Review : Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell

by Harshal Kulkarni on August 29, 2013

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Author: Malcolm Gladwell
Publisher: Penguin Books
Year: 2008
ISBN: 9780141036243
Rating: ★★★★½
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When was Bill Gates born?
October 28, 1955

Steve Jobs’ DOB?
February 24, 1955

Eric Schmidt: the former Chief Executive Officer of Google. Birth date?
April 27, 1955

Malcolm Gladwell keeps bombarding with such facts for a few more pages and with his style of narrative, the theory looks magical and overwhelming.We come across few more examples of people who belong to this league of Computer and IT honchos and are born in between 1954 and 1955. Steve Ballmer, Bill Joy, Paul Allen and others, he claims, were born in such an era that by the time they reached twenty or twenty-one, the world was about to experience the personal computer revolution. 1975 brought the advent of a path breaking machine called Altair 8800.If you are too old in 1975, says Gladwell, then you’d already have a job at IBM and once people started at IBM, they had a real hard time making the transition to the new world.At the same time if you are too young to have just entered college you would still miss the bus.

This theme is at the heart of Outliers. Gladwell believes that innate ability and talent have to be supplemented by opportunities at the right time to have a shot at success. People who have such abilities and are backed by little luck are Outliers. Outlier, by definition, is something that is situated away from or classed differently from a main or related body.

It is this book that propounds Gladwell’s epoch making 10000 hour theory. It takes roughly ten thousand hours of practice to achieve mastery in a field. And it is impossible to clock those hours without talent, continuous tenacity and hard work. But what truly distinguishes Outliers is not their unprecedented talent but their extraordinaire opportunities. As he puts it, it is the story of how the Outliers in a particular field reached their lofty status through a combination of ability, opportunity and utterly arbitrary advantage.

The book opens with the Roseto mystery. The story is about a village Roseto which lies in the Apennine foothills of Italy having surprisingly low death rate. The dietary habits, physical exercise, genes or location all go against the Rosetans. The Rosetans were healthy because of where they were from, because of the world they had created for themselves in their little towns in the hills. The reason for their healthy existence was in their culture and community. The mystery behind Rosetans: They were Outliers.

The narrative becomes a passionate argument spot on from the first chapter. As Gladwell writes, Success isn’t simply the sum of the decisions and efforts we make on our own behalf. It is, rather, a gift. Outliers are those who have been given opportunities – and who have had the strength and presence of mind to seize them.He drops one story and picks another and brings us back to the first with relating call back and summary statements as if it’s a fast paced movie with a lot of cuts, edits and a high post-production value.

When he writes about the ethnic theory of plane crashes of Korean Air flights, Gladwell brings about new concepts like mitigated speech and Power Distance Index. By telling us how a typical airplane accident involves seven consecutive errors and then how mitigated speech&implied suggestions by the pilots fail to highlight the level of urgency during a plane crash, Gladwell creates a believable portrait of the problem on hand. He further takes into view the impact of culture on behavior of pilots with their superiors by introducing us to “Power Distance Index”. PDI, writes Gladwell, is concerned with attitudes toward hierarchy, specifically with how much a particular culture respects authority. All his meandering analysis is actually a workout for our grey cells.

However, most of the book deals with examples of America and of Outliers who are men. Thus keeping the rest of the world and the fairer sex completely unexplored. The Americanness of some case studies makes the plot boring due to lack of contextual correlation. Some case studies are so vaguely constructed and given manipulative conclusions that one wonders whether they go with the theme of the book. Overall, after the two path-breaking books, The Tipping Point and Blink, Gladwell offers something new on table. If you are striving to become a master in any field, the few hours that you spend reading this book would definitely add up to your 10000 hour count.

 

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Written by Harshal Kulkarni

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