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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