In a long time, I came across a book that challenges the core of all that I have learned in my professional education as well as professional career. How how effortlessly so!
We are all taught to be trend gazers in numerous murder-by-presentation sessions. The bosslike figure will holler to a struggling deputy making the presentation by saying, “don’t make hollow statement, show me the data”. A graph would come up, and a trendline identified and agreed. A few dots that fall far away from the trendline are laughed at and ignored. Action plans would be made based on the trendline. Sometimes these small far from trendline data points are also seen as bad data. In life, the exceptions are ignored, sometimes seen are crazy deviations. As a B-School student, anyone who went to bed early and woke up early were seen as outliers. Irregular and deviant. Ignore them.
As student of engineering, I learnt the term ‘outlier’. The literature suggested this is is out of line data that can be ignored. I was also programmed to believe that by ignoring the outliers, the analysis quality would only become better. I held this belief all this years and this got further reinforced all these years.
Malcolm Gladwell’s excellent piece of work ‘Outliers’ gave an electric jolt to my established thoughts on what is relevant and what is not. It has challenged my deeply entrenched belief around these outliers and next time I see an exception to the rule, I would surely be quite respectful to the exception. The core message of the book is, one can ignore the outliers only because you do not know what to do with them. Your inability to understand these outliers does not become them irrelevant. In fact, these outliers bring in new and strong behavioural elements to a system. You would realize that Einstein was what he was because he was not part of the trendline. While I am just about a third into this book, I am madly in love with it. I recommend this book to professionals, students, artists, scientists (and everyone else) alike. Even to those who don’t read books regularly. And while you are at it, don’t miss reading Blink as well as Tipping Point by the same author.