Book: Outliers, the Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell

Malcolm Gladwell is the author of five New York Times bestsellers; The Tipping Point, BlinkOutliers, What the Dog Saw. He has been named one of the 100 most influential people by TIME magazine and one of the Foreign Policy’s Top Global Thinkers. He has explored how ideas spread in the Tipping Point, decision making in Blink, and the roots of success in Outliers

On LinkedIn platform group discussions a topic came by which caught my attention “Do the math – why Shanghai’s children rule the world”, based on the book “Outliers” from Canadian award-winning writer, Malcom Gladwell,


Rice Paddies and Math tests click on the link for a summary of Chapter eight. Update by Enotes.com on 18-12-2017 (Gladwell website is under construction, the original link will be restored when made available).

“No one who can rise before dawn three hundred and sixty days a year fails to make his family rich.”

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. . . .

The Asian system is transparent,” says Karen Fuson, a Northwestern University psychologist, who has done much of the research on Asian-Western differences. “I think that it makes the whole attitude toward math different. Instead of being a rote learning thing, there’s a pattern I can figure out. There is an expectation that I can do this. There is an expectation that it’s sensible. For fractions, we say three fifths. The Chinese are literally, ‘out of five parts, take three.’ That’s telling you conceptually what a fraction is. It’s differentiating the denominator and the numerator.
The much-storied disenchantment with mathematics among western children starts in the third and fourth grade, and Fuson argues that perhaps a part of that disenchantment is due to the fact that math doesn’t seem to make sense; its linguistic structure is clumsy; its basic rules seem arbitrary and complicated.When it comes to maths, in other words, Asians have a built-in advantage. . .

The discussion topic was contributed with the following note and question: “The Chinese languages lead the world for speed and memorability -a natural advantage in simple maths. But how do they match up on complex, engineering-style calculations? What happens when you add symbols to number in Chinese?”

The thread developed with various comments adding to the discussion and links, an article published June 2012 in The Telegraph “Numeracy campaign, what we can learn from China. Here below is an excerpt, for the full read click on the provided link.

“Among other factors he highlights is quality of teaching. “Everyone who teaches maths in China is what is called a ‘subject-specific teacher’. So when I was in the classroom, I only taught maths.” The same is true of Singapore’s secondary schools. But in Britain, fewer than five percent of primary teachers have maths degrees, and an estimated 30-40 percent of GCSE maths lessons are taken by teachers with qualifications in other subjects..”
So can we change the culture around maths here? “In many schools, I have seen in Britain,” suggests Professor Fan, “there is good practice in maths, but in others, there isn’t that culture of expectation.”

A more recent article featured in The Economist February 2014, Teaching mathematics – Time for a ceasefire; “Technology and fresh ideas are replacing classroom drill—and helping pupils to learn“. Click on the link for the full article read, here below is an excerpt.

“Maths education has been a battlefield before: the American “math wars” of the 1980s pitted traditionalists, who emphasized fluency in pen-and-paper calculations, against reformers led by the country’s biggest teaching lobby, who put real-world problem-solving, often with the help of calculators, at the center of the curriculum. A backlash followed by parents and academics worried that the “new math” left pupils ill-prepared for university courses in mathematics and the sciences. But as many countries have since found, training pupils to ace exams is not the same as equipping them to use their hard-won knowledge in work and life”.

This post is based on Malcolm Gladwell’s book titled “Outliers”, the Story of Success; focusing on intelligence and ambition in relation to persons who stand apart because of making most of their human potential. He argues skilfully that in order to understand how some people thrive you must take more into account than only being bound and determined. There are more parts making the greater sum, than just the relationship between Math and languages.

What are your thoughts? Have you read the book and do you agree that there is more what drives success or is it reserved for successful people, who have made it on intelligence and ambition or where they lucky to be born in the right year or does speaking the right language makes you smarter in math?