Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell

Practice 10,000 hours to be a master. Don't forget your roots. You will succeed.

Synopsis of Outliers: The Story of Success: In this stunning new book, Malcolm Gladwell takes us on an intellectual journey through the world of "outliers"--the best and the brightest, the most famous and the most successful. He asks the question: what makes high-achievers different?

His answer is that we pay too much attention to what successful people are like, and too little attention to where they are from: that is, their culture, their family, their generation, and the idiosyncratic experiences of their upbringing. Along the way he explains the secrets of software billionaires, what it takes to be a great soccer player, why Asians are good at math, and what made the Beatles the greatest rock band.

Brilliant and entertaining, Outliers is a landmark work that will simultaneously delight and illuminate.

My thoughts

I am trying to get more non-fiction into my TBR and Outliers: The Story of Success is the first of them.

I really like Malcolm Gladwell. I've read both Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking and The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference and they both impressed me with their simple language, extreme readability and unusual insights. It's psychology for the layman.

Success is definitely more than the sum of its parts. Wildly successful people or what he terms as "outliers" like Bill Gates, The Beatles, Mozart, etc. all have a story to tell, but often what we hear is romanticized, sanitized and simplified. Genius is not the only ingredient for success. Nor is there such as thing as a "self-made man." Gladwell breaks apart these notions and points out that when you're born, talent, practice, opportunity, luck, culture, and more, all play into what makes one successful.

I found two chapters particularly interesting, both dealing with the issue of ethnicity and cultural attitudes. Why are Asians generally so good at math? Gladwell says that this is because of the deeply ingrained attitude towards work rooted in that Asians have perfected rice cultivation, a very exacting science in itself and requiring backbreaking work. The other chapter is the disturbing idea of airplane crashes due problems of cultural deference in communication between a superior and a subordinate.

What really struck me is that a lot of what Gladwell says isn't new, in fact quite a lot is common sense. For example greatness requires time. The "10,000-Hour Rule" is simple - to be good at something complex - or about 10 years. That gives anyone hope to become a master at whatever they want and not need rely simply on sheer talent. Nature vs. nurture.

In his concluding chapter, Gladwell reveals a little more about his own success and family history, neatly summarizing the main points in his book.

Verdict: A simplified explanation of what makes a success - not as simple as I thought!

Here's a BBC interview:

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  1. Gladwell also describes how the structure of the Chinese language makes it easier for native speakers to do math calculations and to think mathematically. I had read this before, but he goes into some detail about it. Very interesting!

  2. Book Dil - I thought that point was pretty cool - language and math skills interlinked! Who would've thought?


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