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Malcolm Gladwell has been a staff writer at The New Yorker since 1996. He is the author of The Tipping Point, Blink, Outliers, and What the Dog Saw. Prior to joining The New Yorker, he was a reporter at the Washington Post. Gladwell was born in England and grew up in rural Ontario. He now lives in New York.
The main tenet of Outliers is that there is a logic behind why some people become successful, and it has more to do with legacy and opportunity than high IQ. In his latest book, New Yorker contributor Gladwell casts his inquisitive eye on those who have risen meteorically to the top of their fields, analyzing developmental patterns and searching for a common thread. The author asserts that there is no such thing as a self-made man, that "the true origins of high achievement" lie instead in the circumstances and influences of one's upbringing, combined with excellent timing. The Beatles had Hamburg in 1960-62; Bill Gates had access to an ASR-33 Teletype in 1968. Both put in thousands of hours-Gladwell posits that 10,000 is the magic number-on their craft at a young age, resulting in an above-average head start.
Gladwell makes sure to note that to begin with, these individuals possessed once-in-a-generation talent in their fields. He simply makes the point that both encountered the kind of "right place at the right time" opportunity that allowed them to capitalize on their talent, a delineation that often separates moderate from extraordinary success. This is also why Asians excel at mathematics-their culture demands it. If other countries schooled their children as rigorously, the author argues, scores would even out.
Gladwell also looks at "demographic luck," the effect of one's birth date. He demonstrates how being born in the decades of the 1830s or 1930s proved an enormous advantage for any future entrepreneur, as both saw economic booms and demographic troughs, meaning that class sizes were small, teachers were overqualified, universities were looking to enroll and companies were looking for employees.Read more ›
In Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell seeks to disabuse us of the notion that genius and greatness are predominantly a function of innate ability and IQ. He rightly notes that while IQ is certainly a contributor, it reaches a "point of diminishing returns" after a while: once people score about 130, IQ becomes less important and "intangibles" (my term) become more important.
The book, then, focuses on what these "intangibles" are. Gladwell suggests that things like what income level, culture, and time of a child's birth are important contributors to success, as well as a person's tenacity and agility. As the last of these is the least conventional, think of it this way: Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, and many other computer masterminds would likely not have distinguiished themselves were they born 10 years earlier (as they would not have been exposed to computers in high-school/college, and would have been in their mid-thirties by the time computers really took hold, likely already in other careers by that point in their lives.)
How does culture matter? Think about the discrepancy between how many days per year American children spend in school (180) versus Asian students (280), and how many more social expectaitons Asian students are borne into? Certianly this will affect academic and other achievement.
Now, I should point out that Gladwell is quite adept at anecdotal story telling and is much less adept at statistical analysis. As such, he could be justly accused of overstating his case (and maybe even finding patterns where he wants to see them, rather than where they exist.) Gladwell is definitely writing for the popular market so anyone wanting good "back up" of his arguments may find themselves disappointed by his cherry-picking of examples.Read more ›
Gladwell has done it again...sort of. I would have categorized this book as a 4 or 5 star read like his previous two installments--Blink and The Tipping Point, except he lost a few originality points this time around.
Gladwell's knack for making a reader say "huh, interesting..." is something for other writers to marvel at. I'm convinced that he could pen a book called "Green: It's the color of grass," and he would write it in such a way that would inspire most of us to say "huh...who knew?!?"
But in the case of Outliers the "huh..." factor has little to do with the ideas found in the book, and are almost exclusively the result of Gladwell's keen sense of how to make the ordinary and mundane sound exciting and new. This is especially true in the two chapters devoted to debunking the myth that intelligence is the key to success. Unfortunately, Dan Goleman beat him to the punch way back in 1995 with his book "Emotional Intelligence: Why it matters more than IQ." With a quick sleight of hand, Gladwell cites Robert Sternberg's label of "practical intelligence," instead of calling it emotional intelligence. But let's be honest, here, the only difference is Goleman says "tem-ay-toe," and Gladwell says "tem-ah-toe."
The other flaw is that nothing in it is terribly useful for practical application. It's no secret to anyone in the business of hiring that most selection techniques are abysmal predictors of on-the-job success. What we are left with as a takeaway from Outliers is that factors of chance like the ability to practice a skill for 10,000 hours--mostly during childhood--is the key to predicting future success. Get your kids started today...as long as you know when the next Industrial Revolution or Internet Age is going to occur.Read more ›