Monday, July 27, 2015

Outliers - Malcolm Gladwell

Title: Outliers: The Story of Success
Author: Malcolm Gladwell
Publication Date: 11/18/08
Pages: 309
Genre: Nonfiction
Date Completed: 6/26/15

Summary: Gladwell explores the idea of success and those who achieve it. He challenges traditional ideas about what makes someone successful and digs into true stories, real statistics, and fresh ideas to make his case.

What I Thought: It's a very American idea to think you achieve success entirely on your own. Gladwell points this out early in Outliers. In fact, success requires an amalgamation of qualities and events: hard work, dedication, opportunity, external support, luck, and being in the right place at the right time, among other things. 

While I have wanted to read this book for a while, I admit I was a little nervous going into it. Of course, Gladwell is a popular, prolific writer and I should not have doubted his ability to turn his research into a more interesting near narrative form; yet, I did. When I pick up a nonfiction book, I am always a bit fearful that I am about to be bored to tears by unimaginative writing and recitation of facts, rather than creative thinking and efforts to enliven the content. Gladwell, while still providing a mountain of facts and statistical information, maintained an engaging tone. He does not write down to his readers, but he simplifies his content and ideas enough that the lay person can easily both grasp and enjoy his thesis.

If I had the opportunity to ask Gladwell a follow-up question on the book, I would ask for his thought on modern celebrity and its relationship to success. While many modern celebrities come nowhere close to the type of success Gladwell is exploring here, I do think it can be argued that some do. People such as Jessica Alba and her explosive franchise, The Honest Company, can surely be attributed to many of Gladwell's researched factors: hard work, being in the right place at the right time, having opportunities unavailable to others, etc. However, what would Gladwell say about YouTube sensations, bloggers, and other similar modern success stories? It seems much easier to argue that these types truly have created their own success. My best guess is that Gladwell would argue their "right place, right time" comes primarily by the chance of their birth in this era. Still, it would be interesting to hear his thoughts on the matter. 

Coincidentally, one of my cousins read the book about the same time I did and we had a great conversation about it (a classic example of why I love reading and book blogging - the conversations!). We both expressed interest in the idea of 10,000 hours' work making someone an expert in their field. Questioning our own potential experience in any given field, he suggested he may be an expert in sleeping and puns on his own name; I am fairly confident I am an expert in thinking about the royals. On a more serious note, we both felt a bit convicted wondering what the world would be like if Christians dedicated anywhere close to 10,000 hours to their faith. No doubt, the world would be a much better place.

All in all, I found this book fascinating. In equal parts, it spurred me to work hard and seize my own opportunities as well as realize my own limitations. It gave me lots to think about while keeping me engaged and entertained. Should you pick it up, I am certain you will experience the same. 

Quotes I Loved: 

  • "A belief in work ought to be a thing of beauty."
  • "Outliers are those who have been given opportunities - and who have had the strength and presence of mind to seize them."
  • "We prematurely write people off as failures. We are too much in awe of those who succeed and far too dismissive of those who fail."

Rating: ★★★★☆
Will I Re-Read: I wouldn't be surprised. I definitely want to read more of Gladwell's work.
If You Liked This Try: Quiet / Amusing Ourselves to Death / Half the Sky

A Reduced Review: Gladwell's research shows that the formula for success does not always align with our public perception of it. 

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