait. Does this mean that there are some airlines that I should avoid?

Yes. Although, as I point out in Outliers, by acknowledging the role that culture plays in piloting, some of the most unsafe airlines have actually begun to clean up their act.

8. In The Tipping Point, you had an entire chapter on suicide. In Blink, you ended the book with a long chapter on the Diallo shooting—and now plane crashes. Do you have a macabre side?

Yes! I’m a frustrated thriller writer! But seriously, there’s a good reason for that. I think that we learn more from extreme circumstances than anything else; disasters tell us something about the way we think and behave that we can’t learn from ordinary life. That’s the premise of Outliers. It’s those who lie outside ordinary experience who have the most to teach us.

9. How does this book compare to Blink and The Tipping Point?

It’s different, in the sense that it’s much more focused on people and their stories. The subtitle—”The Story of Success”—is supposed to signal that. A lot of the book is an attempt to describe the lives of successful people, but to tell their stories in a different way than we’re used to. I have a chapter that deals, in part, with explaining the extraordinary success of Bill Gates. But I’m not interested in anything that happened to him past the age of about 17. Or I have a chapter explaining why Asian schoolchildren are so good at math. But it’s focused almost entirely on what the grandparents and great-grandparents and great-great grandparents of those schoolchildren did for a living. You’ll meet more people in Outliers than in my previous two books.

10. What was your most memorable experience in researching Outliers?

There were so many! I’ll never forget the time I spent with Chris Langan, who might be the smartest man in the world. I’ve never been able to feel someone’s intellect before, the way I could with him. It was an intimidating experience, but also profoundly heartbreaking—as I hope becomes apparent in “The Trouble with Geniuses” chapter. I also went to south China and hung out in rice paddies, and went to this weird little town in eastern Pennsylvania where no one ever has a heart attack, and deciphered aircraft “black box” recorders with crash investigators. I should warn all potential readers that once you get interested in the world of plane crashes, it becomes very hard to tear yourself away. I’m still obsessed.

11. What do you want people to take away from Outliers?

I think this is the way in which Outliers is a lot like Blink and The Tipping Point. They are all attempts to make us think about the world a little differently. The hope with The Tipping Point was it would help the reader understand that real change was possible. With Blink, I wanted to get people to take the enormous power of their intuition seriously. My wish with Outliers is that it makes us understand how much of a group project success is. When outliers become outliers it is not just because of their own efforts. It’s because of the contributions of lots of different people and lots of different circumstances— and that means that we, as a society, have more control about who succeeds—and how many of us succeed—than we think. That’s an amazingly hopeful and uplifting idea.

12. I noticed that the book is dedicated to “Daisy.” Who is she?

Daisy is my grandmother. She was a remarkable woman, who was responsible for my mother’s success—for the fact that my mother was able to get out of the little rural village in Jamaica where she grew up, get a university education in England and ultimately meet and marry my father. The last chapter of Outliers is an attempt to understand how Daisy was able to make that happen—using all the lessons learned over the course of the book. I’ve never written something quite this personal before. I hope readers find her story as moving as I did.

What is the Tipping Point?

1. What is The Tipping Point about?

It’s a book about change. In particular, cialis it’s a book that presents a new way of understanding why change so often happens as quickly and as unexpectedly as it does. For example, why did crime drop so dramatically in New York City in the mid-1990’s? How does a novel written by an unknown author end up as national bestseller? Why do teens smoke in greater and greater numbers, when every single person in the country knows that cigarettes kill? Why is word-of-mouth so powerful? What makes TV shows like Sesame Street so good at teaching kids how to read? I think the answer to all those questions is the same. It’s that ideas and behavior and messages and products sometimes behave just like outbreaks of infectious disease. They are social epidemics. The Tipping Point is an examination of the social epidemics that surround us.

2. What does it mean to think about life as an epidemic? Why does thinking in terms of epidemics change the way we view the world?

Because epidemics behave in a very unusual and counterintuitive way. Think, for a moment, about an epidemic of measles in a kindergarten class. One child brings in the virus. It spreads to every other child in the class in a matter of days. And then, within a week or so, it completely dies out and none of the children will ever get measles again. That’s typical behavior for epidemics: they can blow up and then die out really quickly, and even the smallest change — like one child with a virus — can get them started. My argument is that it is also the way that change often happens in the rest of the world. Things can happen all at once, and little changes can make a huge difference. That’s a little bit counterintuitive. As human beings, we always expect everyday change to happen slowly and steadily, and for there to be some relationship between cause and effect. And when there isn’t — when crime drops dramatically in New York for no apparent reason, or when a movie made on a shoestring budget ends up making hundreds of millions of dollars — we’re surprised. I’m saying, don’t be surprised. This is the way social epidemics work.

3. Where did you get the idea for the book?

Before I went to work for The New Yorker, I was a reporter for the Washington Post and I covered the AIDS epidemic. And one of the things that struck me as I learned more and more about HIV was how strange epidemics were. If you talk to the people who study epidemics–epidemiologists–you realize that they have a strikingly different way of looking at the world. They don’t share the assumptions the rest of us have about how and why change happens. The word “Tipping Point”, for example, comes from the world of epidemiology. It’s the name given to that moment in an epidemic when a virus reaches critical mass. It’s the boiling point. It’s the moment on the graph when the line starts to shoot straight upwards. AIDS tipped in 1982, when it went from a rare disease affecting a few gay men to a worldwide epidemic. Crime in New York City tipped in the mid 1990’s, when the murder rate suddenly plummeted. When I heard that phrase for the first time I remember thinking–wow. What if everything has a Tipping Point? Wouldn’t it be cool to try and look for Tipping Points in business, or in social policy, or in advertising or in any number of other nonmedical areas?

