Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Malcolm Gladwell - Outliers: The Story of Success

This was my first Gladwell book and won't be my last.  I had heard that he has a very approachable writing style that tackles research and statistics based premises adroitly and he didn't disappoint.  The premise he puts forward here is simple, profound, and important.  He basically sets out to prove to us that no real element of success is self-driven and even the greatest success "outliers" are indeed products of their environment.  This is a casuality subscribing cynics dream come true but doesn't read like one.

In a fairly small package, he very clearly shows some startling corollaries between when groups of athletes were born and their career potential.  He delves into the makings of computer giants like Bill Gates and Steve Jobs.  He points out the biggest single reason The Beatles became "bigger than Jesus" (*1).  This is all in his signature style and leaves you wondering how you could ever see success any other way but his.

Don't worry it isn't a demotivating revelation as he points out some ways how a better understanding of success can help us generate it and foster it proactively.  Tip number one is do not push your kids ahead a year in school - if they are of that on the fence age - unless you plan to make up the difference with a rigorous summer learning routine!  There are many more insights for parents of athletes and students and even geniuses.  For my part, I've finally given up the childhood hope to be the next Bill Gates, Paul McCartney, or Mario Lemieux and that is incredibly liberating.
I wonder though, is it too late to be the next Malcolm Gladwell?

*1 - In an ode to Gladwell (*2), I'll take a footnote here to point out that it bothers me how misrepresented this off the cuff remark of Lennon's is when quoted as I have done here.  It's a shame because Lennon was an insightful guy at times and this quote always takes that and makes him look like an arrogant git.  Mind you, I'm not saying he wasn't at least a little arrogant...
*2 - He does have a distracting habit of writing a book-within-a-book via very lengthy footnotes that take his asides to up to half the page height, while interesting they are excessive.

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