Magnus Carlsen (1991- ), a Norwegian chess grandmaster and the No. 1 ranked player in the world
Here is a brief excerpt from an article written by Malcolm Gladwell for The New Yorker (August 21, 2013) in which Gladwell makes a vigorous effort to clarify issues that always result from careless reading and simplistic thinking. To read the complete article, please click here.
Photo Credit: Photograph by Kent Skibstad/AFP/Getty
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Forty years ago, in a paper in American Scientist, Herbert Simon and William Chase drew one of the most famous conclusions in the study of expertise:
“There are no instant experts in chess—certainly no instant masters or grandmasters. There appears not to be on record any case (including Bobby Fischer) where a person reached grandmaster level with less than about a decade’s intense preoccupation with the game. We would estimate, very roughly, that a master has spent perhaps 10,000 to 50,000 hours staring at chess positions….”
In the years that followed, an entire field within psychology grew up devoted to elaborating on Simon and Chase’s observation—and researchers, time and again, reached the same conclusion: it takes a lot of practice to be good at complex tasks. After Simon and Chase’s paper, for example, the psychologist John Hayes looked at seventy-six famous classical composers and found that, in almost every case, those composers did not create their greatest work until they had been composing for at least ten years. (The sole exceptions: Shostakovich and Paganini, who took nine years, and Erik Satie, who took eight.)
This is the scholarly tradition I was referring to in my book Outliers, when I wrote about the “ten-thousand-hour rule.” No one succeeds at a high level without innate talent, I wrote: “achievement is talent plus preparation.” But the ten-thousand-hour research reminds us that “the closer psychologists look at the careers of the gifted, the smaller the role innate talent seems to play and the bigger the role preparation seems to play.” In cognitively demanding fields, there are no naturals. Nobody walks into an operating room, straight out of a surgical rotation, and does world-class neurosurgery. And second—and more crucially for the theme of Outliers —- the amount of practice necessary for exceptional performance is so extensive that people who end up on top need help. They invariably have access to lucky breaks or privileges or conditions that make all those years of practice possible. As examples, I focussed on the countless hours the Beatles spent playing strip clubs in Hamburg and the privileged, early access Bill Gates and Bill Joy got to computers in the nineteen-seventies. “He has talent by the truckload,” I wrote of Joy. “But that’s not the only consideration. It never is.”
Recently, there has been some confusion about this argument. Some of the critiques are just bewildering. Here, for example, is a passage from an article in Time a few months ago, which makes me think that there is another Malcolm Gladwell out there, with far more eccentric views than mine, who put on a Halloween wig and somehow conned his way into the Time Life Building:
“Based on research suggesting that practice is the essence of genius, best-selling author Malcolm Gladwell popularized the idea that 10,000 hours of appropriately guided practice was “the magic number of greatness,” regardless of a person’s natural aptitude. With enough practice, he claimed in his book Outliers, anyone could achieve a level of proficiency that would rival that of a professional. It was just a matter of putting in the time.”
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To read the complete article, please click here.
Malcolm Gladwell has been a staff writer with The New Yorker magazine since 1996. His 1999 profile of Ron Popeil won a National Magazine Award, and in 2005 he was named one of Time magazine‘s 100 Most Influential People. He is the author of The Tipping Point: How Little Things Make a Big Difference (2000), Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking, (2005), Outliers: The Story of Success (2008), What the Dog Saw: And Other Adventures (2009), and David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants (October 2013).
Here is an excerpt from an article by Rajat Taneja for LinkedIn. To read the complete article and check out others, please click here.
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Steve Ballmer recently announced his retirement setting off a firestorm of analysis of his career at Microsoft. I don’t want to get into the pluses and minuses of someone’s career — that’s for history to decide — but we should acknowledge a very simple fact: Very few people have contributed as much to society as Steve Ballmer.
Along with Bill Gates, Steve Ballmer democratized computing for the world. The two of them had a vision to put a computer on every desk and in every home, and in 20 years flat they achieved a level of unprecedented scale in that mission. No one can really debate the impact of MSDOS and Windows in bringing affordable computing to the mass market. Think about that. It’s really an astounding achievement that wholly changed global society. There are very few people you can say that about. And with today’s news that Microsoft will acquire the handset and services business of Nokia to strengthen their mobile offerings, Steve’s influence will continue to have a lasting impact well after his career at Microsoft is over.
As someone who worked with Steve very closely for a number of years I wanted to share a few things I learned from him, which have helped me tremendously during my own career. Working alongside Steve I learned some of the most valuable lessons of my career, many of which I’ve chronicled here on LinkedIn. But as I reflect on my many interactions with Steve spanning over 15 years, I have been most impacted by 5 lessons.
[Here's the first.]
