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Book Review – Outliers – The Story of Success
Malcolm Gladwell is the bestselling author of The Tipping Point and Blink. His latest book, Outliers, has been on the New York Times bestseller list for eight consecutive months since its publication in November 2008. Gladwell’s engaging, journalistic writing style and talent for simplifying complex issues, I believe, are his secrets to success. And these are the reasons why his books are both controversial and popular. His latest book is no exception.
Outliers attempts to explain the secrets of successful people; he proposes that intelligence (IQ) alone is no guarantee of success in life. However, this view is an already well-known fact that was established in the early 1990s by a slew of academic studies that found that success does indeed require additional skills, known as emotional intelligence ( IE). Unfortunately, Gladwell does not outline or even reference the growing literature on EI.
Instead, Gladwell focuses on several other important and equally important ingredients for success. In fact, his book naturally complements studies on EI and explains the “secrets” of success from a different angle: taking into account the personal, environmental and cultural contexts of success.
In this book review, I’ll outline the main success secrets covered by the Outliers starting with the advantage (or luck) of being born at the right time of year. An example highlighted by Gladwell is that of Canadian hockey players and Czech soccer and hockey players who were born in the first six months of a year and have a clear age and maturity advantage over their teammates. This is due to the January 1 eligibility age limit in these countries. As Gladwell explains, “A boy who turns ten on January 2 could then play alongside someone who won’t be ten by the end of the year – and at that age, in pre-adolescence, a 12-month age gap is a huge difference in physical maturity.”
What about year of birth? This too explains the implications of being there at the right time, at the right age. Gladwell cites Silicon Valley tycoons who were born between 1953 and 1956 and were therefore at the perfect age in 1975 to take advantage of the personal computer revolution. Here are the names and birth years of some of these successful men: Paul Allen (1953), Bill Joy (1954), Scott McNealy (1954), Steve Jobs (1955), Eric Schmidt (1955), Bill Gates ( 1955), and Steve Ballmer (1956). Gladwell later argues that New York lawyers born in the early 1930s also had a huge advantage when the number and size of corporate mergers, hostile takeovers and litigation took place during the 1970s. mainly due to the relaxation of federal regulations.
Gladwell proposes that it is the “10,000 hour rule” of hard work and practice that explains why many people have been successful. He gives examples of Bill Joy’s contributions to UNIX, Java, and the Internet; Mozart’s masterpiece was composed when he was twenty-one, although he started writing music at the age of six; the Beatles and their experience in Hamburg of playing music eight hours a day, seven days a week between 1960 and 1962; and Bill Gates who devoted thousands of hours to computer programming from the age of thirteen. Besides being smart, these people succeeded by putting in 10,000 hours of practice before they became exceptional at what they did.
Two other “secrets” are discussed at length in Outliers: culture and education. Gladwell compares the safety record of airliners in the 1990s and notes that Colombian (Avianca) and Korean (Korean Air) captains could in some cases have avoided plane crashes if their cultures allowed their subordinates (co-pilots and flight engineers) to speak up and warn captains of impending disasters. Both of these cultures place a high value on power distance, which means that subordinates defer to their superiors even when those superiors may in fact be wrong. In short, subordinates were reluctant to speak out out of fear and/or respect; a very dangerous cultural “dimension” when piloting an airliner! Indeed, Gladwell argues that it doesn’t matter where you were born and in what culture you were raised.
Citing culture again, Gladwell attributes the high math test scores in countries like China, Singapore, South Korea and Japan to the strong work ethic and demanding nature of these all-important rice-growing nations. humid. Again, Gladwell fails to mention that rice is also grown in other countries, such as the Philippines and Indonesia, whose populations aren’t necessarily known for their high math test scores. Nor does Gladwell mention the Protestant ethic of hard work that may have contributed to the rise of capitalism and the Industrial Revolution, or the fact that growing tobacco was once as demanding as working in the rice fields.
Finally, Gladwell establishes a link between the quality of education and success. He cites the longer days and hours of high schools in Japan and South Korea, “the school year in the United States lasts an average of 180 days. The South Korean school year lasts 220 days. The Japanese school year lasts 243 days. Finally, Gladwell mentions the vast benefits and opportunities offered by the KIPP Academy colleges that have been established in the South Bronx, one of New York’s poorest neighborhoods. KIPP students excel in math and reading, and a large percentage of them go to college and “in many cases they are the first in their families to do so”.The KIPP school days begin at seven twenty-five and continue until ‘at five o’clock in the evening. All students take courses in thinking, English, science, mathematics, social studies, music and orchestra. KIPP gives its students a chance to work very hard and d ‘excel.
Although written with a journalistic rather than an academic approach, Outliers has undoubtedly contributed to ongoing thinking about success in the corporate world. It emphasizes the importance of hard work, determination, opportunity and luck, family upbringing, personal circumstances and culture.
Despite its flaws, primarily its lack of academic rigor, Outliers is a highly recommended book for those who want to explore the “secrets” of success beyond IQ and EI.
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