Title: Outliers: The Story of Success
Author: Malcolm Gladwell
Publication Date: 24th June 2009
Rating: 5/5 stars
Why do some people achieve so much more than others? Can they lie so far out of the ordinary?
In his provocative and inspiring book, Malcolm Gladwell looks at everyone from rock stars to professional athletes, software billionaires to scientific geniuses, to show that the story of success is far more surprising, and more fascinating, 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 that no one, not even a genius, ever makes it alone.
Outliers will change the way you think about your own life story, and about what makes us all unique.
This book was categorised as ‘business’ in my local store, a section I tend to avoid, believing that I would find the content uninteresting. However, a friend convinced me to give Outliers a try, insisting that it was more a popular psychology book than anything else.
And it was fascinating! The book is split into eleven sections – nine chapters plus an introduction and an epilogue. Each chapter deals with a particular person, and their individual story of success – or lack thereof. Fundamentally, it satisfies the curious mind – by the time one gets around to reading this book, we are mostly past the stage where we can adopt Gladwell’s tips on what fosters success.
The one chapter which intrigued me most was that which described the ‘10,000 Hour Rule’. Gladwell states that the most successful people in their fields (he uses the example of music) have put in 10,000 hours of practice before they are considered successful. He relates back to this throughout the book, citing Bill Gates’ fortune in having 10,000 hours worth of access to computers during his school career (in a period where computers were incredibly expensive to own and run) was what led to his ultimate success in programming and the creation of Microsoft. It is an incredibly interesting theory and the reason I stated earlier that we are mostly past adopting Gladwell’s path to success by the time we get to reading this book – as this book, I believe, appeals primarily to adults. I did consider the possibilities were this book compulsory reading in schools – imagine if students were affected enough by the stories to become more dedicated in their pursuits. I certainly wish that I had read this book during high school – however, I think I was too lazy to commit to eight hours of practice a week for anything! The only thing I have spent 10,000 hours on is reading – could I be considered a success because I can read a 400 page book in a day?
Another story which really struck me was that of Chris Langan – a man with one of the world’s highest IQs. Yet he wasn’t given a support network in college, which led to his dropping out and joining the trade workforce. Gladwell compares him to Robert Oppenheimer, a scientist who tried to poison his tutor while at university, but was ultimately given the role of heading America’s nuclear bomb developments during World War II. How is it, he asks, that two such intelligent people can be given such vastly different opportunities in life. The difference, he postulates, lies in their family lives. Langan came from a poor, uneducated family, while Oppenheimer came from a wealthy family. Children of wealth, Gladwell decides, learn a sense of entitlement as they grow – they learn that they are important enough to speak and argue with authority figures, while the poor do not. It was an interesting idea to read about.
There are too many fabulous examples in this book to talk about them all – I definitely recommend this read to everyone interested in the theory of what leads to success. Although I possess few of the characteristics Gladwell designates as being integral to success, I still really enjoyed the book, and found it incredibly enlightening. I did read an article after finishing the book, saying that a study at Princeton University disproved the 10,000 hour rule, discovering that practice made only a 12 per cent difference in performance. However, that does not make this book and Gladwell’s postulations any less intriguing. I would highly recommend this book, particularly for those who love non-fiction. But don’t be put off by its category – that was the biggest lesson I took away from my enjoyment of this book.