Outliers

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Outliers, the Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell (ISBN 978-0-141-04302-9, Penguin Books, 20090) follows on from his books The Tipping Point (How little things can make a big difference) and Blink (The power of thinking without thinking).

The book is in two sections.  Part 1 Opportunity and Part 2 Legacy.  In this first part he labors long over 10 year old ice hockey players and discovers that the top childhood players were born in January, February or March, with very few elite athletes born in October, November or December.  For me, all that Gladwell has done is to highlight the fact that in any year, those born in the early months have a physical advantage over those born at the end of the year, and when you take 10 year olds, this makes a very big difference in physical and mental development.  For me, this was not rocket science, as having been born in November I can remember just how much bigger and more mature were my classmates who had that 11 month advantage.

He mentions the work of K. Anders Ericsson, whose research paper entitled “Toward a Science of Exceptional Achievement” in 2009, gave credence to the idea that excellence came from 10,000 hours of practice.  Nurture defeating nature.  Or is it just defeating your birthday?

Gladwell does write in a very easy and flowing style, posing paradoxical questions towards the end of chapters, as a ploy to get the reader turning the pages.

Gladwell also introduces more research into behavior and goes along with the theory that aggression in young males depends not upon IQ or training, but depends upon where they came from and suggests geography gives a cultural legacy.

Gladwell also looks at plane crashes, with Korean Air being the airline that had one of the world’s worst crash risk statistics, over 17 times more risk than other comparable carriers.  Data from black boxes is given and dissection done to show that there were miscommunications on the descent which ended up as a plane crash. And those miscommunications came about because of cultural factors, where a subordinate cannot question a superior’s decisions.  (This is a Thai cultural fact as well.).

At B. 360 it is a cheap read for you to accept the final concept that you need to have people around you, as well as being born on the best months, have a good IQ and know how to communicate when under stress.  So if you are planning on having a bright and successful family, better conceive now for a March baby.

Gladwell notes that success “is not exceptional or mysterious.  It is grounded in a web of advantages and inheritances, some deserved, some not, some earned, some just plain lucky,” and at the end of the book, he remarks, “Outliers wasn’t intended as autobiography.  But you could read it as an extended apology for my success.”

Despite all the accolades I remained underwhelmed by all his graphs and tables and butterfly approach to subjects.  Not my cup of tea, I’m afraid, but if you liked the Tipping Point you will easily settle into this book.