Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell



What defines success? In a group of fifty people, why are there some professional athletes, bankers, doctors and lawyers that have stellar careers (deemed "outliers") and others can barely put food on the table? If you would have asked me a couple of weeks ago, I would have said hard work and innate talent. Mr. Gladwell says think again. Then he proceeds to blow your mind, chapter after chapter.

Success, it seems, follows a predictable course. Yes, it is a given that one must have a certain amount of drive and passion for what they are doing. But that is not enough. The first rule of success is that in order to achieve mastery of anything, one must practice for 10,000 hours. That is a HUGE amount of practicing! What about the child prodigies? Aren't they just born with the gift? No, apparently not. Child prodigies, Bill Gates, The Beatles, Tiger Woods...they've all done their time. There are no shortcuts. So that means if I blog for 10,000 hours, I will be the best blogger in the world? (Believe me, my husband would attest that I am trying to hit that number...) Well, no, not exactly, but it's a good place to start.

The rest is just pure dumb luck. Being born in the right month or year. Having a certain ancestral heritage. Having random opportunities handed to you at the right time. Gladwell offers explanations to observations that would have been unexplainable before. Why are a majority of professional hockey and soccer players born in the first three months of the year? Why were the geniuses of the computer age all born around 1955? Why are there so many Jewish powerhouses in the legal field? Why are Asians so good at math? Why do airplane crashes happen more with pilots and co-pilots of certain ethnicities over others? Why do poorer kids score lower on tests than kids from wealthy families? I guarantee you, the answers are not what you think.

I've not read any of Gladwell's other hits, like Blink and The Tipping Point, but I knew I was in for a bit of fun with this book just based on the reviews. This type of non-fiction is not even a genre I claim to enjoy much...I like action, twisted plotlines and witty dialogue. (This is the main reason I put this book on my list for the TBR Reading Challenge - I wanted to push myself out of my comfort zone.) His prose is very easy to read, though, like he is just chatting with you over coffee. And he keeps you entertained not with dead bodies and torrid affairs, but instance after instance of how success can be explained in the most unorthodox but intuitive ways. Throughout the book, I kept stopping and yacking to my husband about Gladwell's curious findings, but I never could summarize them adequately, and I just got raised eyebrows and noises like "oh..uh huh..mmm". So instead of rambling on any further here, and risking the same reaction from you, I will just end it by saying that you must read it for yourself! Prepare to be dazzled.

10 comments:

Beth F said...

I've been kind of curious about this, but not curious enough to read it. I see how enthusiastic you are, but I'm likely not going to pick it up. Maybe I can talk Mr. BFR into reading it so he can summarize and read the interesting bits to me.

ds said...

Oh...uh...mmmmmaybe. I am sure Mr. Gladwell is convincing, especially if you say so, but I don't know that I want my silly hopes or belief in dumb luck shattered. Your review is dazzling, however, and far more persuasive than any others I've seen. So maybe I'll take a look...hmmmmm...

Carrie K. said...

I have to admit, this is the kind of book that makes my eyes glaze over. You almost have me convinced, though...

farmlanebooks said...

I loved The Tipping Point, and have Blink here on my shelves. These sort of books fascinate me! Have you read Freakonomics? That is very similar, and so interesting. I really should get round to reading all of Malcolm Gladwells books. Thank you for reminding me about them!

Sandy Nawrot said...

Beth - so far, it seems that is the consensus. You either love this stuff or you don't. The only thing is, it is very hard to fully appreciate the point Gladwell is making without reading it. If Mr. BFR reads it, you might try reading just a chapter.

ds - haha. This is exactly why I "forced" myself to read it! The reviews were great, but this normally isn't my cup of tea.

Carrie - me too. But honestly, my eyes didn't glaze over. It was very easy reading!

Jackie - I DID read Freakonomics, and this book really reminded me of it. Different author, but had this WOW factor after every chapter!

Melody said...

I rarely read non-fictions... I've too many fictions to catch up on!

Susan said...

Sandy, this sounds very interesting. I've often wondered the same things about my own family, close and extended. Sounds like I could learn a lot from it. Puttin' it on the list. Thanks.

Melissa - Shhh I'm Reading said...

I read a fair amount of non-fiction, but I loved Outliers. It made you think about things differently, and wasn't boring at all! I have his other 2 on my MP3 if I ever get to them.

The Bumbles said...

I enjoy NF - and even this style - but the subject matter of his books has never drawn me to it. I keep reading reviews and looking it over. And I keep deciding no. Why? Maybe I feel he pushes the envelope too much and it might make me more annoyed than intrigued?

Iliana said...

I keep saying that one of these days I must read one of his books but given that I don't read much non-fiction I guess it'll take me a while to finally get to one! ha.

This does sound super interesting though!