“Outliers” by Malcolm Gladwell: Brilliant Stuff

Malcolm Gladwell is back again. This time with the argument that outstanding success is not a consequence of individual brilliance, talent or intelligence alone. These certainly are required, but what really does matter is the contribution of the society, the environment in which one grows, parenting etc.

This is the premise of Malcolm Gladwell’s latest book, “Outliers”. For those not familiar with the author, he is a journalist who already has two super-sellers.

His first book, “The Tipping Point” analyses trends which spread hyper quickly at a certain point. The second book, “Blink”, discusses how choices- and decisions- get made in an instant.

Outliers are those, in the author’s words, who achieve things that are out of the ordinary. Outliers inhabit all fields, again in Gladwell’s words, “geniuses, business tycoons, rock stars, and software programmers”. The author has explored scores of these outliers. Right from the physicist Robert Oppenheimer ( I did not know that he attempted killing his teacher when he was a student), to Beatles (I never knew that they played long, long, hours in the strip clubs of Hamburg, Germany, before they got famous. And they mostly played cover versions of the then existing popular numbers). The great- and supremely rich- Bill Gates who started doing programming as an eighth grader.

Gladwell has interesting stories on why the Asians are good in Math. He does not mention Indians (of the Asian variety) but I suppose the logic he gives fits Indians as well. And stories on how culture has a lot to do with plane crashes.

The author even profiles a super-super genius American (IQ better than that of Albert Einstein’s, no less!) who has been a failure in life.

This book continues the trademark Gladwell expertise on exploring (and explaining) social phenomena in his utterly readable easy-to-understand style. This book is simply un-put-down-able. (The easy-to-hold paperback edition helps!).

Boredom you will never experience, but for those who may want to think through the arguments in this book, these points may come to your mind. Like: The author does not tell you how to be successful. No how-to-be-successful kind of advice. (Though the book is sub-titled “The STORY of SUCCESS”.). There is a tip though: to be insanely great in something you must practice it for ten thousand hours.

Malcolm Gladwell does not discuss exceptions to his theories of successful people, no mention of those who have defied his theory of success. To be fair, he does discuss high IQ people who do not succeed, but not vice versa.

All said and done, this is an eminently well-written and well argued book which I would strongly recommend.

I wonder about the “outliers” in the Indian context. Here are some of the true modern Indian outliers. 

Sports: Sachin Tendulkar, Vishwanathan Anand.

Entertainment: A.R. Rahman.

Business: Dhirubhai Ambani.

I wonder how these persons became outliers. Which of Gladwell’s theories explain their super successes? Maybe someone could explain that for me.


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