4. Why do you think the epidemic example is so relevant for other kinds of change? Is it just that it’s an unusual and interesting way to think about the world?

No. I think it’s much more than that, because once you start to understand this pattern you start to see it everywhere. I’m convinced that ideas and behaviors and new products move through a population very much like a disease does. This isn’t just a metaphor, in other words. I’m talking about a very literal analogy. One of the things I explore in the book is that ideas can be contagious in exactly the same way that a virus is. One chapter, for example, deals with the very strange epidemic of teenage suicide in the South Pacific islands of Micronesia. In the 1970’s and 1980’s, Micronesia had teen suicide rates ten times higher than anywhere else in the world. Teenagers were literally being infected with the suicide bug, and one after another they were killing themselves in exactly the same way under exactly the same circumstances. We like to use words like contagiousness and infectiousness just to apply to the medical realm. But I assure you that after you read about what happened in Micronesia you’ll be convinced that behavior can be transmitted from one person to another as easily as the flu or the measles can. In fact, I don’t think you have to go to Micronesia to see this pattern in action. Isn’t this the explanation for the current epidemic of teen smoking in this country? And what about the rash of mass shootings we’re facing at the moment–from Columbine through the Atlanta stockbroker through the neo-Nazi in Los Angeles?

5. Are you talking about the idea of memes, that has become so popular in academic circles recently?

It’s very similar. A meme is a idea that behaves like a virus–that moves through a population, taking hold in each person it infects. I must say, though, that I don’t much like that term. The thing that bothers me about the discussion of memes is that no one ever tries to define exactly what they are, and what makes a meme so contagious. I mean, you can put a virus under a microscope and point to all the genes on its surface that are responsible for making it so dangerous. So what happens when you look at an infectious idea under a microscope? I have a chapter where I try to do that. I use the example of children’s television shows like Sesame Street and the new Nickelodeon program called Blues Clues. Both those are examples of shows that started learning epidemics in preschoolers, that turned kids onto reading and “infected” them with literacy. We sometimes think of Sesame Street as purely the result of the creative genius of people like Jim Henson and Frank Oz. But the truth is that it is carefully and painstaking engineered, down to the smallest details. There’s a wonderful story, in fact, about the particular scientific reason for the creation of Big Bird. It’s very funny. But I won’t spoil it for you.

6. How would you classify The Tipping Point? Is it a science book?

I like to think of it as an intellectual adventure story. It draws from psychology and sociology and epidemiology, and uses examples from the worlds of business and education and fashion and media. If I had to draw an analogy to another book, I’d say it was like Daniel Goleman’s Emotional Intelligence, in the sense that it takes theories and ideas from the social sciences and shows how they can have real relevance to our lives. There’s a whole section of the book devoted to explaining the phenomenon of word of mouth, for example. I think that word of mouth is something created by three very rare and special psychological types, whom I call Connectors, Mavens, and Salesmen. I profile three people who I think embody those types, and then I use the example of Paul Revere and his midnight ride to point out the subtle characteristics of this kind of social epidemic. So just in that chapter there is a little bit of sociology, a little of psychology and a little bit of history, all in aid of explaining a very common but mysterious phenomenon that we deal with every day. I guess what I’m saying is that I’m not sure that this book fits into any one category. That’s why I call it an adventure story. I think it will appeal to anyone who wants to understand the world around them in a different way. I think it can give the reader an advantage–a new set of tools. Of course, I also think they’ll be in for a very fun ride.

7. What do you hope readers will take away from the book?

One of the things I’d like to do is to show people how to start “positive” epidemics of their own. The virtue of an epidemic, after all, is that just a little input is enough to get it started, and it can spread very, very quickly. That makes it something of obvious and enormous interest to everyone from educators trying to reach students, to businesses trying to spread the word about their product, or for that matter to anyone who’s trying to create a change with limited resources. The book has a number of case studies of people who have successfully started epidemics–an advertising agency, for example, and a breast cancer activist. I think they are really fascinating. I also take a pressing social issue, teenage smoking, and break it down and analyze what an epidemic approach to solving that problem would look like. The point is that by the end of the book I think the reader will have a clear idea of what starting an epidemic actually takes. This is not an abstract, academic book. It’s very practical. And it’s very hopeful. It’s brain software.

Beyond that, I think that The Tipping Point is a way of making sense of the world, because I’m not sure that the world always makes as much sense to us as we would hope. I spent a great deal of time in the book talking about the way our minds work–and the peculiar and sometimes problematic ways in which our brains process information. Our intuitions, as humans, aren’t always very good. Changes that happen really suddenly, on the strength of the most minor of input, can be deeply confusing. People who understand The Tipping Point, I think, have a way of decoding the world around them.

1. What is Blink about?

It’s a book about rapid cognition, hospital about the kind of thinking that happens in a blink of an eye. When you meet someone for the first time, or walk into a house you are thinking of buying, or read the first few sentences of a book, your mind takes about two seconds to jump to a series of conclusions. Well, Blink is a book about those two seconds, because I think those instant conclusions that we reach are really powerful and really important and, occasionally, really good.

You could also say that it’s a book about intuition, except that I don’t like that word. In fact it never appears in Blink. Intuition strikes me as a concept we use to describe emotional reactions, gut feelings–thoughts and impressions that don’t seem entirely rational. But I think that what goes on in that first two seconds is perfectly rational. It’s thinking–its just thinking that moves a little faster and operates a little more mysteriously than the kind of deliberate, conscious decision-making that we usually associate with “thinking.” In Blink I’m trying to understand those two seconds. What is going on inside our heads when we engage in rapid cognition? When are snap judgments good and when are they not? What kinds of things can we do to make our powers of rapid cognition better?

