Outliers

Outliers: The Story of Success, by Malcolm Gladwell. Here is the synopsis from gladwell.com:

“Outlier” is a scientific term to describe things or phenomena that lie outside normal experience. In the summer, in Paris, we expect most days to be somewhere between warm and very hot. But imagine if you had a day in the middle of August where the temperature fell below freezing. That day would be outlier. And while we have a very good understanding of why summer days in Paris are warm or hot, we know a good deal less about why a summer day in Paris might be freezing cold. In this book I’m interested in people who are outliers—in men and women who, for one reason or another, are so accomplished and so extraordinary and so outside of ordinary experience that they are as puzzling to the rest of us as a cold day in August.

Gladwell talks a lot about how environment, culture, and other circumstances breed success. On his web site again: 

I do think that we vastly underestimate the extent to which success happens because of things the individual has nothing to do with. Outliers opens, for example, by examining why a hugely disproportionate number of professional hockey and soccer players are born in January, February and March. I’m not going to spoil things for you by giving you the answer. But the point is that very best hockey players are people who are talented and work hard but who also benefit from the weird and largely unexamined and peculiar ways in which their world is organized.

What Gladwell is saying is that we do have to work hard to be successful, but we also have to give credit to other circumstances beyond our control. It is an interesting idea, to say the least, and he offers many great and interesting insights as well. 

One really interesting story is about the Beatles, probably one of the greatest bands ever. Gladwell tells their story in his chapter entitled, “The 10,000 Hour Rule.” In it, Gladwell positst that you have to spend 10,000 hours practicing something before you become a real master at it. The Beatles performed 1,200 times live in Hamburg before they ever made it to the USA and became superstars. They played 8-hour sessions in strip clubs in Hamburg to develop their talents. 

The House of the Lord

President Howard Hunter said, True greatness “always requires regular, consistent small, and sometimes ordinary and mundane steps over a long period of time.” Ten thousand hours is truly a long time. How can a person get that much time in anything that they don’t do over the course of many, many years? 

Gladwell also writes the story of the world’s smartest man, Chris Langan. He lives in Missouri and writes about theories of the universe. He gets up in the morning, takes care of his animals and gets to working on what he was working on the night before. He says, “I found if I go to bed witha  question on mind, all I have to do is concentrate on the question before I go to sleep and I virtually always have the answer in the morning” (113). Langan does what we would call pondering or meditation. We know from scripture that pondering is what leads us to the answers that we need. 

In 1 Nephi 11:1, Nephi wanted to understand the vision of the Tree of Life that Lehi had explained to him:

For it came to pass after I had desired to know the things that my father had seen, and believing that the Lord was able to make them known unto me, as I sat pondering in mine heart I was caught away in the Spirit of the Lord, yea, into an exceedingly high mountain, which I never had before seen, and upon which I never had before set my foot. (emphasis added)

Nephi not only wanted to understand the vision, but he took the steps necessary to see it for himself. He was not interested in merely having a general idea of the vision. He wanted to know it for himself. He did that when he pondered out the problem. 

Another example of the blessing of pondering takes place in modern times. Joseph Smith was pondering the resurrection as he was translating John 5:29, “And shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation.” He wanted to know more about the resurrection, for this verse caused him to “marvel.” He also pondered on that scripture and received one of the most glorious revelations in these modern times, D&C 76. He and Sydney Rigdon “…meditated upon these things, [and] the Lord touched the eyes of our understandings and they were opened, and the glory of the Lord shone round about” (verse 19). When we ponder about things, we can receive revelation that we need to solve a problem. Sadly, it is not something that most of us do often enough. If it is good enough for prophets and the smartest man in the world, it should be good enough for us. 

Finally, tying this back to Outliers, Gladwell’s real point is that “no one–not rock stars, not professional athletes, not software billionaires, [not prophets], and not even geniuses–ever makes it alone” (115). There are many scriptures which remind us that we cannot do it alone. We must rely on our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. He is mighty to save. As we read in D&C 3:20, “…and that they may believe the gospel and rely upon the merits of Jesus Christ, and be glorified through faith in his name, and that through their repentance they might be saved…”

It is true as Gladwell states that we need to spend time to become masters at something. We need to rely on others to become something more than just a human. We need to rely on our Savior. 

Optimism & Choice

Optimism

Last week, I traveled to New Orleans for work. I had a great time, though I didn’t love the city. I had a lot of time on the plane to do some pondering, some reading, and some sleeping. 

One of the things I thought about was that of all people, we as members of the LDS church have the biggest reason to be optimistic of anyone out there. 

