Outliers – The Story of Success – Malcolm Gladwell


Outliers – The Story of SuccessAuthor – Malcolm Gladwell

Publisher – Allen Lane of Penguin Books

Rating –

Knowledge of a boy’s IQ is of little help if you are faced with a form full of clever boys (sic)”

“Outlier” is a scientific term to describe things or phenomena that lie outside normal experience.  In this book Gladwell explores the question of why some people achieve so much more than other people and what is the secret of their success.  In a number of separate studies, he deconstructs a range of people who are outliers – men and women who, for one reason or another, are so accomplished and so extraordinary and so outside of ordinary experience to determine the catalysts for their success.

Gladwell questions the determining factors for success in a range of different people including Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, The Beatles and Joe Flom.  He concludes that success is not so much one of intelligence, although each are undeniably talented, but rather a result of opportunity.  Being born at the right time in history and being privy to extraordinary opportunity through a range of synchronistic occurrences provided by the cultural milieu of the time was the reason for such phenomenal success.  In addition, each of these people dedicated over 10,000 hours of diligent practice to achieve mastery which contributed to their phenomenal success.

“In Hamburg, we had to play for eight hours”, seven days a week – The Beatles

He also explores situations including the Roseto Mystery.  Roseto is an isolated village in the US where immigrants from Italy have relocated.  What is interesting about Roseto is that it has an absence of heart disease – people died from old age not heart disease and stroke.  There were no cases of heart disease at all.  Gladwell states that successful longevity and wellness of these immigrants and their offspring were attributed to the close knit, respectful and supportive community structure the immigrants created.

Another example Gladwell discusses is Harlan, Kentucky where the legacy of Scottish-Irish heritage was transferred by the immigrants to this remote land in the US “backcountry regions” where they settled.  These herdsmen who scraped out a living on rocky, infertile land, lived their cultural legacy based on “a ferocious culture of honour” which was derived from the remote and lawless territories in the Scottish-Irish borderlands.

Gladwell states that “cultural legacies and powerful forces are deep determinants of success or failure.  These cultural legacies “persist generation after generation, virtually intact, even as the economic, social and demographic conditions that spawned them have vanished”.

Outliers is an easy to read and informative book.  It clearly explores influences and determinants of success.  Gladwell concludes that success is not about asking “what is a person like?”  It is about asking “where are they from?”

Success rises out of the steady accumulation of advantage.  When and where we are born, what ones parents did for a living, and the circumstances of one’s upbringing all significantly contribute to how well one does in the world.

No one who can rise before dawn three hundred and sixty days a year fails to make his family rich. MG

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