2. How can thinking that takes place so quickly be at all useful? Don’t we make the best decisions when we take the time to carefully evaluate all available and relevant information?

Certainly that’s what we’ve always been told. We live in a society dedicated to the idea that we’re always better off gathering as much information and spending as much time as possible in deliberation. As children, this lesson is drummed into us again and again: haste makes waste, look before you leap, stop and think. But I don’t think this is true. There are lots of situations–particularly at times of high pressure and stress–when haste does not make waste, when our snap judgments and first impressions offer a much better means of making sense of the world.

One of the stories I tell in Blink is about the Emergency Room doctors at Cook County Hospital in Chicago. That’s the big public hospital in Chicago, and a few years ago they changed the way they diagnosed heart attacks. They instructed their doctors to gather less information on their patients: they encouraged them to zero in on just a few critical pieces of information about patients suffering from chest pain–like blood pressure and the ECG–while ignoring everything else, like the patient’s age and weight and medical history. And what happened? Cook County is now one of the best places in the United States at diagnosing chest pain.

Not surprisingly, it was really hard to convince the physicians at Cook County to go along with the plan, because, like all of us, they were committed to the idea that more information is always better. But I describe lots of cases in Blink where that simply isn’t true. There’s a wonderful phrase in psychology–“the power of thin slicing”–which says that as human beings we are capable of making sense of situations based on the thinnest slice of experience. I have an entire chapter in Blink on how unbelievably powerful our thin-slicing skills are. I have to say that I still find some of the examples in that chapter hard to believe.

3. Where did you get the idea for Blink?

Believe it or not, it’s because I decided, a few years ago, to grow my hair long. If you look at the author photo on my last book, The Tipping Point, you’ll see that it used to be cut very short and conservatively. But, on a whim, I let it grow wild, as it had been when I was teenager. Immediately, in very small but significant ways, my life changed. I started getting speeding tickets all the time–and I had never gotten any before. I started getting pulled out of airport security lines for special attention. And one day, while walking along 14th Street in downtown Manhattan, a police van pulled up on the sidewalk, and three officers jumped out. They were looking, it turned out, for a rapist, and the rapist, they said, looked a lot like me. They pulled out the sketch and the description. I looked at it, and pointed out to them as nicely as I could that in fact the rapist looked nothing at all like me. He was much taller, and much heavier, and about fifteen years younger (and, I added, in a largely futile attempt at humor, not nearly as good-looking.) All we had in common was a large head of curly hair. After twenty minutes or so, the officers finally agreed with me, and let me go. On a scale of things, I realize this was a trivial misunderstanding. African-Americans in the United States suffer indignities far worse than this all the time. But what struck me was how even more subtle and absurd the stereotyping was in my case: this wasn’t about something really obvious like skin color, or age, or height, or weight. It was just about hair. Something about the first impression created by my hair derailed every other consideration in the hunt for the rapist, and the impression formed in those first two seconds exerted a powerful hold over the officers’ thinking over the next twenty minutes. That episode on the street got me thinking about the weird power of first impressions.

4. But that’s an example of a bad case of thin-slicing. The police officers jumped to a conclusion about you that was wrong. Does Blink talk about when rapid cognition goes awry?

Yes. That’s a big part of the book as well. I’m very interested in figuring out those kinds of situations where we need to be careful with our powers of rapid cognition. For instance, I have a chapter where I talk a lot about what it means for a man to be tall. I called up several hundred of the Fortune 500 companies in the U.S. and asked them how tall their CEOs were. And the answer is that they are almost all tall. Now that’s weird. There is no correlation between height and intelligence, or height and judgment, or height and the ability to motivate and lead people. But for some reason corporations overwhelmingly choose tall people for leadership roles. I think that’s an example of bad rapid cognition: there is something going on in the first few seconds of meeting a tall person which makes us predisposed toward thinking of that person as an effective leader, the same way that the police looked at my hair and decided I resembled a criminal. I call this the “Warren Harding Error” (you’ll have to read Blink to figure out why), and I think we make Warren Harding Errors in all kind of situations– particularly when it comes to hiring. With Blink, I’m trying to help people distinguish their good rapid cognition from their bad rapid cognition.

5. What kind of a book is Blink?

I used to get that question all the time with The Tipping Point, and I never really had a good answer. The best I could come up with was to say that it was an intellectual adventure story. I would describe Blink the same way. There is a lot of psychology in this book. In fact, the core of the book is research from a very new and quite extraordinary field in psychology that hasn’t really been written about yet for a general audience. But those ideas are illustrated using stories from literally every corner of society. In just the first four chapters, I discuss, among other things: marriage, World War Two code-breaking, ancient Greek sculpture, New Jersey’s best car dealer, Tom Hanks, speed-dating, medical malpractice, how to hit a topspin forehand, and what you can learn from someone by looking around their bedroom. So what does that make Blink? Fun, I hope.

6. What do you want people to take away from Blink?

I guess I just want to get people to take rapid cognition seriously. When it comes to something like dating, we all readily admit to the importance of what happens in the first instant when two people meet. But we won’t admit to the importance of what happens in the first two seconds when we talk about what happens when someone encounters a new idea, or when we interview someone for a job, or when a military general has to make a decision in the heat of battle.

