Outliers: The Story of Success

Outliers: The Story of Success is the latest book written by Malcolm Gladwell (author of The Tipping Point and Blink, both books I have previously read), examines why some people succeed, living remarkably productive and impactful lives, while so many more never reach their potential.

outliers

Gladwell uses a wide variety of interesting stories as examples to prove his theory including Bill Gates (and other Silicon Valley billionaires), the Beatles, New York lawyers, Canadian hockey players and Asian math whizzes.  His main theory is that while talent and genius are needed, success is also influenced by other factors such as cultural legacy, luck, special opportunity and hard work (ie. you need over 10,000 hours of practice).

This book is very typical and similar to Gladwell’s previous books, so if you liked those, then you will probably like this one as well.  It is a short, but fairly interesting read and I would recommend it.  As with these types of books, you certainly are free to make up your own mind, to agree or disagree with the authors theories.

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5 thoughts on “Outliers: The Story of Success

  1. The problem with “theory” books like this is that they’re reactionary instead of predictive. It’s easy to look back at the careers of Bill Gates, Jack Welsh and Andy Grove and say “here’s where the luck part came in, here’s where the hard work part came in, etc.”, but this is after the fact. It’s hardly useful to say “yeah, I know why you got so successful!” to Bill Gates at a party. I think that Bill would be more impressed if you could point at five people at a party and say, “you know, Bill, out of those five, only Jack and Jill are going to turn into billionaires by the end of 5 years, the other three are either going to flame out, or never even try” and be correct. Saying that a large part of the equation revolves around luck kind of makes the equation irrelevant. There have been a lot of advice books that end with “a lot of your success will depend on being in the right place at the right time, and right now, one of these two is not right for you. But hey, keep trying. Who knows, you may luck out.”

    • I think you need both luck and hard work – depending on the person, more of the other or vice versa. You also hear some successful people saying that you “make your own luck”.

      • Actually, I think what we really need is back-up support. You’re right, often we make our own luck. Work hard enough and remain visible enough, and you start attracting the attention of the people handing out the rewards (managers, critics, reviewers). But at the same time you attract the attention of people that want to shoot you down – critics, reviewers, people competing for the same job as you – and many of these people will do what they can to undermine you. While this may be viewed by some as “bad luck”, it’s actually “your enemies helping make your luck for you”. This is when you need back-up. That is, someone watching from the outside that can see what’s happening and then either tell you directly, or work on your behalf with management (or whatever) behind the scenes to prevent the mess from getting out of hand.

        I think too that “making your own luck” includes how you treat other people. I’ve seen people complaining about how they always have bad luck with product returns, promotions, and so on, but when they’re on the phone talking to customer service or to their manager, they start out angry and screaming. So of course the results will be negative for them. They not only make their own bad luck, they’re their own worst enemy.

        But again, “you can judge someone by the enemies they’ve made”. If you’re true to yourself or your values, you’re bound to step on someone’s toes, and that someone is going to turn on you. In this case, it’s not so much a matter of “making bad luck” as it is “making the right enemies”. And, when this happens, you really want to have someone you can trust protecting your back for you…

        • I think what you called “back-up support” is what I would call a mentor. I certainly am a big believer of mentorship, being both a protege and mentor of several people. A good mentoring relationship is very special and of course, very helpful.

          • Well, a mentor has the additional meaning of someone who helps you learn the ropes of the job, or who you can ask advice from. For “back-up support”, I’d say “friends in high places”.

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