Review of Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell

Outliers by Malcolm GladwellThe basic premise of this book my Malcolm Gladwell is that people, or Outliers, are successful for a number of different reasons, on top of the fact that they’re skilled at what they do.

Some of the examples he looks into say:

  • Success can be determined based on when you were born
  • Put in the work (10,000+ hours) and you’ll be a master at your craft
  • Just because you’re smart, doesn’t mean you’ll succeed
  • Timing is everything
  • The behavior of generations past keep us in its grasp

Obviously Gladwell looks at data that helps him prove his points. The case studies he examines are interesting, well told stories, and in all of them I found he made arguments, backed by expert research, that made sense.

If not necessarily true for all cases, it’s a good eye opener that shows those who are successful aren’t just so because of some talent they were born with, but that skill was gained through a lot of hard work or an opportune upbringing/family history. There are of course exceptions to the rule, and Gladwell seems to say successful people are who they are because of these reasons, but doesn’t look at the examples that prove his point wrong.

Nowhere in the book, outside of the small samples he looks at, does it show overall rates of for example, hockey players who were born outside of the first quarter of the year. The theory he looks at is that the earlier in the year you’re born (Jan/Feb/Mar), the more successful you’ll be because you’re months ahead of players born in the later part of the year, development-wise. Curious, I took a look at the roster of the Stanley Cup champion Boston Bruins. While some players have moved, it’s still noteworthy to see that of the 24 players on the roster, only 5 were born from January to March. (Others: Detroit = 13; Toronto = 7; Vancouver = 5).

While the hockey analysis may not hold up, I learned some eye-opening information. One was the reason why students have summer vacations is due to research from the 1800s saying that over-study leads to mental illness; it’s based on this that people aren’t willing to put kids through school in the summer. Another interesting tidbit was that the way Asian numbers are formed makes it easier for them to memorize and therefore learn math quicker than western kids. They were some small but interesting tidbits in the stories, but they stuck with me.

As with most of Gladwell’s work, Outliers is easy to read and presents an idea or belief that you may think is simple, and opens it up to examine the psychological or sociological reasoning behind it. There’s something about books that deal with the how we think or act that get to me. Though close, this one isn’t quite on the level of The Tipping Point or Blink but I really enjoyed the book and I can’t wait for his next one – whatever the random topic may be. I give Outliers a 4/5.

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What the Dog Saw: Reviewed

What The Dog SawHow does society solve its homeless problem? What do job interviews really tell us? These are just a couple of the many questions that Malcolm Gladwell tries to find the answers to in What the Dog Saw: And Other Adventures, using a collection of articles written for The New Yorker over the years.

The best way I can describe this book is by saying that it’s about problem solving on various levels. Gladwell seeks answers from the experiences entrepreneurs, a dog whisperers, a profiler, and a number of other people and organizations.

The first part looked at Obsessives, Pioneers, and Other Varieties of Minor Genius was the least interesting part of the book for me, with the exception of the final two pieces taking a look at the invention of birth control, and the profile of Cesar Millan, which was the inspiration for the book title. The reason why I did not like this section as much was that it was too focused on specific businesses and how they solved their particular industry’s problem. I’m sure it’s interesting to many, but reading about it was not really for me.

The second part highlighted Theories, Predictions, and Diagnoses. It definitely upped the interest for me with articles on the downfall of Enron, solving the homelessness problem, and plagiarism, among others. Looking at societal issues and the human psyche is something I can sink my teeth into all day, so these pieces really stood out for me.

The third part discussed Personality, Character, and Intelligence which again took a look at the human psyche and how we make snap judgements of people. This section reminded me a bit of Gladwell’s Blink, so while I enjoyed reading the examples, the subject matter was repetitive.

In the end What the Dog Saw just doesn’t compare to Blink and The Tipping Point. With the lack of connection between each story, it had a more text book feel, and therefore I wasn’t as motivated to keep reading. With the other two books, I couldn’t put them down because there was such a great flow. I give What the Dog Saw a 3/5.

My top 5 non-fiction books of 2009

I’m a big fan of fiction novels, but I like to throw in non-fiction every once and a while. I had too many non-fiction books that I wanted to include, so non-fiction got its own list. Here are my top 5 non-fiction books of 2009, what are yours?

NUMBER FIVE

Black Berry, Sweet Juice: On Being Black and White in Canada

Black Berry, Sweet Juice was the third Lawrence Hill books that I’ve read. This one was a bit different from the other two because it’s obviously non-fiction. This book allowed Lawrence to draw specifically from his experiences as he went around discussing the topic of being of “mixed race” in Canada. This is a great book for everyone to read just so you can simply understand the experiences that people who are sometimes divided between two halves of their family’s history. It was a great read for me too because if my future is lucky enough I’d like to have a family with my girlfriend who is Punjabi. The book focuses on black and white mixes, but a lot of similarities would hold true for any race mashup. If you pick this one up just beware it’s not like Hill’s other novels; sometimes it can get dry, but overall the message he’s trying to get across is the most important.

NUMBER FOUR

Here Comes Everybody

I read Here Comes Everybody earlier in the year and it was a great help to understand the power of people collaborating in social media. This is also a great boook for anyone in communications/marketing who want to know the influence that social media can have on people. Well written book too. Highly recommended!

NUMBER THREE

Blink: The power of thinking without thinking

Blink by Malcolm Gladwell is a book that takes a deeper look at how we make decisions. This is a great book to read every so often to remind yourself of what you’re decisions are based on. It’s so easy to get caught up in certain marketing tactics that we don’t even think twice. I like books that dive into how the mind operates and this one does it quite well with great examples to back it up. Some non-fiction can be dull and boring but Gladwell’s writing is conversational and begs you to keep reading.

NUMBER TWO

The Tipping Point

The Tipping Point looks into what makes things go from obscurity to extremely popular. This book was surprisingly published in 2002, but it’s still relevant today. Examples look into how exposing your product, business or idea to connectors or social influencers can help spread your reach more than not having a targeted approach. How the book is still relevant is with the growing popularity of Facebook, Twitter and even blogs. The ability to spread your opinion is easier than ever. Everyone who takes part online has the potential to become an influencer. Even though the book didn’t have the social media elements, many in the community still boast about its worth for businesses to read because of its continued relevance. As with Blink, The Tipping Point is also easy to read and a surprising page-turner for a non-fiction book.

NUMBER ONE

Groundswell

Back in June I wrote a review on Groundswell on Burn After Blogging. At the time I was freshly done school and finished my internship so I was in the mindset of a student. After reading the post the main points I wrote about from the book still hold true. Case Studies give examples of how companies have successfully used social media; the post method helps break down how companies can implement their social media strategies; the social technographic profiles give great insights into how specific demographics are using or not using social media.

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