Wednesday, January 21, 2009
Book Review: Outliers - The Story of Success, by Malcolm Gladwell (2008)
After exploring the little events that make a big impact in The Tipping Point, and the way that we think in Blink, in Outliers Malcolm Gladwell explores the topic of success. It's an entertaining, accessible book that brings a refreshing perspective to the topic. Rather than focus on the role of the individual, Gladwell looks at everything that surrounds the successful individual in time and space.
In his own quirky style, Gladwell goes on a journey of discovery into the societal, cultural, family and pure luck elements that need to come together to help an individual succeed. Gladwell never diminishes the value of individual initiative and intelligence; he simply shows that these elements are in themselves not the whole picture. A large part of every success story can be traced back to ancestry, family, opportunities, dedicated practice (rather than natural talent), and things as mundane as birth year.
In typical Gladwell fashion, elite athletes, The Beatles, Bill Gates, lawyers in New York who specialize in corporate take-overs, the smartest man in the United States, Korean Airline Pilots, feuding families, the father of the US Atomic Bomb program, and Chinese rice farmers are all linked together to demonstrate how powerful outside factors play a large part in determining success and failure.
Gladwell's flowing and entertaining writing style continues to improve. He is more succinct, repeats less, and does not stray into needless details as often as he used to. His arguments and narrative hold together throughout the book, despite the diversity of examples.
As he reveals the layers of support that various success stories have received, Gladwell's message is that in understanding the societal and cultural factors that help achieve success, we can better harness their power. One of the later chapters in the book drives this point brilliantly by examining the positive impact of a KIPP (Knowledge Is Power Program) Academy in the Bronx.
Outliers is a timely reminder that all success stories owe a debt to forces much greater than the individual, and that ultimately the human family is strengthened by expanding on the available opportunities to benefit an ever growing number of deserving people.
Published by Little, Brown.
285 pages plus Notes and Index.
Note: Gladwell's The Tipping Point is reviewed here.