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4 stars for fun, but 2 stars for originality
on November 21, 2008
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. Aside from emotional intelligence (aka "practical intelligence") most of these are factors that we just can't do much about. Unfortunately, we already knew that.
Alas, however, Malcolm Gladwell is a professional writer, and not a professional researcher. If readers keep that in mind, they won't be too disappointed by the methods or originality of the research. His job is to weave together an interesting story, which is something Gladwell does exceedingly well. If all you want is some good entertainment and fodder for cocktail party discussions, Outliers might make a nice addition to your bookshelves.
Nick Tasler is the author of The Impulse Factor: Why Some of Us Play It Safe and Others Risk It All