The Tipping Point was concerned with grand themes, with figuring out the rules by which social change happens. Blink is quite different. It is concerned with the smallest components of our everyday lives–with the content and origin of those instantaneous impressions and conclusions that bubble up whenever we meet a new person, or confront a complex situation, or have to make a decision under conditions of stress. I think its time we paid more attention to those fleeting moments. I think that if we did, it would change the way wars are fought, the kind of products we see on the shelves, the kinds of movies that get made, the way police officers are trained, the way couples are counseled, the way job interviews are conducted and on and on–and if you combine all those little changes together you end up with a different and happier world.
In this excerpt, hospital from the Introduction to Blink, viagra 40mg I describe the part of the brain that runs our rapid decision-making system:

Imagine that I asked you to a play a very simple gambling game. In front of you, web are four decks of cards–two red and two blue. Each card in those four decks either wins you a sum of money or costs you some money, and your job is to turn over cards from any of the decks, one at a time, in such a way that maximizes your winnings. What you don’t know at the beginning, however, is that the red decks are a minefield. The rewards are high, but when you lose on red, you lose a lot. You can really only win by taking cards from the blue decks, which offer a nice, steady diet of $50 and $100 payoffs. The question is: how long will it take you to figure this out?

A group of scientists at the University of Iowa did this experiment a few years ago, and what they found is that after we’ve turned over about fifty cards, most of us start to develop a hunch about what’s going on. We don’t know why we prefer the blue decks. But we’re pretty sure, at that point, that they are a better bet. After turning over about eighty cards, most of us have figured the game out, and can explain exactly why the first two decks are such a bad idea. This much is straightforward. We have some experiences. We think them through. We develop a theory, and then finally we put two and two together. That’s the way learning works. But the Iowa scientists did something else, and this is where the strange part of the experiment begins. They hooked each gambler up to a polygraph–a lie detector machine–that measured the activity of the sweat glands that all of us have below the skin in the palms of our hands. Most sweat glands respond to temperature. But those in our palms open up in response to stress–which is why we get clammy hands when we are nervous. What the Iowa scientists found is that gamblers started generating stress responses to red decks by the tenth card, forty cards before they were able to say that they had a hunch about what was wrong with those two decks. More importantly, right around the time their palms started sweating, their behavior began to change as well. They started favoring the good decks, and taking fewer and fewer cards from A and B. In other words, the gamblers figured the game out before they figured the game out: they began making the necessary adjustments long before they were consciously aware of what adjustments they were supposed to be making.

The Iowa study is just an experiment, of course, a simple card game involving a handful of subjects and a polygraph machine. But it’s a very powerful illustration of the way our minds work. Here is a situation where the stakes were high, where things were moving quickly, and where the participants had to make sense of a lot of new and confusing information in a very short time–and what does the Iowa experiment tell us? That in those moments our brain uses two very different strategies to make sense of the situation. The first is the one we’re most familiar with. It’s the conscious strategy. We think about what we’ve learned, and eventually come up with an answer. This strategy is logical and definitive. But it takes us eighty cards to get there. It’s slow. It needs a lot of information. There’s a second strategy, though. It operates a lot more quickly. It starts to kick in after ten cards, and it’s really smart because it picks up the problem with the red decks almost immediately. It has the drawback, however, that it operates–at least at first–entirely below the surface of consciousness. It sends its messages through weirdly indirect channels, like the sweat glands on the palms of our hands. It’s a system in which our brain reaches conclusions without immediately telling us that it’s reaching conclusions.
In this excerpt, hospital from the Introduction to Blink, viagra 40mg I describe the part of the brain that runs our rapid decision-making system:

Imagine that I asked you to a play a very simple gambling game. In front of you, web are four decks of cards–two red and two blue. Each card in those four decks either wins you a sum of money or costs you some money, and your job is to turn over cards from any of the decks, one at a time, in such a way that maximizes your winnings. What you don’t know at the beginning, however, is that the red decks are a minefield. The rewards are high, but when you lose on red, you lose a lot. You can really only win by taking cards from the blue decks, which offer a nice, steady diet of $50 and $100 payoffs. The question is: how long will it take you to figure this out?

A group of scientists at the University of Iowa did this experiment a few years ago, and what they found is that after we’ve turned over about fifty cards, most of us start to develop a hunch about what’s going on. We don’t know why we prefer the blue decks. But we’re pretty sure, at that point, that they are a better bet. After turning over about eighty cards, most of us have figured the game out, and can explain exactly why the first two decks are such a bad idea. This much is straightforward. We have some experiences. We think them through. We develop a theory, and then finally we put two and two together. That’s the way learning works. But the Iowa scientists did something else, and this is where the strange part of the experiment begins. They hooked each gambler up to a polygraph–a lie detector machine–that measured the activity of the sweat glands that all of us have below the skin in the palms of our hands. Most sweat glands respond to temperature. But those in our palms open up in response to stress–which is why we get clammy hands when we are nervous. What the Iowa scientists found is that gamblers started generating stress responses to red decks by the tenth card, forty cards before they were able to say that they had a hunch about what was wrong with those two decks. More importantly, right around the time their palms started sweating, their behavior began to change as well. They started favoring the good decks, and taking fewer and fewer cards from A and B. In other words, the gamblers figured the game out before they figured the game out: they began making the necessary adjustments long before they were consciously aware of what adjustments they were supposed to be making.

The Iowa study is just an experiment, of course, a simple card game involving a handful of subjects and a polygraph machine. But it’s a very powerful illustration of the way our minds work. Here is a situation where the stakes were high, where things were moving quickly, and where the participants had to make sense of a lot of new and confusing information in a very short time–and what does the Iowa experiment tell us? That in those moments our brain uses two very different strategies to make sense of the situation. The first is the one we’re most familiar with. It’s the conscious strategy. We think about what we’ve learned, and eventually come up with an answer. This strategy is logical and definitive. But it takes us eighty cards to get there. It’s slow. It needs a lot of information. There’s a second strategy, though. It operates a lot more quickly. It starts to kick in after ten cards, and it’s really smart because it picks up the problem with the red decks almost immediately. It has the drawback, however, that it operates–at least at first–entirely below the surface of consciousness. It sends its messages through weirdly indirect channels, like the sweat glands on the palms of our hands. It’s a system in which our brain reaches conclusions without immediately telling us that it’s reaching conclusions.

