Outliers: The Story of Success

My first book review that I blogged was The Tipping Point. This was my first introduction to Malcolm Gladwell and I have to say: I was a fan and hanging out for his next book.

That next book was Blink which looked at the phenomenon of how we make snap judgements and the light and dark sides of that process.

In his latest book, Outliers, Malcolm takes a look at the story of success. "Outlier" is a scientific term to describe things that lie outside normal.

What Malcolm attempts to do is show us is that our sense for what constitutes success is incorrect: "People don't rise from nothing... It is only by asking where they are from that we can unravel the logic behind who succeeds and who doesn't".

From Malcolm's Q&A on his website:
"...in order to understand the outlier I think you have to look around them—at their culture and community and family and generation. We've been looking at tall trees, and I think we should have been looking at the forest."
As a fantastic illustration, the book opens with an analysis of the Canadian Ice Hockey teams, their selection process based on birth cut-off dates and how that becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. I found the idea of the disadvantage of being born in December versus someone in your year at school born in January fascinating and quite personal (my birthday is in December) - a twelve month gap in age represents an enormous difference in physical maturity for two ten year-olds. It really does add a new spin to the idea that timing is everything.

The point being made is that "if you separate the 'talented' from the 'untalented' and you provide the 'talented' with superior experience, then you're going to end up giving a huge advantage to that small group of people". If 'talent' if based on age rather than true apples-for-apples skill, your logic is flawed.

Malcolm then introduces us to the "10,000-Hour Rule", claiming that the key to success in any field is, to a large extent, a matter of practising a specific task for a total of around 10,000 hours.

The rest of the book then provides supporting evidence for his thesis.

Most engaging of all though in Outliers is how Malcolm looks at his own family history and personalises the story to conclude the book.

As always, the criticism around Malcolm's books persists: he over simplifies complex social trends. I content that this simplification of macro-trends is what makes Malcolm's books so engaging and easy to comprehend.

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posted by Lee Gale @ 1:35 AM,

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