Courage and Convictions
The hallmark of the best leaders is to think big and to stay the course despite short-term adversity. Steve was exceptional at thinking big and with a long time horizon. That led to the creation of a brand-new Xbox and Xbox LIVE business which now underpins a revolutionary connected entertainment strategy. That led to the formation of a huge server and enterprise business and now underpins Azure cloud services. That led to the formation of a new communications business which includes Lync and Skype and underpins a whole new way to think about productivity and collaboration. Very few companies have gone from being a successful one-trick pony to being successful multi-trick pony. It requires deep belief and courage to follow the true north with conviction. Steve taught a whole generation of leaders how to handle short term adversity for the right long term innovation.
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To read the complete article, please click here.
Rajat Taneja is Executive Vice President and Chief Technology Officer at Electronic Arts.
Worthless, Impossible, and Stupid: How Contrarian Entrepreneurs Create and Capture Extraordinary Value
Harvard Business Review Press (2013)
A brilliant analysis of entrepreneurship as “the contrarian perception, creation, and capture of extraordinary value”
Let’s say that a Mount Rushmore type of monument for entrepreneurs will be constructed and nominations are requested. Which names immediately come to mind? Chances are, none of them would be among the several listed by Daniel Isenberg in the Conclusion section of his book. So what? In my opinion, a great deal. Most books about entrepreneurs focus on business celebrities such as Jeff Bezos, Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Herb Kelleher, Larry Page and Sergey Brin, Howard Schultz, Fred Smith, Ted Turner, and Mark Zuckerberg. They did indeed begin with acorns that became oak trees and do indeed exemplify what Isenberg characterizes as “the contrarian perception, creation, and capture of extraordinary value.” However, Izenberg’s book is not about celebrity. His focus is on a contrarian mindset and process he has observed in entrepreneurs he has personally known in 45 countries.
“Worthless is about how so many people from around the world see hidden value in situations where others do not. These people then use that perception to successfully develop valuable products and services that customers usually initially don’t think they want, and ultimately go on to realize extraordinary value for themselves.” So what? Isenberg’s response: “A paradox: despite their statistical rarity in creating extraordinary value, most of the entrepreneurs in these pages will strike you as ordinary people like you and me. The differences between them and us are less a matter of who they are or what resources they have than of what and how they think.”
So, Isenberg has two objectives and achieves both: To “catalyze” entrepreneurial aspiration so that as many of his readers as possible to make “the entrepreneurial choice”: extraordinary value creation, and, to “reframe” entrepreneurship in terms of value creation and capture rather than business ownership per se. That is, to understand and appreciate the men and women he discusses as people who are (in most respects) “like you and me” rather than in terms of the companies they have created. I presume to add an opinion of mine: Those on whom Isenberg focuses in this book share much in common with Bezos et al listed earlier insofar as having a contrarian mindset and process is concerned. For example, they also saw and realized value where others thought there was none, and also acted in ways that were contrary to what almost everyone thought was worthwhile. Selling books online? An airline serving major cities in Texas whose fares were competitive with those of…Greyhound and Railways? Overnight delivery of mail and parcels that “absolutely, positively have to be there”? Ideas such as these are worthless, impossible, and stupid.
These are among the entrepreneurial stories in the book of greatest interest and value to me:
o Robert Wessman’s generic pharmaceuticals company (Pages 12-15)
o Miguel Davila’s cinema chain (16-21)
o Atsumasa Tochisako’s money-transfer service (42-51)
o Carl Bistany’s educational management ventures (72-82)
o Will Dean’s adventure challenge events (100-107)
o Mary Gadams’s RacingthePlanet (137-139)
o Vinod Kapur’s chicken farming (142-151)
o Mo Ibrahim’s cell phone company (152-154)
o Iqbal Quadir’s Grameenphone (155-167)
o Mei Zhang’s experience with cultural tourism (187-193)
o Dean Kamen’s Segway (195-196)
o Itai Isenberg’s nightclub business (217-219)
As Eisenberg suggests throughout the book, the contrarian mindset and process are not for everyone but global giants such as GE as well as start-ups need to include both and indeed the success of the former and the survival of the latter depend on it. Consider these remarks by Jack Welsh at a GE annual when its then chairman and CEO explained why he admired small companies and hoped that GE would become more like one:
“For one, they communicate better. Without the din and prattle of bureaucracy, people listen as well as talk; and since there are fewer of them they generally know and understand each other. Second, small companies move faster. They know the penalties for hesitation in the marketplace. Third, in small companies, with fewer layers and less camouflage, the leaders show up very clearly on the screen. Their performance and its impact are clear to everyone. And, finally, smaller companies waste less. They spend less time in endless reviews and approvals and politics and paper drills. They have fewer people; therefore they can only do the important things. Their people are free to direct their energy and attention toward the marketplace rather than fighting bureaucracy.”