1. What is an “Outlier”?

“Outlier” is a scientific term to describe things or phenomena that lie outside normal experience. In the summer, remedy in Paris, buy cialis we expect most days to be somewhere between warm and very hot. But imagine if you had a day in the middle of August where the temperature fell below freezing. That day would be outlier. And while we have a very good understanding of why summer days in Paris are warm or hot, pharm we know a good deal less about why a summer day in Paris might be freezing cold. In this book I’m interested in people who are outliers—in men and women who, for one reason or another, are so accomplished and so extraordinary and so outside of ordinary experience that they are as puzzling to the rest of us as a cold day in August.

2. Why did you write Outliers?

I write books when I find myself returning again and again, in my mind, to the same themes. I wrote The Tipping Point because I was fascinated by the sudden drop in crime in New York City—and that fascination grew to an interest in the whole idea of epidemics and epidemic processes. I wrote Blink because I began to get obsessed, in the same way, with the way that all of us seem to make up our minds about other people in an instant—without really doing any real thinking. In the case of Outliers, the book grew out a frustration I found myself having with the way we explain the careers of really successful people. You know how you hear someone say of Bill Gates or some rock star or some other outlier—”they’re really smart,” or “they’re really ambitious?’ Well, I know lots of people who are really smart and really ambitious, and they aren’t worth 60 billion dollars. It struck me that our understanding of success was really crude—and there was an opportunity to dig down and come up with a better set of explanations.

3. In what way are our explanations of success “crude?”

That’s a bit of a puzzle because we certainly don’t lack for interest in the subject. If you go to the bookstore, you can find a hundred success manuals, or biographies of famous people, or self-help books that promise to outline the six keys to great achievement. (Or is it seven?) So we should be pretty sophisticated on the topic. What I came to realize in writing Outliers, though, is that we’ve been far too focused on the individual—on describing the characteristics and habits and personality traits of those who get furthest ahead in the world. And that’s the problem, because in order to understand the outlier I think you have to look around them—at their culture and community and family and generation. We’ve been looking at tall trees, and I think we should have been looking at the forest.

4. Can you give some examples?

Sure. For example, one of the chapters looks at the fact that a surprising number of the most powerful and successful corporate lawyers in New York City have almost the exact same biography: they are Jewish men, born in the Bronx or Brooklyn in the mid-1930’s to immigrant parents who worked in the garment industry. Now, you can call that a coincidence. Or you can ask—as I do—what is about being Jewish and being part of the generation born in the Depression and having parents who worked in the garment business that might have something to do with turning someone into a really, really successful lawyer? And the answer is that you can learn a huge amount about why someone reaches the top of that profession by asking those questions.

5. Doesn’t that make it sound like success is something outside of an individual’s control?

I don’t mean to go that far. But I do think that we vastly underestimate the extent to which success happens because of things the individual has nothing to do with. Outliers opens, for example, by examining why a hugely disproportionate number of professional hockey and soccer players are born in January, February and March. I’m not going to spoil things for you by giving you the answer. But the point is that very best hockey players are people who are talented and work hard but who also benefit from the weird and largely unexamined and peculiar ways in which their world is organized. I actually have a lot of fun with birthdates in Outliers. Did you know that there’s a magic year to be born if you want to be a software entrepreneur? And another magic year to be born if you want to be really rich? In fact, one nine year stretch turns out to have produced more Outliers than any other period in history. It’s remarkable how many patterns you can find in the lives of successful people, when you look closely.

6. What’s the most surprising pattern you uncovered in the book?

It’s probably the chapter nearly the end of Outliers where I talk about plane crashes. How good a pilot is, it turns out, has a lot to do with where that pilot is from—that is, the culture he or she was raised in. I was actually stunned by how strong the connection is between culture and crashes, and it’s something that I would never have dreamed was true, in a million years.

7. Wait. Does this mean that there are some airlines that I should avoid?

Yes. Although, as I point out in Outliers, by acknowledging the role that culture plays in piloting, some of the most unsafe airlines have actually begun to clean up their act.

8. In The Tipping Point, you had an entire chapter on suicide. In Blink, you ended the book with a long chapter on the Diallo shooting—and now plane crashes. Do you have a macabre side?

Yes! I’m a frustrated thriller writer! But seriously, there’s a good reason for that. I think that we learn more from extreme circumstances than anything else; disasters tell us something about the way we think and behave that we can’t learn from ordinary life. That’s the premise of Outliers. It’s those who lie outside ordinary experience who have the most to teach us.

9. How does this book compare to Blink and The Tipping Point?

It’s different, in the sense that it’s much more focused on people and their stories. The subtitle—”The Story of Success”—is supposed to signal that. A lot of the book is an attempt to describe the lives of successful people, but to tell their stories in a different way than we’re used to. I have a chapter that deals, in part, with explaining the extraordinary success of Bill Gates. But I’m not interested in anything that happened to him past the age of about 17. Or I have a chapter explaining why Asian schoolchildren are so good at math. But it’s focused almost entirely on what the grandparents and great-grandparents and great-great grandparents of those schoolchildren did for a living. You’ll meet more people in Outliers than in my previous two books.

10. What was your most memorable experience in researching Outliers?

There were so many! I’ll never forget the time I spent with Chris Langan, who might be the smartest man in the world. I’ve never been able to feel someone’s intellect before, the way I could with him. It was an intimidating experience, but also profoundly heartbreaking—as I hope becomes apparent in “The Trouble with Geniuses” chapter. I also went to south China and hung out in rice paddies, and went to this weird little town in eastern Pennsylvania where no one ever has a heart attack, and deciphered aircraft “black box” recorders with crash investigators. I should warn all potential readers that once you get interested in the world of plane crashes, it becomes very hard to tear yourself away. I’m still obsessed.

