The definition of success is a very subjective matter, and Malcolm Gladwell, best-selling author of Tipping Point, and Blink, posits a theory that success is not based on ambition or intelligence, but rather from culture, ethnicity and unexpected logic, among other things, in his new book, Outliers: The Story of Success, out now in popular bookstores.
Written in a story per chapter format, Gladwell tries to convince us that “outliers,” or persons whose achievements fall way beyond normal expectations, should not be rated by traditional measures of performance such as academic intelligence, skill, or native ability. He does so by extrapolating and re-interpreting data using an unorthodox and inconsistent “out of the box” thinking paradigm. Thus, the argument goes that all of us regular folks should also be measured the same way. While this premise seems promising and in many ways true, it is also nothing new or groundbreaking.
The book starts out interestingly with a chapter on the “Roseto Mystery,” and documents how a community of Italian immigrants in the United States was able to maintain a high life expectancy rate despite their seemingly normal eating and living habits.
Gladwell states his point clearly in the first chapter, that “nobody comes from nothing” and that everyone who succeeds has an advantage, whether it be in terms of parentage, environment, or connections. This may be true for some individuals, but to take this as an absolute truth is an absurd proposition. Some theories remind me of the ideas in Michael Porter's business book Competitive Advantage of Nations, but they fail to make a sound argument worthy of discussion.
The ensuing chapters take on why the Beatles and Bill Gates were so successful in their careers, and why others as equally talented were not. How about the Rolling Stones or Frank Sinatra then? Gladwell also talks about how much IQ do you really need, and why Asians are so good at math. I'm Asian, and I'm really, really bad at math. The most disturbing and interesting chapter to me, entitled “The Ethnic Theory of Plane Crashes,” tackles the subject matter of why certain airlines have a high plane crash record while others don’t.
Gladwell uses a staggering amount of research and statistics, albeit disjointed, to prove his points, but in the end, falls short of trying to weave all his chapters together into one cohesive book. In this sense, the material seems like trivia, which makes it a good read, though it is really nothing to be taken too seriously, and if you are looking for some inspiration to succeed, this certainly falls out of your buying list. I’d still like to believe that success is a product of innovation, creativity, hard work and hard won wisdom. Buy at your discretion and with a grain of salt.Powered by Sidelines