On one sunny evening while driving around the city we noticed a family of four,crammed on a scooter, driving dangerously on the city roads and my friend thought aloud “Why have a family, when you are not economically stable enough”, to which I thought out loud “What if he is from a economically backward class and this is as successful as he wished to be when with a family.”
Success may not necessarily mean that you are uber successful to the entire world; it is sometimes about breaking away from where you come from and moving to richer pastures.
Does being successful mean being an extraordinary genius, or does it involve moving higher up in the social strata?
There is no doubting the fact that factors beyond the individual sometimes catapult her/him to success. Genius is invariably a product of timing, brilliance, hard work and a little dash of luck.
These are the two points that Malcolm Gladwell attempts to drive home with his book ‘Outliers’. He dwells on the success of various individuals and provides data to prove that these people are products of history and community, of opportunity and legacy – besides their brilliance and hard work of course.
With the example of Roseto Valfortore thriving population in a era marked by heart diseases, the pace is set for the reader in understanding the factors that help a genius become so. Taking the example of the selection season for Canada’s professional hockey, Malcolm opens the readers perspective to the possibility of an arbitrary advantage these individuals had based on their birth date.
After this and interesting chapter the book fizzles out on expectation and seems more like an undertaking that Malcolm has taken for convincing himself.
Few of us would refute the fact that opportunity, when combined with perseverance and skill does wonders. But the book make you no more of a believer of opportunity than you already are. Sure Bill Joy got the opportunity to program on state of the art computers, and so were the rest of the students in that years graduating class. So why is it that Bill Joy made magic with internet, while others with an equal opportunity and possibly similar IQ levels are unheard off?
The book though not a page turner, is interesting in the sense that, you are curious to know what other examples Malcolm will use and what would the statistics and explanations eventually lead to.
Even in the KIPP example, where Malcolm explores the story of successful students who are presented with the opportunity of a school that gives them more learning hours; what triumphs in the end is how the children and parents chose to use the opportunity to propel themselves.
What promised to be a thought provoking and data driven book, proved to be not much of either. The book which tries to unearth a complex question by way of examples, manages to keep the reader going, but fails to deliver in terms of quality.
Malcolm once again picks up a complex topic and tries to find meaning and pattern where others hesitate to venture. His findings and the numbers he uses to make for a enjoyable read. Despite the complexity of the issue, the book makes for easy and interesting read.
Having said that I was a little disappointed with the book. While his presentation is clever and research comprehensive the book remains inconclusive, making the reader no more of a believer of luck than he already is.
Malcolm has become a ‘brand’ whose books address issues in a easy and pleasurable way. Many of us will continue to read what he publishes, but for his own standards this book fails to dazzle. Using retrospective analysis Gladwell has managed to put together some good examples, but the question of what makes a person an Outlier remains unanswered, one even Malcolm could not answer conclusively.
To read or not?
Though not a core shaker, the book is thought provoking and cleverly compiled.