13 Mar / Outliers: The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell
Clearly, this is one of those books that will change the way you think about the world. Forget the ‘rags to riches’ stories out there, the lone ‘self-made man’ who rises to the top from nowhere. Gladwell, in his third intriguing book, argues that outliers – those people too stupendous to be found anywhere on a bell curve of normality – are not the genius, unique success stories that we have come to believe. Instead, they are the result of extraordinary circumstances that happened to come together – they were given the opportunity to work hard and did … with phenomenal results.
To be a world-class pro hockey player, January is the best month to have a birthday. Children of Jewish immigrants who worked in the garment industry in New York City spawned some of the most effective, powerful lawyers in the world. Bill Gates, Bill Joy, and Steven Jobs defined the computer industry because they had unheard-of access to computers as teenagers, not to mention they were all born within six months of each other around 1955 which means they were all turning 21 just as the personal computer was being invented.
The Beatles became the most successful band in history because they had the serendipitous opportunity to spend 18 months in Hamburg, performing eight hours a day, seven days a week. Airplane crashes can be directly linked to the social culture systems in which the pilot was raised. And Asian students outstrip children from other countries in math performance in orders of magnitude because their ancestors came from a culture of rice farming.
Doubtful? Intrigued? READ THE BOOK. Should be required reading for all. If nothing else, Gladwell’s got some of the most compelling arguments this side of Einstein.
Tidbits: One minor quibble: since Gladwell knows so much about rice farming, should have known about the syntax of Asian names – family/last name first, followed by given name. So former Korean president Kim Dae Jung should have been referred to as ‘Kim’ rather than ‘Dae Jung’ on second reference.
Minor details aside, the audible version (can you tell I spend a lot of time driving? – uh … I’m providing my children those very opportunities to work hard!) has a bonus Q&A with Gladwell, who also reads the book. He talks about his own ‘outlier’ experience … that even though he went to a high school in rural Ontario where only a fraction of the graduating class even goes to college, he happened to be best friends from first grade on with two outlier achievers, one of whom became the youngest-ever tenured professor in Harvard history. He talks about how the best comics are either Jewish or black (a premise that almost became a chapter) because they are a part of a stigmatized minority and therefore are not threatening to the larger, common community – in essence, they are ‘outsider outliers.’ And, of course, Olympic athletes are all outliers, which is why I’m going to insist my 12-year-old phenom of a swimmer, who is quickly accruing her magic 10,000 hours in the water, read this book!
Readers: Young Adult, Adult