5 Dec 2011

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I am fascinated by people's behaviors, what drives them to act a certain way, why they make one decision as opposed to the other...you get the drift. I like watching people, I like talking to them. I also have an annoying habit. The 'why' stage never really ended with me. It just got magnified to 'what does that mean?' I love meanings. That tells you I kill the heck out of a beautiful moment by wanting him to define the poem he is reading me, or explain what the bracelet he just got me meant. Puzzles annoy me, especially when they take too long to solve. I want to know everything. And I mean, everything.

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I stumbled across Outliers. I have become so lazy in reading I want it read to me. Enter Audiobooks, Outliers being the first one on the list. One of the few books I can say has shifted the way I think, the way I look at life. He explores various situations that we take for granted, that we think are by chance, fate...Like how Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, etc came to be the masters of what they do. They have been called geniuses even. All we know is the Bill Gates quit Harvard to set up Microsoft. The backstory, what everyone forgets, is he started interacting with computers at 13, was programming for organizations at 15. Malcom Gladwell speculates that it takes about 10,000 hours of practice in any field to be really good at it. By the time he was quitting Havard, Gates had more than 10,000 hours in computer programming.

Gates grew up in Seattle to well-to-do parents and was enrolled in an elite, private high school, Lakeside. Lakeside just happened to have a Mother’s Club that raised $3000 dollars to start a computer club in 1968, which didn’t even exist at major universities at that time. Most computer programming used an unfathomably laborious technique known as a computer-card system. Gates’ high school relied instead on an advanced time-sharing system that greatly facilitated his ability to program efficiently and effortlessly. When the money ran out for his computer club, a mother of one of the Lakeside boys just happened to need a programmer at a computer company called C-Cubed, which turned into another opportunity to work at ISI then TRW. He happened to be within walking distance of the University of Washington, which allowed him to work on computers between 3 and 6 am. Now none of all that would be that remarkable today. But that was 1968 when computers really did not exist and computer programming opportunities were nil. Gladwell argues that the software billionaires of today all came of age at a very narrow window in time with a narrow timeframe of 1953-55 birthdates: Bill Gates 1955, Paul Allen 1953, Steve Ballmer 1956, Steve Jobs 1955, Eric Schmidt 1955, Bill Joy 1954 (btw a great story of Bill Joy, the founder of the Internet and UNIX code in the book), etc. For people in computer world, sometime in the mid 70's was the best time to be a young man / woman. The first person computer was invented around then. If you were over 30, you were too old. You probably had a fmaily and worked for IBM and thought those huge mainframes would last forever. If you were under 20,  You did not have disposable income to spend on an experimental piece of technology. You were still in high school. Perfect age to be? Between 21-25. Precisely what Gates, Jobs and Joy were at that time.

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In one Chapter, Malcolm talk about effects of what he calls “The Culture of Honor.” He discusses why the famous American feuds like Howard-Turner (read more here) and Hatfield-McCoy (read more here) standoffs were steeped in a culture that traced back several centuries on a different soil. Gladwell argues that these intense clan battles that centered around familial honor originated in the idea of the herdsman living on the hinterland. The farmer, by contrast, who must work in a team to cultivate arable land, would not risk alienating those around him. The herdsman, on the other hand, living on the rocky highlands must defend his sheep and cattle from the encroachment of strangers and thereby defines a certain code of honor that makes his battles per force openly querulous and staunchly virile. Gladwell discovered that these individuals acted in such a fashion from a legacy that predated their arrival in the heartland of America. Coming from the lawless borderlands of the United Kingdom, these “Scotch-Irish” engaged in feuds and fights because they were classic herdsmen as found in the Basque region of Spain, Sicily, and parts of Greece. Their behavior had been imprinted through generations of predecessors before them. He does not mention this, but in my mind, I thought. Doesn't that explain Maasai, the Pokots and Sabaots... Somalis?

Maybe its a coincidence, how accurate Gladwell's observations are, but for me, who loves explanations, I have a few answers, less questions. I have been hurt by friends, and they chose to do it all at once. Separately though. I have been asking them why. None seem to be giving me an answer that heals the pain, returns the trust I had for them. In Gladwell's fashion, I have started going through my friendship with these people, the basis on how we started, the history of who they were before we met, in hopes of getting answers. I haven't gotten any yet. Still watching

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