11. What do you want people to take away from Outliers?

I think this is the way in which Outliers is a lot like Blink and The Tipping Point. They are all attempts to make us think about the world a little differently. The hope with The Tipping Point was it would help the reader understand that real change was possible. With Blink, I wanted to get people to take the enormous power of their intuition seriously. My wish with Outliers is that it makes us understand how much of a group project success is. When outliers become outliers it is not just because of their own efforts. It’s because of the contributions of lots of different people and lots of different circumstances— and that means that we, as a society, have more control about who succeeds—and how many of us succeed—than we think. That’s an amazingly hopeful and uplifting idea.

12. I noticed that the book is dedicated to “Daisy.” Who is she?

Daisy is my grandmother. She was a remarkable woman, who was responsible for my mother’s success—for the fact that my mother was able to get out of the little rural village in Jamaica where she grew up, get a university education in England and ultimately meet and marry my father. The last chapter of Outliers is an attempt to understand how Daisy was able to make that happen—using all the lessons learned over the course of the book. I’ve never written something quite this personal before. I hope readers find her story as moving as I did.
In this excerpt, hospital from the Introduction to Blink, viagra 40mg I describe the part of the brain that runs our rapid decision-making system:

Imagine that I asked you to a play a very simple gambling game. In front of you, web are four decks of cards–two red and two blue. Each card in those four decks either wins you a sum of money or costs you some money, and your job is to turn over cards from any of the decks, one at a time, in such a way that maximizes your winnings. What you don’t know at the beginning, however, is that the red decks are a minefield. The rewards are high, but when you lose on red, you lose a lot. You can really only win by taking cards from the blue decks, which offer a nice, steady diet of $50 and $100 payoffs. The question is: how long will it take you to figure this out?

A group of scientists at the University of Iowa did this experiment a few years ago, and what they found is that after we’ve turned over about fifty cards, most of us start to develop a hunch about what’s going on. We don’t know why we prefer the blue decks. But we’re pretty sure, at that point, that they are a better bet. After turning over about eighty cards, most of us have figured the game out, and can explain exactly why the first two decks are such a bad idea. This much is straightforward. We have some experiences. We think them through. We develop a theory, and then finally we put two and two together. That’s the way learning works. But the Iowa scientists did something else, and this is where the strange part of the experiment begins. They hooked each gambler up to a polygraph–a lie detector machine–that measured the activity of the sweat glands that all of us have below the skin in the palms of our hands. Most sweat glands respond to temperature. But those in our palms open up in response to stress–which is why we get clammy hands when we are nervous. What the Iowa scientists found is that gamblers started generating stress responses to red decks by the tenth card, forty cards before they were able to say that they had a hunch about what was wrong with those two decks. More importantly, right around the time their palms started sweating, their behavior began to change as well. They started favoring the good decks, and taking fewer and fewer cards from A and B. In other words, the gamblers figured the game out before they figured the game out: they began making the necessary adjustments long before they were consciously aware of what adjustments they were supposed to be making.

The Iowa study is just an experiment, of course, a simple card game involving a handful of subjects and a polygraph machine. But it’s a very powerful illustration of the way our minds work. Here is a situation where the stakes were high, where things were moving quickly, and where the participants had to make sense of a lot of new and confusing information in a very short time–and what does the Iowa experiment tell us? That in those moments our brain uses two very different strategies to make sense of the situation. The first is the one we’re most familiar with. It’s the conscious strategy. We think about what we’ve learned, and eventually come up with an answer. This strategy is logical and definitive. But it takes us eighty cards to get there. It’s slow. It needs a lot of information. There’s a second strategy, though. It operates a lot more quickly. It starts to kick in after ten cards, and it’s really smart because it picks up the problem with the red decks almost immediately. It has the drawback, however, that it operates–at least at first–entirely below the surface of consciousness. It sends its messages through weirdly indirect channels, like the sweat glands on the palms of our hands. It’s a system in which our brain reaches conclusions without immediately telling us that it’s reaching conclusions.

1. What is an “Outlier”?

“Outlier” is a scientific term to describe things or phenomena that lie outside normal experience. In the summer, remedy in Paris, buy cialis we expect most days to be somewhere between warm and very hot. But imagine if you had a day in the middle of August where the temperature fell below freezing. That day would be outlier. And while we have a very good understanding of why summer days in Paris are warm or hot, pharm we know a good deal less about why a summer day in Paris might be freezing cold. In this book I’m interested in people who are outliers—in men and women who, for one reason or another, are so accomplished and so extraordinary and so outside of ordinary experience that they are as puzzling to the rest of us as a cold day in August.

2. Why did you write Outliers?

I write books when I find myself returning again and again, in my mind, to the same themes. I wrote The Tipping Point because I was fascinated by the sudden drop in crime in New York City—and that fascination grew to an interest in the whole idea of epidemics and epidemic processes. I wrote Blink because I began to get obsessed, in the same way, with the way that all of us seem to make up our minds about other people in an instant—without really doing any real thinking. In the case of Outliers, the book grew out a frustration I found myself having with the way we explain the careers of really successful people. You know how you hear someone say of Bill Gates or some rock star or some other outlier—”they’re really smart,” or “they’re really ambitious?’ Well, I know lots of people who are really smart and really ambitious, and they aren’t worth 60 billion dollars. It struck me that our understanding of success was really crude—and there was an opportunity to dig down and come up with a better set of explanations.

