Outliers - A Review
By Steve Gillman
Outliers: The Story of Success, by Malcolm Gladwell
- Little, Brown and Company 2008
You know you are doing well as a writer when you have readers
who wait to buy whatever you publish next. I am one of those
readers when it comes to books by Malcolm Gladwell. I love to
discover the secret principles and patterns that underlie what
we see in everyday life, and Gladwell is a master at revealing
Some of these secrets are just fun and interesting, like the
revelation early in this book that most pro hockey players are
born during just a few select months--or rather, the reason why
they are. Yes, there really is a simple reason. It has to do
with cut-off dates for joining a hockey league as a child, and
the persisting effect this has. I'll leave it at that and hope
you read the book.
Then there is the intriguing 10,000-hour rule. That's the
amount of time it seems to take to master something. It helps
explain why the Beatles were such good musicians at a young age
(they worked long hours in the clubs of Germany). It also suggests
that we might be in trouble if we never commit to a given avocation
for any length of time.
Interesting research is presented throughout, but there is
a message here as well, and it is hinted at in the subtitle;
"The Story of Success." After you have read this book
and the research in it, you'll never look at success in the same
way. Gladwell busts the myth of the "self made man,"
and presents the evidence that shows business and professional
success is as much a result of circumstance, family background,
and random chance as it is from choices and character.
The many hard work rags-to-riches stories you think you know
are revealed as half-truths at best. For example, Microsoft founder
Bill Gates was (and is) obviously talented, but he also happened
to live a short walk from a computer lab at a time when such
labs were rare. He also happened to have parents wealthy enough
to pay for the time he spent there, and happened by sheer chance
to go to one of the very few high schools in the country that
had a time-sharing computer in 1968. Those little facts, by the
way, are just the start of the story of lucky breaks that leads
to being the wealthiest man in the world.
Gladwell makes it clear that we do not succeed alone. Context
is crucial, and the book details case after case of people succeeding
despite any personal deficiencies because of where they were
born, who they knew, and other factors not chosen. There is the
sad story of the man with an IQ of 195--which might be the highest
in the country--who works on a farm during the day and at night
works on theories about the universe that will never be published
because he has no credentials, limited social skills and few
contacts. These are all true stories, by the way, and that genius
is still working on the farm.
To some readers this may all sound discouraging, to say the
least. We don't want to think that our our fates are decided
by nothing more than circumstance. Fortunately, however, this
is just part of the picture.
It could be true that most people end up where they are largely
as a result of outside factors. I might still be working part-time
in the post office if I didn't have brothers making money on
the internet, or if I didn't happen to see an ad on television
and buy a course on making and selling e-books online. On the
other hand we can choose to put ourselves in circumstances that
are more conducive to success, can't we? For example, we can
choose to get to know the right people, and we can update our
ways of thinking and of interacting with others. We can make
these choices regardless of our cultural background or other
factors beyond our control.
Gladwell does not cover these possibilities in Outliers, but
the book is not intended to be motivational. It is an exploration
of some of the many hidden truths about success, and as such,
it makes for fascinating reading.
If you liked this page please let others know with one of
Other Relevant Pages
The Best Money Books and Courses