Let’s look at it this way. When we die, we expect that unless we have done something horrifically awful, our life on the other side will look like this

89 And thus we saw, in the heavenly vision, the glory of the telestial, which surpasses all understanding;

90 And no man knows it except him to whom God has revealed it. (D&C 76)

So, worst case scenario for us: we are wrong, and the LDS church is not God’s church, we believe we will end up in a place where the “glory…surpasses all understanding.” That is a risk I am certainly willing to take. See, even if we are wrong, we still believe the worst that can happen to us is that we will be somewhere that is so wonderful, we would die to go there

Other churches preach that if we are not found worthy or of the right church, there will be hell, fire, and eternal torment. So, worst case scenario for them: hellfire and damnation. 

I believe that God wants us to be an optimistic people. There are many other instances of optimism in the scriptures. One of my favorite scriptures is in 1 Nephi, chapter 3. Lehi tells his sons that they need to go back to Jerusalem, where they just left, and get the brass plates from Laman. This would not be an easy task, and yet, Nephi knows that whether or not it is easy is irrelevant. He knows that the Lord will provide and that everything will most likely work out fine in the end. He says (in verse 7):

 And it came to pass that I, Nephi, said unto my father: will go and do the things which the Lord hath commanded, for knowthat the Lord giveth no commandments unto the children of men,save he shall prepare way for them that they may accomplishthe thing which he commandeth them.

He knows there is no way he can do it alone, but he knows he can do it. Was this an easy thing for Nephi? Absolutely not! But, he knew the Lord would help him be successful in his quest. 

Choice

I was talking to a friend the other day, and he said, “Well, we don’t really have any other choice, but to do X.” We had the following good discussion.

God gave us an opportunity to choose because He believes that is vitally important. I hear sometimes about people who say that we (Mormons) just blindly follow (and are taught to blindly follow) whatever our prophet or other leaders say. That is absolute hogwash. We fought in the prexistence over the right to be able to choose! The Man who could create this world and form it together to successfully support life surely could have forced us all to make good choices and be with Him forever, but he wanted us to be able to choose. Choice matters. It really does. 

When we say, I have no choice but to do X, we are essentially telling the Lord that we are forfeiting the right that He lost 1/3 of His children to give us. That is like me saying that I would give up one of my kids so that the others could make their own choices. To hear them say, “I have no choice,” would run a dagger through my heart every time. I would think, “How can you say that? I gave up your brother to make sure that you would ALWAYS have a choice. Always means always. It is not something that you can just give up.” As a parent, I wouldn’t even be mad, I would feel pain and anguish every single time. 

There are times when we lose our choices. For example, when we sin, we don’t have as many choices anymore. When I run a red light or speed in front of a police officer, I don’t choose where my $300 or $95 goes. That choice gets made for me. But when we are living right, we do have choices. 

30 And now remember, remember, my brethren, that whosoever perisheth, perisheth unto himself; and whosoever doeth iniquity, doeth it unto himself; for behold, ye are free; ye are permitted to act for yourselves; for behold, God hath given unto you a knowledge and he hath made you free.

 31 He hath given unto you that ye might know good from evil, and he hath given unto you that ye might choose life or death; and ye can do good and be restored unto that which is good, or have that which is good restored unto you; or ye can do evil, and have that which is evil restored unto you. (Helaman 14:30-31)

God gives us the opportunity to decide for ourselves. Sometimes, all our choices are bad choices. Sometimes, the best choice is still not a great one, but to say we don’t have a choice is very rarely the case. 

I’ll give a personal example. My wife really hated credit cards (she still does) when we got married. I had one and she thought it was ridiculous to have one. She continually pressured me to get rid of it, but I wanted to keep it. I thought I needed it to build credit, and I wanted to have it for emergencies. I argued, “I have to have a credit card, I don’t have a choice.” My wife argued, “You don’t have to have a credit card, as there are other ways to prepare for emergencies (like saving money in an emergency fund), and there are other ways to build credit (like the student debt and car loan you also have)!” Eventually, I came around to my wife’s way of thinking, and we haven’t had a credit card at all for years. This is a small, seemingly meaningless example when there are so many other examples of where we do have choices, but the principle is the same, regardless of the size or importance of the issue. God gave up 1/3 of His children so we could choose eternal life. We better respect that. 

The Plan of Happiness exists because we are constantly being asked to make choices.  We are always being enticed one way or the other. 

 16 Wherefore, the Lord God gave unto man that he should act for himself. Wherefore, man could not act for himself save it should be that he was enticed by the one or the other. (2 Nephi 2:16)

God wants us to act for ourselves. We can’t say we have no choices, for the Lord set it up so that we would almost constantly have to make choices.