Posts Tagged 'Malcolm Gladwell'

Recession Holding Back Education Too…

Great… not only is the recession hurting my income today but it is likely to have a much larger economic impact on education (and thus earning potential) of future generations.  It a NY Times article last week titled “Facing Deficits, Some States Cut Summer School” many schools are cutting back or closing their summer school programs to save money.  This is being done in spite of $100 billion in stimulus money being pumped into education and the Secretary of Education urging states and districts to keep their summer school programs open.

Summer school you say?  Who really really cares about summer school… unless of course you are talking about the classic 1987 movie Summer School with Marc Harmon and Kristy Alley.  The reality is that summer school can be critically important to those kids coming from low-income households.  In our most recent bout, Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell we learned that the knowledge gap between the kids from the poorest families to the richest families is almost exclusively attributed to what knowledge is gained or lost during the summer (not technology in the classroom or classroom size).  As the Times article points out, children of working parents will be at the mall or in front of the TV instead of in the classroom preparing them for the next grade level.

If Gladwell’s analysis is correct, why is it that state governments or school districts would make such a short sighted decision?  Perhaps his research hasn’t made it back to the education establishment?

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Close Enough to Free to Round Down

FreeMalcolm Gladwell, a Broken Spines favorite, provides a nice counterpoint to the digital age mantra of “build it and they will come” as articulated in Chris Anderson’s new book: “Free: the Future of a Radical Price.” 

Anderson describes an experiment conducted by the M.I.T. behavioral economist Dan Ariely, the author of “Predictably Irrational.” Ariely offered a group of subjects a choice between two kinds of chocolate—Hershey’s Kisses, for one cent, and Lindt truffles, for fifteen cents. Three-quarters of the subjects chose the truffles. Then he redid the experiment, reducing the price of both chocolates by one cent. The Kisses were now free. What happened? The order of preference was reversed. Sixty-nine per cent of the subjects chose the Kisses. The price difference between the two chocolates was exactly the same, but that magic word “free” has the power to create a consumer stampede.

But, Gladwell turns Anderson’s YouTube example around and points out how Free isn’t really working out for YouTube and its parent Google.  

YouTube lets anyone post a video to its site free, and lets anyone watch a video on its site free, and it doesn’t have to pass judgment on the quality of the videos it archives. “Nobody is deciding whether a video is good enough to justify the scarce channel space it takes, because there is no scarce channel space,” he writes, and goes on:

Distribution is now close enough to free to round down. Today, it costs about $0.25 to stream one hour of video to one person. Next year, it will be $0.15. A year later it will be less than a dime. Which is why YouTube’s founders decided to give it away. . . . The result is both messy and runs counter to every instinct of a television professional, but this is what abundance both requires and demands. 

But, according to Credit Suisse, Google is spending $500 million to support YouTube and it has yet to make a profit.  Advertisers don’t want their ads associated with stupid pet tricks.  And, with the video capabilities of new cell phones, YouTube videos have jumped 1700% in the last 6 months.  That’s a lot of inane video.

10,000 Hours of Deliberate, Strenuous and Boring Practice

The next Broken Spines bout is on “Outliers” by Malcolm Gladwell.  Basically Gladwell debunks the myth that great people are innately smarter or more capable than the rest of us.  He references research that shows that 10,000 hours of practice are necessary before mastering anything.

David Brooks writes in his column this morning that this research has been conducted by people like K. Anders Ericsson, the late Benjamin Bloom and others. And he recommends two new books: “The Talent Code” by Daniel Coyle; and “Talent Is Overrated” by Geoff Colvin.  Brooks writes:

Coyle and Colvin describe dozens of experiments fleshing out this process. This research takes some of the magic out of great achievement. But it underlines a fact that is often neglected. Public discussion is smitten by genetics and what we’re “hard-wired” to do. And it’s true that genes place a leash on our capacities. But the brain is also phenomenally plastic. We construct ourselves through behavior. As Coyle observes, it’s not who you are, it’s what you do.

Incidentally, David Brooks is speaking at the Minneapolis Orchestra Hall next Tuesday.

Opus Distinguished Speaker Program: The Age of Obama, featuring David Brooks


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