April 2, 2013

Outliers: The Story of Success - Malcolm Gladwell - Book Review

Hi Guys,

After reading Malcolm Gladwell’s ‘The Tipping Point’, I decided to read his other famous book ‘Outliers: The Story of Success’

Malcolm Gladwell has written this book with the aim of finding out what separates the successful people from the rest of the group. What is it that takes them to the highest level?

Generally we associate Success with Intelligence, Talent and Ambition. Gladwell argues that there is something apart from these factors that make some people successful. By taking real life examples and statistics, Gladwell has done a good job of finding out the factors.

The book is divided into two parts namely Opportunity and Legacy. In the first part he argues that how much ever talented a person is if he doesn’t get the opportunity he won’t succeed. He takes the case of Canadian Hockey Players and finds out how majority of the players are born in the early months of a year. Just because that the cut off date is December 31, the children born in January have a head start, they get more training, more opportunity and this small difference at the starting accumulates further. Similar things happen in the school life too where elder children always have an upper hand.

After this he comes to birth year and finds out how certain phases are brightest phases and how there are so many successful people from that phase. For example, he says all the Computer companies founders like Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Michael Dell were born around 1955 and how it helped them to catch up with computer when they were in their 20s. He also finds out how excess opportunities helped them in the way.

Further he says that 10000 hours of practice is required to excel in any field and takes example from Bill Gates, The Beatles and associate with earlier examples. He argues that people with higher IQs can’t become Einsteins if they don’t get opportunity.

In the second part ‘Legacy’ he finds out how culture and history are important contributors to Success. He finds out how children from richer background are smarter than children from poor background, but have an inherent advantage due to the time their parents are able to spend with them. Further he analyzes the power distance relationship and finds out how certain countries perform in a different manner.

He then moves into an interesting topic of why Asians are good in maths. The main factor he says is the legacy of working in paddy fields which requires both hard and smart work. He compares different lifestyles and figure out the inherent advantage the Asian kids have (Asians as in Chinese, Japanese, etc as per the book. But I thought that most of the parameters he said are true with Indians too).

Finally he presents a case study of a school in USA, where the children are put into hard work so that they outperform others. It is interesting that he has concluded the book with his own history of how he became what he is, because of things that happened generations back.

This is what I interpreted from the book – Talent is required to be successful. But it is not enough. You need to work hard. You need to get the right opportunities. Your culture would have shaped you in a particular manner. If it is not suitable, you need to work hard to change that. Beyond that there are lot of uncontrollable things that can be called as Luck.

Some features in the book seem quite exaggerated or too simplistic. But it is an interesting book that would kindle your mind to think in new dimensions that you had never thought before.

Happy Reading!!!

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