Saturday, August 22, 2009

Outliers | Malcolm Gladwell

"Outliers: The Story of Success" is the third book published by Malcolm Gladwell, a British born Canadian journalist that writes for The New Yorker. His first two books were "The Tipping Point" and "Blink"; "Outliers" follows a similar framework. A hypothesis is made and then backed up by statistics and a few examples.

Gladwell's hypothesis states that he believes that people in society are successful for a number of key factors:

1. Intelligence (you need to be smart, but not necessarily a genius)
2. Dedication to your practice (over 10,000 hours in your field)
3. Cultural upbringings (where you come from historically - both geographically and by caste)
4. Time of birth (to take advantage of emerging trends)
5. Luck (key breaks)

The bread and butter comes from Gladwell's examples. It's important to read these examples with a grain of salt, because a lot of the 'one of' examples have holes in them - and not just based on the limited sample size. However, there are a few examples with lots of research to back them up, and they are very interesting to read.

I won't go into detail here, but some of the topics include:

A) Why successful hockey players are most likely to be born between January and March [statistically backed up]
B) Bill Gates & The Beatles [examples of the 10,000 hour rule]
C) The intelligence threshold [proof that you need to be smart, but not a genius]
D) Cultural upbringing and timing [the rise of the poor Italian immigrant lawyers in NY]
E) Why plane crashes happen [influenced by culture]
F) Why Asians are good at math [this was quite interesting]
G) Why people from good homes do better academically [he 'proves' that this doesn't occur in school, but during the summer]

This is the book in a nutshell, and while some of the points are loosely thrown together [stories about Bill Gates & The Beatles], others have a substantial amount of research behind them and are very interesting in themselves. Learning about random things like how to tend rice paddies were enthralling and will forever be implanted in my mind. As with Gladwell's other books, I caution to look at what he says with a critical eye. The questions you ask as you read along are important. The book is meant for the reader to think, not to blindly accept. Keeping this in mind, "Outliers" was a very enjoyable and informative read.
"Those three things - autonomy, complexity, and a connection between effort and reward - are, most people agree, the three qualities that work has to have if it is to be satisfying." 149

"Hard work is a prison sentence only if it does not have meaning. Once it does, it becomes the kind of thing that makes you grab your wife around the waist and dance a jig." 150

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