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Book Review: Outliers – The story of Success

Two parts storytelling, one part facts and anecdotes, a pinch of twist in the tale – and Voila! Gladwell does it again – makes you think and go hmmm…that is interesting. In this installment, the topic he has chosen is “Success” and he tries to give it a perspective that is counter-intuitive and non-mainstream.

The first aspect Gladwell tries to highlight is the aspect of opportunity and timing. Starting with a peek at how arbitrary rules of the elite Canadian hockey league favor those who are born in the early calendar months, Gladwell then introduces his theory of 10,000 hrs, supposedly the minimum number of hours exceptional folks practice doing their craft before they become exceptional. Along the way he then takes us through the lives of some of those ‘outliers’ – The Beatles, Bill Joy and Bill Gates—while explaining how talent, persistence, and above all, extraordinary opportunity and luck played a big part in their success.

As we digest the stories, Gladwell, in his characteristic style, quickly introduces the factors of how the environment and cultural legacy impact a whole generation and sometimes cause generations to succeed (or fail). The journey continues as he puts his hypotheses to work explaining honor cultures, Jewish lawyers, Asian math whizzes and ends with the school system in the US.  In this ride, if there is one line that stays with us and explains the book, it is – Outliers are those who have been given opportunities– and who have had the strength and presence of mind to seize them.

A quick read, the book stands out for its provocative argument, interesting topic and variety of anecdotes told by a master story teller and writer. Gladwell is at his best when he interweaves the stories while arguing his point and introducing a new way to look at the topic itself. Be warned though – while the book is all that, what Gladwell is not also comes through – i.e. he is not a master researcher and social scientist. Some of the theories stand on a couple of research papers, and conclusions could seem to be made to fit his theories. He also does not present any evidence that may be used to actually argue against his theories.

Overall,  next time you have that long flight and want something more than the in-flight entertainment,  pick up the book, read it and ponder – success……