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Outliers: The Story of Success

Outliers: The Story of Success - Malcolm Gladwell BLUF: This isn’t a self-help book, it’s an OpEd/Pop Science piece.

“Success is not a random act. It arises out of a predictable and powerful set of circumstances and opportunities …”

Plot: Outliers follows the premise that people only became successful because of the opportunities provided in their life. This includes anything from the time of the year or era they were born to family background to the lucky breaks. While there is a controllable factor in success (practice), Gladwell argues that it must be coupled with other factors in order for success to occur.

My thoughts: After reading this, I’m not really sure why my father recommended this to me to read. I feel like the success of books like Freakonomics has us (my father and I included) excited for any book that explains social science in a readable and entertaining manner. Many readers (ahem.. me) take this information at face value and fail to realize any skews or dissents as they are not discussed. My point: take this with a grain of salt.

While this book’s emphasis is on successful people being formed by group effort, I think it’s unfortunate in the sense that it causes readers to say “Ahh, THIS is why I must not be successful.” Why try to be successful if success is based on factors outside of your control? It’s a demotivator and a concept that can be used to justify one’s lack of effort.

Concepts Discussed: Opining aside, Outliers presents an interesting argument about success. Malcolm Gladwell offers some ideas that seem pretty self explanatory: high general intelligence doesn’t take you far if you don’t have practical intelligence, practice in a trade or skill is necessary for mastery, and culture plays a major part in who we are and how we behave. Other ideas you may be hearing for the first time: how you were raised, arbitrary cutoff dates (schools, sports, etc.), and “what your parents do for a living, and the assumptions that accompany the class your parents belong to” matter.

Summary of Examples: Gladwell discussions include Bill Joy, Bill Gates, The Beatles, Steve Jobs, Chris Langan, Lewis Terman, Oppenheimer, Joe Flow, Alexander Bickle, Maurice and Mort Janklow, Regina and Louis Borgenict, the Howards and Turners, Gert Hofstede, Alan Schoenfield, and himself. Arguments are detailed with the use of sports and school advantages, Jewish immigrants, cultural legacies, rice farmers, and the KIPP Academy along with brief life bios for some of the individuals listed above.

Oh, BTW: When asked, “What do you want people to take away from Outliers?” Gladwell answered “My wish with Outliers is that it makes us understand how much of a group project success is”.