Outliers – Malcolm Gladwell

I chose to read this book because I read about the necessity of 10 000 hours of practice to master something; music, computer programming etc, and I was intrigued.

Gladwell has a very accessible and entertaining style. Here is the blurb …

Why do some people achieve so much more than others? Can they lie so far out of the ordinary?

In his provocative and inspiring new book, Malcolm Gladwell looks at everyone from rockstars to professional athletes, software billionaires to scientific geniuses, to show that the story of success is far more surprising than we could ever have imagined. He reveals that it’s as much about where we’re from and what we do, as who we are – and no one, not even a genius, ever makes it alone.

In the first section of the book Gladwell looks at individual success – starting with professional sport. He noticed in the NHL that most players have birthdays in the first three months of the year. It turns out that the cut-off for junior hockey is the first of January. A child born on the first of January is in the same competition as one born on the thirty first of December. At the beginning years of hockey the January children will be a little bit bigger and a bit more mature. They will be picked for teams more often and get extra coaching and practice thus improving and going on to be picked for more specialist coaching, etc. Gladwell isn’t implying that the children born earlier in the year don’t have talent, they do, but they also have an added opportunity. This bonus opportunity is also used to explain software geniuses, scientists and extremely successful lawyers. However, it’s not only opportunity that makes the difference – these people also work hard. Ten thousand hours to be precise. Gladwell also looks at IQ and determines that IQ alone isn’t enough to determine success. You need to be ‘smart enough’, but after that it’s more to do with opportunity, personality and hard work.

The second section of the book is all about cultural legacy. Even though we may have moved countries patterns of behaviour set by our ancestors influence us today – sometimes in positive ways and sometimes not. There is an interesting section on the relationship between Captains and First Officers. First Officers from some cultures find it very difficult to tell the Captain they think he has made a mistake. They hint at the issue, but often the Captain simply ignores them. This reticence has lead to crashes. There are positive legacies as well. Descendants of the rice farmers of China value hard work (apparently being a rice farmer is very hard). Gladwell argues that the Asian tendency to be good at mathematics is in part due to their high work ethic – they work hard therefore they achieve success.

I found this book to be fascinating. I like to think that hard work and perseverance will be rewarded with success. If you’re interested in popular culture, human nature or education, then I think you would enjoy reading this book.

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