Archive for the ‘Asians’ Category

A guy from one of my marketing classes loaned me this book some time ago, before I started reading about HBD.

Malcolm Gladwell is the author of his much more popular and better book, The Tipping Point, which spawned something of a cottage industry in viral marketing firms and social media gurus.  

In Outliers Gladwell explores the factors that shape remarkably successful people – those who have widely deviated above the norm of human achievement.

Unfortunatley, nothing concrete is offered between loosely connected, albeit well written and interesting chapters on:

– Why Bill Gates was not just ‘any’ middle class geek who managed to become the world’s richest man

– Why high IQ does not correlate with success

– Koreans made for bad commercial pilots

– NHL players are disproportionately likely to be born in certain months

It was the chapter ‘Rice Paddies and Math Tests’ which most piqued my interest. Gladwell provides the usual evidence on Asian math dominance, and provides 2 novel causes:

1) The structure of Asian languages and numbering systems, compared to Western ones – read this part from a chapter excerpt here. No mention of African language structures though.

Take a look at the following list of numbers: 4,8,5,3,9,7,6. Read them out loud to yourself. Now look away, and spend twenty seconds memorizing that sequence before saying them out loud again.

If you speak English, you have about a 50 percent chance of remembering that sequence perfectly If you’re Chinese, though, you’re almost certain to get it right every time. Why is that? Because as human beings we store digits in a memory loop that runs for about two seconds. We most easily memorize whatever we can say or read within that two second span. And Chinese speakers get that list of numbers—4,8,5,3,9,7,6—right every time because—unlike English speakers—their language allows them to fit all those seven numbers into two seconds.

2) Rice paddy agricultural systems used in East Asia that necessitated a culture of attention to detail, complex  rule/process following, structural problem solving and persistence. These are the qualities required to excel in math and logical-type endevours such as computers and engineering.

Interestingly, Gladwell suggests a hereditary link with these culturally acquired skills to mathemateical success. He cites one study where  participants were asked to solve a logical pattern problem. Second generation Asian Americans, without any prior math-oriented backgrounds, outperformed because they were willing to spend longer time on the problem before giving up and deciding it was impossible.