Sunday, December 13, 2015

Book Review: Outliers

Outliers: The Story of SuccessOutliers: The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Not long ago I asked a consultant in my field for some advice.  He's a few years older than me, and much better at what we do than I am.  I asked him about how he would have handled a specific situation, and his recommendations were golden.  Then he asked if I had read Outliers.  "Yes," I said.  "I love Malcolm Gladwell."  "Well," he replied. "Don't forget the 10,000 Hour Rule. When you have been doing this for as long as I have, these things will be just as natural to you."

I loved that answer!  So smart, so kind, and probably so true.  I did not know what Outliers was about when I picked it up, but it sure is strong stuff.  Gladwell had a lot to live up to after The Tipping Point and Blink, and he does not disappoint.  The art and science of achieving excellence is a wonderful subject for an author of Gladwell's profound talent.  He finds the relevant social scientific research from rarely-read university journals, roots out compelling stories of those whose accomplishments surpass any in their field, and connects the dots in a way that makes any of us feel like the possibilities for our own lives are endless.  We just have to find and embrace where the puzzle pieces fell in our favor.

So what if I wasn't born in January? I am not interested in hockey.  I was a high-performing kindergartener, however, and have been reaping the benefits of extra attention and high expectations ever since. Until Outliers, I didn't know why it was that some things seemed to come more easily to me than to others I knew.  It turns out that the luck of the draw, together with my willingness to practice, formed an avalanche that continues to roll.

Gladwell tells his own mother's family story in the epilogue of Outliers to great effect.  The learning in his works is never confined to the main thesis, but expands out exponentially and even increases with a second reading.  Thanks, Malcolm!  Your relatives must be crazy proud!

A short summary, written by me, is available for download here.

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