Outliers

| April 5, 2011 | 0 Comments

Author: Malcolm Gladwell
Publisher: Penguin Books Ltd
ISBN: 978-0316017923
Reviewed by: Pat Brink

Why are people successful? Malcolm Gladwell examines this intriguing question in Outliers, and uncovers principles that are relevant to parents, educators and career guidance counsellors. Through research and anecdotal evidence, he leads his reader on a fascinating journey towards the understanding that talent alone does not result in success: both opportunity and cultural legacy play a decisive role in determining to what extent a person develops that gift or genius.

Opportunity plays its part
The contribution of opportunity to the advancement of ‘outliers’ (those who stand out above the crowd) ranges from date of birth and hours of practice to practical intelligence (the ability to work the system to your advantage). If you try out for a sports team at the age of 10, and your birthday is in January, you have a far greater chance of being selected than an equally talented youngster born in November, through sheer size. Your year of birth can also assist you in developing your ability: if you, like Bill Gates, are in a high school that has computers just at the time when they were in their infancy, and you have the opportunity to spend thousands of hours programming, you would be more likely to become a leader in that field.

Another example of hours of practice being a vital factor in the emergence of genius is the Beatles, who became famous in 1964. Being invited to play in Hamburg for eight hours a day (rather than the usual one-hour gig available to rock groups) boosted them towards the 10 000 hours of experience that Gladwell claims is needed to develop flair into brilliance!

Heartbreaking stories
The author also provides heartbreaking stories to illustrate how people with IQs of 195 failed to secure a place at university because they lacked the social skills to speak up on their own behalf. This quality he calls “entitlement”, and is a feature of cultural legacy. Children born to middle-class or wealthy parents are encouraged to engage with adults and learn this skill; poor children are not exposed to such negotiation, and are actively discouraged from questioning those in authority.

Cultural background can, however, act in your favour when it encourages you to work hard for long hours. The renowned ability of people of eastern origin in Mathematics can be ascribed both the hours of practice made possible by long school hours and their language, which makes computation far easier than it is for speakers of English!

Gladwell convincingly dispels the myth that genius is necessary for success. A reasonable capacity to perform a task, the opportunity to engage in meaningful work and high motivation to persevere can all contribute to achieving success in one’s chosen field. Other aspects of triumph, accomplishment and failure (such as pilots who crash planes) are examined in this intriguing book that simultaneously delights and captivates the reader.

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Category: Autumn 2011, Book Reviews

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