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Outliers (Book Review)

Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell

For the last year I’ve intended to read Outliers: The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell. It sat on my bookshelf for over a year without a page being turned – partly because I read revues that acted as minor spoiler alerts and I’m not sure that’s the best way to review good books. However, it’s hard to review Gladwell’s work without getting knee-deep into his research and hypotheses.

The argument Gladwell eloquently puts over is simple – hard work (10,000+ hours) and intelligence aren’t enough to make outliers like Bill Gates or The Beatles successful. The environment and wider society provide the context that either enables or disables our ability to capitalise on success. As any businessman should be able to tell you, there’s more than a little luck involved in any success story. You need those 10,000+ hours plus the intelligence plus the opportunity provided in your environment.

What year were you born? How does that fit into the historical context? What were the industry and cultural pressures that moulded these outliers into super-success stories?

My interest in Outliers: The Story of Success came through reading Gladwell’s equally fascinating article in October 2008 – Late Bloomers: why do we equate genius with precocity? It explores the writer who is said to be an overnight success story but who really spent 20 years honing his craft at the kitchen table being supported by his hard working and enduring wife. It looks at the difference between the young genius of Picasso versus the learned mastery of Cezanne.

In Outliers, Gladwell says it’s easy for us to oversimplify the world and just say outright that certain people were destined to be great. That’s just a myth. Bill Gates, deprived of his birth advantage in historical context, missing his 10,000 hours at the birth era of computer programming… well, you should get the picture. Bill Gates is as much a product of being able to pluck those opportunities as he is the product of his taking them onboard.

Gladwell’s books, to me at least, are morsels that satisfy a certain palate – I enjoy that he bridges a border between journalism and academia. I simply take my coffee and toast under an old garden umbrella reading anything crafted by Malcolm Gladwell over the last umpteen years. And I lick my lips knowing that Blink: The Power of Thinking without Thinking is also on my bookshelf for 2011 reading.

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About the Author

Steven Clark Steven Clark - the stand up guy on this site

My name is Steven Clark (aka nortypig) and I live in Southern Tasmania. I have an MBA (Specialisation) and a Bachelor of Computing from the University of Tasmania. I'm a photographer making pictures with film. A web developer for money. A business consultant for fun. A journalist on paper. Dreams of owning the World. Idea champion. Paradox. Life partner to Megan.

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