Book Review: OUTLIERS by Malcolm Gladwell

outliersNatural talent:  We hear the phrase spoken often about composers like Mozart, computer programmers like Bill Joy, software geniuses like Bill Gates, and musical groups like the Beatles. We cannot all expect to be as successful as the Beatles or Mozart because we were not born with their natural talent. Or at least so go the musings from the peanut gallery of the less-than-successful.

In his latest book, Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell, bestselling author of The Tipping Point and Blink, shatters many popular notions about success and proves again why he is one of the most interesting, intelligent, and talented writers of our time. Gladwell’s book helps readers understand what an outlier is-a value, observation, event, etc. that is numerically distant from the rest of the data -and why outliers matter.

In Outliers we get what business books should really be like; part psychology book, part business book, part history book, part sociology book, and part anthropology book. You don’t have to worry about going cross-eyed from reading too many business buzz words or meaningless platitudes. Outliers is chock full of amazing, interesting, and educational lessons about opportunity, success, and failure.

One such lesson is the triumph of hard work over natural talent. Gladwell demonstrates that bands like the Beatles, programmers like Bill Joy, chess prodigies like Bobby Fisher, and billionaire software gurus like Bill Gates didn’t achieve success because they were talented. They achieved success because they were talented and willing to apply 10,000 hours of practice to their respective crafts and trades. “Practice isn’t the thing you do once you’re good. It’s the thing you do that makes you good.”

To illustrate the value of the 10,000-hour rule as he calls it, Gladwell introduces readers to some interesting history about the Beatles. What most people don’t know about the Beatles is that they perfected their craft playing seven days a week for eight hours at a time in front of live audiences in strip clubs in Hamburg, Germany. Over a two-year period from 1960-1962, the Beatles played 270 nights in strips clubs throughout Germany. By the time they had their first bout of “real” success in 1964, they had played 1,200 times together as a band. The Beatle’s success is more a result of their hard work than their natural talent.

But Gladwell doesn’t stop there. He challenges our notions of success in every chapter with questions like: Why are so many of Canada’s elite amateur hockey players born in January or February? Why of the seventy-five richest people in human history are fourteen Americans born within nine years of each other? Why is the smartest man in the world (at least according to his IQ) living on a horse farm in Northern Missouri writing a book on the theory of everything no one cares about? What does rice farming have to do with being great at math? Why are there so many family feuds in Kentucky? Why are so many of today’s top Wall Street law firms run by people of Jewish descent?

If you think these questions are intriguing, wait until you read the stories that accompany them.

This book will amaze you, frustrate you, inspire you, and leave you wanting more. But, most importantly, it will help you understand the roots of and pathways to success. Here’s a hint: it’s not just about natural talent. And isn’t that good news for us mere mortals?

– R. Stephen Prather, Guest Reviewer

4 Comments

  1. I’ve just written a blog in the dark about Malcolm Gladwell, because it’s a preview to a takl he’s given but I’ve not read any of his books. I’m definitely going to, now I’ve read your post… they sound brill. I’d love it if you could summarise your thoughts for me as a comment on my blog, someone who actually knows what he’s talking about!

  2. Apologies for all my typos!

  3. Pingback: My BookClub Reviews » Blog Archive » Outliers – Malcolm Gladwell

  4. Cool blog! I just finished reading Outliers a second time, just loved it. Not only does Gladwell point out how some of our greatest geniuses and wunderkids had amazing stories (and very lucky ones), they also point us in the direction of how we can change our own society to create even more brilliant minds. Highly recommended!

    To those not satisfied with the ‘how to’ aspect…have you picked an area in which (like the Beatles) you want to get your 10,000 hours? Is there a way you can redo your day to day schedule to speed up your 10,000 hr acquisition time (eg. 3 years instead of 10)?

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