Outliers vs. The Black Swan

By Sean Fenlon on December 28, 2008

Malcom Gladwell vs. Nassim Nicholas Taleb

The books from these authors were recommended to me from people I respect. The most recent books from these two authors are generating a lot of sales, readers, cynics, skeptics, critics, supporters, advocates, and cheerleaders.

Both authors are both young and very smart — almost philosophical in their respective approach. FWIW, neither was born in the USA.

Gladwell has probably sold more book titles (Outliers + Blink + Tipping Point), but Taleb clearly thinks that thinking is the most important thing and that the best thinker deserves the most credit (definitely not Gladwell?s philosophy).

I hate both these books. But I love many of thoughts/ideas contained in both…

Malcom Gladwell

Gladwell?s premise in Outliers fails in its own inverse ? Gladwell would probably NEVER write a book that reflects ?Oh no ? it?s not your fault you failed ? it?s all in the numbers of your specific situation.? In other words, it?s not chance? it?s ALWAYS (somewhere) in the cards.

I would?ve enjoyed the book more if it were re-named ?Freakonomics 2.? The premise of Outliers frankly discounts the predict-ability of random-occurrences in numbers.

Nassim Nicholas Taleb

Taleb is just a jackass and he?s the opposite Gladwell.

He?s arrogant, egotistical, irreverent and generally not-likeable.

Taleb admits he wanted to be a ?philosopher? at a very young age. Who does that? Certainly not Socrates.

I do however acknowledge the concept of pure randomness that Taleb finds so rare in the business universe.

The Gladwell and Taleb theories simply do not co-exist.


However, if I were to combine their best message-points, I would synthesize down to these statements:

1. Get your head OUT of the bell curve and LOOK at the WORLD AROUND YOU!

2. Try to group yourself with other people that appear to be getting LUCKY!



Added Irony…

Testimonial on the back of The Black Swan book is from The NY Times and cites “Tipping Point” by Malcom Gladwell.

Nassim Nicholas Taleb apparently met with a fiery Italian Philosopher (whom he apparently respects – which is rare). The same Italian Philosopher apparently claimed that Taleb’s heritage played a role in getting the premise published first (before the Italian Philosopher). Of course, Taleb rejected the notion and unknowingly in the same breath rejected the premise of Outliers.

Yes, Outliers deals with more than just heritage and cultural norms, but if the heritage premise is discredited than all his other premises fall as well.

I know this post is obtuse if not completely confusing to some, but this update reinforces my most important point…

The premise of The Black Swan simply CANNOT co-exist with that of Outliers.

Which premise do you think will win?

50/50 or “Tie” Calls are not requested. ;-)


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