Outliers: The Story Of Success
- Penguin Books Ltd
- Publication Date:
- 24 June 2009
- Social, Group Or Collective Psychology
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I have read a few of Gladwell's New Yorker essays, but none of his other long-form works before Outliers. I now plan to read Blink and The Tipping Point ASAP. Gladwell is brilliant. In this work he dives into seemingly obvious concepts to uncover surprising conclusions. The best part: he does it with accessible, easy-to-read, page-turning prose. Some of the themes in Outliers include: 1) How did Bill Gates get to where he is? Sure he is smart, but Gladwell uncovers "hidden" factors in Gates' biography that allowed him to flourish. 2) Why do Asians tend to be better with math than other cultures? Gladwell argues that one source is a persistence and work ethic that has been encoded in their culture for millennia. I picked up Gladwell at the suggestion of a few friends and because I wanted a break from my fiction feasts. I will now suggest him to many others looking for thought-provoking but not difficult reading.
In "Outliers: The Story of Success", Malcolm Gladwell takes a very close and analytical look at what goes into the making of a successful person. Contrary to popular assumption, Gladwell argues that intelligence, talent, and ambition are not necessarily the major attributes that lead to success in life (although he does not discount their influence). The book focuses instead on the surroundings and environment in which people are raised. In his view, the chances of success in life can sometimes depend largely upon seemingly insignificant and arbitrary factors such as the month in which a person was born. He also looks at larger, perhaps less trivial, influences such as cultural tradition, economics and war. A common thread in all of the ideas and examples described in the book is that it is necessary to look at the back story behind successful people in order to truly understand how they achieved success. Gladwell argues that a person's milieu plays much more than a passive role in their life, and could likely be the deciding factor in their ultimate success or failure. As an example of an arbitrary situation resulting in a significant outcome in terms of a person's chances of success or failure, Gladwell analyses the Canadian Junior Hockey League. He argues that the fact that top players for the top teams in the top divisions almost all have birthdays that fall within the first 4 months of the year is not coincidental. Indeed, the cut-off date for entering junior hockey leagues in Canada is January 1st. Thus, a January-born junior leaguer could have nearly as much as a full year of physical and mental development over a good portion of his teammates. This probably would not be significant at ages 25 and 26, but at ages 11, 12, and 13, a near 12 month head start at this stage in life does, Gladwell argues, offer a significant advantage. The older kids get noticed because they are slightly bigger, slightly stronger, slightly more coordinated, and more able to focus on the game. They get pulled aside, and are given special treatment by coaches who see their potential. Eventually they are placed in more competitive divisions where they receive even more attention from even better coaches. It is this snowball effect that turns the slight advantage one child had over another into what is arguably the principal reason why one child becomes a hockey pro, and another sees hockey as something they played for a time as a child. This book is very well written, and is very interesting and readable. The arguments laid out by the author are very well supported by the history and research which accompanies them (numerous notes and references are provided), and are easy to follow. Gladwell offers an unconventional view of how one achieves success, and the factors that come into play in achieving that success. In my opinion, the author's point of view is very insightful and makes sense. I would say that this book is appropriate for an older high school audience (Grades 11 & 12) who might be thinking about their future with regard to education, careers, and how to achieve success in life. By reading this book, young adults can be made aware of the existence of some social constructs that favor certain people over others. Being aware of these constructs or built-in biases in society can help young adults recognize and fight against them as they strive for successes of their own.
Another Gladwell success story (pun fully intended).This time Malcolm Gladwell looks at the factors that take people from mediocre to great, and questions the prevailing American myth of the "self-made man." No one is "self-made;" instead we are all products of our family history, our circumstances, even, in some cases, our date of birth. Gladwell's book reminds me of the saying about a butterfly sneezing in Hong Kong changing the course of history around the world, but brought down to the individual level.What Gladwell fails to address, however, is the complete capriciousness of opportunity. He discusses that Bill Gates became the computer success he is because he was the rare child who had a "modern" computer terminal and mainframe available to him to "play" with in the late 1960s. But the other kids in Bill's class had the same computer, yet only Gates became, well, Bill Gates. What if instead of of that computer terminal, Martha Graham had taken up residence in Bill's town and offered free dance classes in a state-of-the-art dance studio? Would Bill Gates have become just another doctor, or lawyer, or accountant, and one of his classmates become a modern dance master?Gladwell's book is readable and thought-provoking and should not be missed.
An outstanding read! The author explores the edges of our world with respect to people who very successful. He analyzes the ecological factors (not always in the control of the individual) that promote success (Educators and parents take note). Some of the reasons that enable success are not what you expect, for example like being in the first three months of the year and having an increased chance of being a star hockey player in Canada. What Diamond does for the development of countries in Guns, Germs and Steel, Gladwell does for the development of the individual.Adjustment: Since hearing interviews with Gladwell, I would like to make a point. It seems that Gladwell is stacking the deck for environment (or ecology) as being the overwhelming causation for individual success in general. I believe this is correct when you are talking about a success in a specific area. But I do believe that innate individualism plays a much bigger role (how that stacks up again ecology is still open) in defining the general success of an individual.
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