3. In what way are our explanations of success “crude?”

That’s a bit of a puzzle because we certainly don’t lack for interest in the subject. If you go to the bookstore, you can find a hundred success manuals, or biographies of famous people, or self-help books that promise to outline the six keys to great achievement. (Or is it seven?) So we should be pretty sophisticated on the topic. What I came to realize in writing Outliers, though, is that we’ve been far too focused on the individual—on describing the characteristics and habits and personality traits of those who get furthest ahead in the world. And that’s the problem, because in order to understand the outlier I think you have to look around them—at their culture and community and family and generation. We’ve been looking at tall trees, and I think we should have been looking at the forest.

4. Can you give some examples?

Sure. For example, one of the chapters looks at the fact that a surprising number of the most powerful and successful corporate lawyers in New York City have almost the exact same biography: they are Jewish men, born in the Bronx or Brooklyn in the mid-1930’s to immigrant parents who worked in the garment industry. Now, you can call that a coincidence. Or you can ask—as I do—what is about being Jewish and being part of the generation born in the Depression and having parents who worked in the garment business that might have something to do with turning someone into a really, really successful lawyer? And the answer is that you can learn a huge amount about why someone reaches the top of that profession by asking those questions.

5. Doesn’t that make it sound like success is something outside of an individual’s control?

I don’t mean to go that far. But I do think that we vastly underestimate the extent to which success happens because of things the individual has nothing to do with. Outliers opens, for example, by examining why a hugely disproportionate number of professional hockey and soccer players are born in January, February and March. I’m not going to spoil things for you by giving you the answer. But the point is that very best hockey players are people who are talented and work hard but who also benefit from the weird and largely unexamined and peculiar ways in which their world is organized. I actually have a lot of fun with birthdates in Outliers. Did you know that there’s a magic year to be born if you want to be a software entrepreneur? And another magic year to be born if you want to be really rich? In fact, one nine year stretch turns out to have produced more Outliers than any other period in history. It’s remarkable how many patterns you can find in the lives of successful people, when you look closely.

6. What’s the most surprising pattern you uncovered in the book?

It’s probably the chapter nearly the end of Outliers where I talk about plane crashes. How good a pilot is, it turns out, has a lot to do with where that pilot is from—that is, the culture he or she was raised in. I was actually stunned by how strong the connection is between culture and crashes, and it’s something that I would never have dreamed was true, in a million years.

7. Wait. Does this mean that there are some airlines that I should avoid?

Yes. Although, as I point out in Outliers, by acknowledging the role that culture plays in piloting, some of the most unsafe airlines have actually begun to clean up their act.

8. In The Tipping Point, you had an entire chapter on suicide. In Blink, you ended the book with a long chapter on the Diallo shooting—and now plane crashes. Do you have a macabre side?

Yes! I’m a frustrated thriller writer! But seriously, there’s a good reason for that. I think that we learn more from extreme circumstances than anything else; disasters tell us something about the way we think and behave that we can’t learn from ordinary life. That’s the premise of Outliers. It’s those who lie outside ordinary experience who have the most to teach us.

9. How does this book compare to Blink and The Tipping Point?

It’s different, in the sense that it’s much more focused on people and their stories. The subtitle—”The Story of Success”—is supposed to signal that. A lot of the book is an attempt to describe the lives of successful people, but to tell their stories in a different way than we’re used to. I have a chapter that deals, in part, with explaining the extraordinary success of Bill Gates. But I’m not interested in anything that happened to him past the age of about 17. Or I have a chapter explaining why Asian schoolchildren are so good at math. But it’s focused almost entirely on what the grandparents and great-grandparents and great-great grandparents of those schoolchildren did for a living. You’ll meet more people in Outliers than in my previous two books.

10. What was your most memorable experience in researching Outliers?

There were so many! I’ll never forget the time I spent with Chris Langan, who might be the smartest man in the world. I’ve never been able to feel someone’s intellect before, the way I could with him. It was an intimidating experience, but also profoundly heartbreaking—as I hope becomes apparent in “The Trouble with Geniuses” chapter. I also went to south China and hung out in rice paddies, and went to this weird little town in eastern Pennsylvania where no one ever has a heart attack, and deciphered aircraft “black box” recorders with crash investigators. I should warn all potential readers that once you get interested in the world of plane crashes, it becomes very hard to tear yourself away. I’m still obsessed.

11. What do you want people to take away from Outliers?

I think this is the way in which Outliers is a lot like Blink and The Tipping Point. They are all attempts to make us think about the world a little differently. The hope with The Tipping Point was it would help the reader understand that real change was possible. With Blink, I wanted to get people to take the enormous power of their intuition seriously. My wish with Outliers is that it makes us understand how much of a group project success is. When outliers become outliers it is not just because of their own efforts. It’s because of the contributions of lots of different people and lots of different circumstances— and that means that we, as a society, have more control about who succeeds—and how many of us succeed—than we think. That’s an amazingly hopeful and uplifting idea.

12. I noticed that the book is dedicated to “Daisy.” Who is she?

Daisy is my grandmother. She was a remarkable woman, who was responsible for my mother’s success—for the fact that my mother was able to get out of the little rural village in Jamaica where she grew up, get a university education in England and ultimately meet and marry my father. The last chapter of Outliers is an attempt to understand how Daisy was able to make that happen—using all the lessons learned over the course of the book. I’ve never written something quite this personal before. I hope readers find her story as moving as I did.
In this excerpt, medicine from the Introduction to “Blink,” I describe the part of the brain that runs our rapid decision-making system:

Imagine that I asked you to a play a very simple gambling game. In front of you, are four decks of cards–two red and two blue. Each card in those four decks either wins you a sum of money or costs you some money, and your job is to turn over cards from any of the decks, one at a time, in such a way that maximizes your winnings. What you don’t know at the beginning, however, is that the red decks are a minefield. The rewards are high, but when you lose on red, you lose a lot. You can really only win by taking cards from the blue decks, which offer a nice, steady diet of $50 and $100 payoffs. The question is: how long will it take you to figure this out?

