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Old 11-12-2010, 01:18 PM   #112
Keith Larman
Dojo: AIA, Los Angeles, CA
Location: California
Join Date: Apr 2005
Posts: 1,604
Re: Transmission, Inheritance, Emulation 18

Peter A Goldsbury wrote: View Post
Hello Keith,

Your post leads to an observation and a question.
I am sorry, I completely missed this post. I was rereading the TIE article once again and noticed this as I reread the comments. All apologies.

Peter A Goldsbury wrote: View Post
First, the observation. Ellis never used the term Outliers in his book. He used it in a thread somewhere else in Aikiweb. I had not really thought much about the 'mechanics' of genius, but I read the book and realized that the 10,000 hours factor was crucial to aikido.

The strictly statistical use of outliers does not really work in aikido, because there is no objective basis on which to ground the statistical aberration. I do not see how you can talk of outliers in aikido in the absence of clear statistical data about how the 'inliers' actually train.

Thus I am inclined to think that the use of the term in relation to Takeda and Ueshiba is not--cannot be--statistically based.
You are absolutely correct. My discussion of outliers above started as an understanding of it as a term used by statisticians to convey that it wasn't a term used with any sort of positive/negative connotation. We start with that as a strict meaning but then the word is also used more loosely in statistics to refer to those things that seem to defy the trend. So it doesn't always have a strict meaning. In a strict definition of outliers as a statistical phenomena I cannot even begin to imagine how one would attempt to quantify it in the context of Aikido. But I would say you would also have the same problem quantifying what made the Beatles outliers compared to their contemporaries. Or Bill Gates (although the number of digits in his savings account is probably a good start). In the end what we have to go on are the accounts of others or some sort of external criterion. So strictly we call an outlier that which lies outside the general data trend. Basically any datapoint that deviates significantly from the rest of the data. I think the usage in terms of people is with respect to performance or abilities or achievements that seem to deviate so markedly that one cannot help but notice. They are simply put different from the rest.

Peter A Goldsbury wrote: View Post
Secondly, the question. I mentioned in the TIE column that I believed Gladwell had been uncritical about the research of Geert Hofstede. However, I would be interested to hear more about your own reservations about Gladwell's research or putative results.

Best wishes,

I am not deeply familiar with Geert Hofstede. He is (was?) the sociologist with the theory of cultural dimensions, right? Not something I studied.

My personal "discomfort" with Gladwell's work is more along the lines of him selectively choosing examples to make his case. He is cherry picking those examples that support the thesis. I've read each of his books although I'll admit my reading of outliers was done quickly. Now that we're having this discussion I'll probably find myself rereading it this weekend with a more critical mind.

Let me think of another "great" in history.

Louis Armstrong (a hero of mine -- I love jazz) didn't touch a musical instrument until he was 11, certainly a lot later than most people who grow up to be top notch musicians. Much of his early life was filled with difficulty, work, pain, legal entanglements, death, and certainly not a lot of time to train correctly. And yet he became one of the great pioneers of jazz music, recognized as such even as a young man. 10,000 hours? Maybe. But there had to be hundreds of others with easier paths who started earlier, worked harder who didn't have the slightest impact on the music world. And that raises the other problem. When you look at data like this you look at those who succeed then "wind the clock backwards" trying to figure out how they got there. What you don't see are the 999 other people who may have done nearly the same exact thing who didn't succeed. So we're trying to generalize about what makes for "success" based on outliers. Yet the same approach likely failed on 999 other people. We just don't hear about them because they never succeeded. Do we really want to adopt that as our training method? Didn't work very well for virtually everyone else...

Anyway, there is the relevant point of the 10,000 hour rule. That's actually Dr. Anders Ericsson's thesis from some of his work about "deliberative" practice necessary for expertise. And few doubt that he has a very good point in his thesis. But this 10,000 hours is but one hurdle. And how we go about it is important. As are the opportunities that arise that allow us to continue. As are a thousand other things.

But once we get past the notion of 10,000 hours we still have to ask if that is really what separates someone like a Ueshiba from others? I don't think that is necessarily the case. We used to produce an aptitude for programming test. They'd learn a simple programming language and have to apply it to increasingly complex problems. There were a couple problems near the end of the test that weren't terribly difficult and the "usual" solution took about 10 steps. However, there was another way to use the language to solve the problem that had not been demonstrated that required an insight from the test taker. That solution was seen maybe once in 1000 tests given. It was an elegant solution. I never saw anyone come up with that solution who didn't also ace the test. When I'd see that solution I would be reminded of a quote I read once about Richard Feynman. I can't remember the exact quote, but it ran something like this. Feynman was a genius, but not a genius in the usual sense. Most geniuses are like the rest of us, but just a bit faster, a bit smarter. He was different. He was like a magician. He'd know the right answer without knowing how or why.

We are all different in many ways. We bring our own aptitudes and deficiencies to the table with us. Some things can be fixed, some cannot. I firmly believe in treating people equally but that is the correct moral/ethical stance. But it does not follow that people are equally skilled and equally imbued with aptitude for every possible task.

The bottom line is that I think he glossed over much too much to make primarily social commentary. The problem for me is that while I agree very much with him overall on many things, I was just not completely comfortable with how he presented his case. And honestly I'm not sure he'd have any argument with what I'm saying here. But the overall tone of the book seems to sell a particular point of view that I'm just not comfortable that he can fully support.

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