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Analyzing Outliers
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Credit: Oren Jack Turner
Source: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Albert_Einstein_1947a.jpg
License: CC BY-NC 3.0

Why are some people amazingly successful, while others lead ordinary lives? Is it all a matter of genetics? Or are there other factors that turn people into "outliers"?

Chance, Talent, and Opportunity

In mathematics, an outlier is a data point that falls outside the range of the other points. On a box-and-whisker plot, the outliers are at the very edge of the whiskers. Sometimes, outliers are the result of experimental accidents or mistakes. Other times, outliers simply represent weird, chance occurrences. But when we're looking at people and their accomplishments, outliers represent individuals who have achieved phenomenal success. They're so good at what they do that they revolutionize entire fields. In a book titled Outliers: The Story of Success, a writer named Malcolm Gladwell studied people like Bill Gates, the Beatles, and professional hockey players to find out what made them so successful. He discovered that it wasn't talent alone. He found that for each outlier, many more talented people died in obscurity because they never got the same big breaks. According to Gladwell, an unusually successful person possesses a combination of talent, ambition, and luck.

Credit: Dennis Hamilton
Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/91555706@N00/2265698787/
License: CC BY-NC 3.0

For instance, let's consider Bill Gates. Sure, he's a very bright computer programmer. Lots of people are. But what made him one of the richest people in the world? As a young boy, he was able to have access to a computer at a time when very few people had ever used one. That was luck. Then, he developed an interest in programming and dedicated thousands of hours to his passion. That was ambition. If a computer hadn't crossed Gates' path at the right time, we might never have heard of him. Of course, if he had tried programming once and given up on it, he'd also just be an average person. Gates is an outlier because he had good luck and took advantage of it.

See for yourself: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5eHa9n4jbGw

Explore More

Watch the following videos to learn more about Malcolm Gladwell's research, Bill Gates, and other outliers.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hz4hPbHIZ6Y

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CsGihiSE6sM

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=njdjYI5ciws

Image Attributions

  1. [1]^ Credit: Oren Jack Turner; Source: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Albert_Einstein_1947a.jpg; License: CC BY-NC 3.0
  2. [2]^ Credit: Dennis Hamilton; Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/91555706@N00/2265698787/; License: CC BY-NC 3.0

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