Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Book Review: Outliers

Outliers: The Story of Success
Malcolm Gladwell
c2008, Little Brown and Company, 320 pages.

The Least You Need To Know... author of bestselling books The Tipping Point and Blink; sociology information about why some people succeed above and beyond the norm; lots of famous examples (Bill Gates, the Beatles).

Thesis... Extremely successful people ("outliers" like Bill Gates, J. Robert Oppenheimer, John Rockefeller, pro athletes, etc.) reach that level not simply because they are smarter, faster, or stronger than others; their success is based on their innate talents, as well as their history, cultural legacy, advantages, inheritances, opportunities, and sometimes - just plain luck.

Reminds me of... The World is Flat, Thomas Friedman; Guns, Germs, and Steel, Jared Diamond; Bowling Alone, Robert Putnam.

Pros... super easy and fast read (I picked it up intending to read one chapter and breezed through the first one hundred pages); many real world examples to back up his thesis; makes you feel less bad about not being as successful; amazing explanations about the random advantages that allow some to succeed (ex. if you wanted to be one of the Silicon Valley computer tech gods of today, you needed to be born between 1953 and 1956... why? scroll to the bottom*)

Cons... last chapter about his own family history is dull and superfluous; makes you realize much of succeeding in life is out of your hands.

You'll Like It If... you enjoy history and coincidences and "whoa!" connections between different topics.

You'll Hate It If... you are frustrated by sociological research that is not based solely on facts and data.


"...success follows a predictable course. It is not the brightest who succeed... Nor is success simply the sum of the decisions and efforts we make on our own behalf. It is, rather, a gift. Outliers are those who have been given opportunities - and who have had the strength and presence of mind to seize them."
"The idea that excellence at performing a complex task requires a critical minimum level of practice surfaces again and again... In fact, researchers have settled on what they believe is the magic number for true expertise: ten thousand hours."
*January 1975 is considered the dawn of the personal computer age. So, you needed to be just out of college in that year in order to get in on the ground floor of the new computer industries that were opening up. If you were older than that, you were already entrenched in a job and unlikely to take a risk on new technology; if you were younger than that, you're still in high school and can't start a business yet. Proof? Bill Gates and Paul Allen co-founded Microsoft - Allen was born in 1953, Gates, 1955. Third richest man at Microsoft - Steve Ballmer - born 1956. Apple's Steve Jobs - 1955. Obviously, Gladwell explains it better in the book, but it will seriously blow your mind.


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