A group of scientists at the University of Iowa did this experiment a few years ago, and what they found is that after we’ve turned over about fifty cards, most of us start to develop a hunch about what’s going on. We don’t know why we prefer the blue decks. But we’re pretty sure, at that point, that they are a better bet. After turning over about eighty cards, most of us have figured the game out, and can explain exactly why the first two decks are such a bad idea. This much is straightforward. We have some experiences. We think them through. We develop a theory, and then finally we put two and two together. That’s the way learning works. But the Iowa scientists did something else, and this is where the strange part of the experiment begins. They hooked each gambler up to a polygraph–a lie detector machine–that measured the activity of the sweat glands that all of us have below the skin in the palms of our hands. Most sweat glands respond to temperature. But those in our palms open up in response to stress–which is why we get clammy hands when we are nervous. What the Iowa scientists found is that gamblers started generating stress responses to red decks by the tenth card, forty cards before they were able to say that they had a hunch about what was wrong with those two decks. More importantly, right around the time their palms started sweating, their behavior began to change as well. They started favoring the good decks, and taking fewer and fewer cards from A and B. In other words, the gamblers figured the game out before they figured the game out: they began making the necessary adjustments long before they were consciously aware of what adjustments they were supposed to be making.

The Iowa study is just an experiment, of course, a simple card game involving a handful of subjects and a polygraph machine. But it’s a very powerful illustration of the way our minds work. Here is a situation where the stakes were high, where things were moving quickly, and where the participants had to make sense of a lot of new and confusing information in a very short time–and what does the Iowa experiment tell us? That in those moments our brain uses two very different strategies to make sense of the situation. The first is the one we’re most familiar with. It’s the conscious strategy. We think about what we’ve learned, and eventually come up with an answer. This strategy is logical and definitive. But it takes us eighty cards to get there. It’s slow. It needs a lot of information. There’s a second strategy, though. It operates a lot more quickly. It starts to kick in after ten cards, and it’s really smart because it picks up the problem with the red decks almost immediately. It has the drawback, however, that it operates–at least at first–entirely below the surface of consciousness. It sends its messages through weirdly indirect channels, like the sweat glands on the palms of our hands. It’s a system in which our brain reaches conclusions without immediately telling us that it’s reaching conclusions.
This excerpt is from the part of Blink where I talk about the things that throw off our powers of rapid cognition. I’ve just been talking about a test–called the IAT–which measures your level of “unconscious prejudice.” That’s the kind of prejudice that you have that you aren’t aware of, view that affects the kinds of impressions and conclusions that you reach automatically, patient without thinking.


Or what if the person you are interviewing is tall? On a conscious level, I’m sure that all of us don’t think that we treat tall people any differently from short people. But there’s plenty of evidence to suggest that height–particularly in men–does trigger a certain set of very positive, unconscious associations. I polled about half of the companies on the Fortune 500 list–the largest corporations in the United States–asking each company questions about its CEO. The heads of big companies are, as I’m sure comes as no surprise to anyone, overwhelmingly white men, which undoubtedly reflects some kind of implicit bias. But they are also virtually all tall: In my sample, I found that on average CEOs were just a shade under six feet. Given that the average American male is 5’9″ that means that CEOs, as a group, have about three inches on the rest of their sex. But this statistic actually understates matters. In the U.S. population, about 14.5 percent of all men are six feet or over. Among CEOs of Fortune 500 companies, that number is 58 percent. Even more strikingly, in the general American population, 3.9 percent of adult men are 6’2″ or taller. Among my CEO sample, 30 percent were 6’2″ or taller. The lack of women or minorities among the top executive ranks at least has a plausible explanation. For years, for a number of reasons having to do with discrimination and cultural patterns, there simply weren’t a lot of women and minorities entering the management ranks of American corporations. So today, when boards of directors look for people with the necessary experience to be candidates for top positions, they can argue somewhat plausibly that there aren’t a lot of women and minorities in the executive pipeline. But this is simply not true of short people. It is possible to staff a company entirely with white males, but it is not possible to staff a company without short people: there simply aren’t enough tall people to go around. Yet none of those short people ever seem to make it into the executive suite. Of the tens of millions of American men below 5’6″, a grand total of ten–in my sample–have reached the level of CEO, which says that being short is probably as much, or more, of a handicap to corporate success as being a woman or an African-American. (The grand exception to all of these trends is American Express CEO Kenneth Chenault, who is both on the short side (5’9″) and black. He must be a remarkable man to have overcome two Warren Harding Errors.)

Is this a deliberate prejudice? Of course not. No one ever says, dismissively, of a potential CEO candidate that ‘he’s too short.’ This is quite clearly the kind of unconscious prejudice that the IAT picks up. Most of us, in ways that we are not entirely aware of, automatically associate leadership ability with imposing physical stature. We have a sense, in our minds, of what a leader is supposed to look like, and that stereotype is so powerful that when someone fits it, we simply become blind to other considerations. And this isn’t confined to the corporate suite. Not long ago, researchers went back and analyzed the data from four large research studies, that had followed thousands of people from birth to adulthood, and calculated that when corrected for variables like age and gender and weight, an inch of height is worth $789 a year in salary. That means that a person who is six feet tall, but who is otherwise identical to someone who is five foot five, will make on average $5,525 more per year. As Timothy Judge, one of the authors of the study, points out: “If you take this over the course of a 30-year career and compound it, we’re talking about a tall person enjoying literally hundreds of thousands of dollars of earnings advantage.” Have you ever wondered why so many mediocrities find their way into positions of authority in companies and organizations? It’s because when it comes to even the most important positions, we think that our selection decisions are a good deal more rational than they actually are. We see a tall person, and we swoon.