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on 22 December 2008
Outliers is the latest book my Malcolm Gladwell a journalist in the New Yorker with a keen interest in behavioural science. His previous book, Blink, was about decision making, this one as the subtitle indicates is about what is necessary in order to achieve success, and that is opportunity, opportunity to achieve expertise, expertise that is in high demand. This is even true in fiercely competitive and meritocratic fields such as athletics and the high-tech industries where one should think that the most talented would rise to the top.

Gladwell does not discount the value of innate talent and hard work, these are necessary but not sufficient conditions for becoming an expert. He cites the 10,000 hour rule that states that in order to become an expert in anything you need 10,000 hours of deliberate practice, something most of us never achieve in any field.

An example in the book of someone who got a unique opportunity and exploited it is Bill Gates. He had the good fortune to go to a preparatory school where he was given access to unlimited computer time in the mid-60'ies, at luxury that at the time was not even available to most computer science professors. When he dropped out of college he had his 10,000 hours of deliberate practice in programming under his belt, an expert at a time when these were few and far between and demand was sky rocketing.

Another example is Canadian ice hockey. Almost all who reach the top are born in the first three months of the year. Because of the competitive nature of that sport in Canada, streaming of children into different teams start at a very early age, the best getting more practice, better competition, better and more coaching. The problem is that when streaming starts the differences in ability due to talent and willingness to work hard is dwarfed by differences in maturity. Someone born on January 1st is a year older than one born on December 31st the same year, and that matters a lot when you are just a child.

Gladwell also takes a look on how culture and how it affects us, both ethnically and class-based culture. He argues that the value placed on hard work in the traditionally rice-growing cultures in East Asia explains why children from these countries do so much better in mathematics. Similarly, children growing up in upper middle-class families get a sense of entitlement that makes them better at negotiating with people in authority. They also get a lot more in the way of intellectual stimulation at home. In one study in California children from working class families became a little worse at reading while on summer vacation, while children from upper middle-class families got a lot better.

This all seems rather disappointing. We all like to the thought of the self-made man, succeeding against the odds, but this apparently does not happen much in practice. Still, there is hope. A lot of talent is squandered, but we can do something about it. Gladwell mentions a couple of examples. In the US there are KIPP Academies for disadvantaged children that takes the consequences of culture seriously, by compensating for a lack of intellectual stimulation at home by longer school days, school on Saturdays and shorter holidays, 80 percent of their students end up going to college.

Korean Air had one of the worst safety records of any international airlines due to the huge power distance between the captain and the rest of the crew, they just did not dare speak up if the captain made a mistake. Through different measure they have managed to turn the company culture around and are now no worse than any other major airline.

Outliers is an enjoyable book and well worth a read. I enjoy things that are counter-intuitive or flies in the face of conventional wisdom, and Gladwell is good at finding research and supporting anecdotes that does just that. Unfortunately, with Outliers Gladwell has not quite succeeded in building a strong and coherent narrative jumping between these nuggets as he did in Blink.
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on 28 February 2014
.....based on research and facts about why people are successful. The facts endorse that it is circumstances taht make you succesfull...
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on 11 December 2013
Easy to read, informative. It explains a lot about how life 'happens' and develops by things that look like chance but are not really.
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on 4 May 2013
Fantastic, insightful and well researched, read it in one sitting while supposed to be revising for A levels. Absolutely captivating.
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on 3 June 2013
Well written and the bulk of the points are worth considering. I should have read this book when I was was starting out on a career
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on 19 October 2015
Really interesting at a personal level and especially if you have kids or young relatives. You can create opportunities for them.
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on 25 October 2014
I really enjoyed this book however I don't think it goes far enough. Why aren't all the hockey players born in Jan,Feb,March?
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on 19 October 2013
Great book, great synthesis of ideas into clear ideas and anecdotes to help look at your world in different way. Love the guy.
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on 15 March 2014
I downloaded the book. . .first ever! Enjoying reading on the kindle. Only came across Gladwell recently but interesting guy!
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on 3 January 2015
Entertaining and well written, some of the conclusions made in the book are somewhat simplistic, entertaining nonetheless.
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