As Welch well knew, Thomson-Houston Company and Edison General Electric Company merged in 1892. Two small acorns became one larger than either but still an acorn. Thomas Edison sold all of his shares two years later but continued his association as a consultant. Over time, driven by its entrepreneurial spirit, GE became an oak tree through diversification of products and services based on research by the first industrial laboratory in the United States and through acquisitions. Presumably there were many occasions when GE’s bold initiatives were widely viewed as worthless, impossible, and stupid. Once again, the company needs such initiatives now as do countless others among the Fortune 100.
When concluding his book, Daniel Eisenberg observes: “Entrepreneurship is not about the likely or the average; it is about the possible, the extraordinary. It is about victory. The entrepreneurs who have graced these pages have shown me, and I hope you, a higher possibility.” Well-said.
Here is a brief excerpt from an article by Bill Gates featured by LinkedIn. To read the complete article, check out other resources, please click here.
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I’m looking forward to sharing posts from time to time about things I’ve learned in my career at Microsoft and the Gates Foundation. (I also post frequently on my blog.)
Last month, I went to Omaha for the annual Berkshire Hathaway shareholders meeting. It’s always a lot of fun, and not just because of the ping-pong matches and the newspaper-throwing contest I have with Warren Buffett. It’s also fun because I get to learn from Warren and gain insight into how he thinks.
Here are three things I’ve learned from Warren over the years:
1. It’s not just about investing.
The first thing people learn from Warren, of course, is how to think about investing. That’s natural, given his amazing track record. Unfortunately, that’s where a lot of people stop, and they miss out on the fact that he has a whole framework for business thinking that is very powerful. For example, he talks about looking for a company’s moat—its competitive advantage—and whether the moat is shrinking or growing. He says a shareholder has to act as if he owns the entire business, looking at the future profit stream and deciding what it’s worth. And you have to be willing to ignore the market rather than follow it, because you want to take advantage of the market’s mistakes—the companies that have been underpriced.
I have to admit, when I first met Warren, the fact that he had this framework was a real surprise to me. I met him at a dinner my mother had put together. On my way there, I thought, “Why would I want to meet this guy who picks stocks?” I thought he just used various market-related things—like volume, or how the price had changed over time—to make his decisions. But when we started talking that day, he didn’t ask me about any of those things. Instead he started asking big questions about the fundamentals of our business. “Why can’t IBM do what Microsoft does? Why has Microsoft been so profitable?” That’s when I realized he thought about business in a much more profound way than I’d given him credit for.
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To read the complete article, please click here.
Here are a few of my blog posts that focus on Warren Buffett:
Part 1 of interview of Lawrence Cunningham link
Review of The Essays of Warren Buffett (Third Edition) link
Review of Tap Dancing to Work link
Forbes Greatest Business Stories of All Time
John Wiley & Sons (1997)
Note: This was among the first books I reviewed for Amazon (in 2000) and I recently re-read it while doing some research on several of the 20 companies it features. Don’t let the publication date deter you. These stories are even more entertaining and informative now than they were then because these are perspectives on them 25 years before many of them and their leaders became almost deities in the vineyards of free enterprise.
Each chapter offers a profile of a major contributor to the evolution of American business history, beginning with one of my ancestors, Robert Morris (America’s “first real businessman”), and concluding with Bill Gates (“Microsoft’s co-founder and guiding spirit”). In between, Gross and his associates also examine other great leaders such as McCormick, Rockefeller, Morgan, Ford, Merrill, Sarnoff, Disney, Johnson, Ogilvy, Kroc, Wilson, Ash, Walton, and McGowan as well as major corporations such as American Express, Intel, Harley-Davidson, and Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Co. The reader is told, “This book is about heroes” and it really is.
Using the most effective strategies and devices of a storyteller, the authors examine biographical information within an historical context, sustaining interest with anecdotes while providing insights as to the causes and effects of each subject’s accomplishments. For Morris, essentially the economic survival of thirteen colonies during their struggle for independence. For McCormick, the industrialization of agriculture. For Rockefeller, the creation and development of the modern corporation. For Morgan, saving a nation’s financial system. For Ford, mass-producing affordable personal transportation. For Merrill, broadening the base of stock ownership to include those, among others, for whom the Ford Motor Company manufactured automobiles. Each of the other “heroes” discussed made equally important contributions.
A brief review such as this can only suggest (albeit inadequately) the wealth of information to be found in this book. The prose has snap, crackle, and pop. The focus is crystal clear. The lessons to be learned from the careers examined are of incalculable value. Although this book will be of interest to almost anyone, it will have special importance for school, college, and university students who may sometimes wonder if there are any “secrets to success.” The answer is yes. The specifics are to be found in the lives of those who are discussed in Greatest Business Stories of All Time.