I’ve now read Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell. A very well-written book and therefore a very fast read. Too bad so few non-fiction books are so well written.
The message that I captured from Outliers is this: success (whatever that is…) is not the result of a single persons isolated and genius talent. Instead it is the result of a several external factors that inter-play. Certainly talent matters, but Gladwell concludes that enough talent will suffice. After that external factors such as these play the determining role of success:
- Working hard, expressed in the 10,000 hour rule
- Being born at the right time; in the right years, or the right time of the year
- Growing up in an environment that fosters or in other ways lays a path for success
A lot of stuff matters. And many successful people know this. Those that don’t know about the context of success tend to explain it as ”luck” or continue to feed the myth that success is due solely to the individual’s raw talent.
On the note of success, I would welcome if Gladwell’s next book would explore that theme. I'm increasingly wondering what we mean by success. It’s bound to be a little different in different cultures, but increasingly it seems to imply material success. Or reaching the top in the world in sports, music or whatever.
This western view of success naturally dominates our western lives. But are there other ideas about success in other cultures? Also, have our dominating ideas about success become a liability? I’m thinking for instance about the current focus on climate change and environmental degradation. Could our perceptions of success have anything to do with this development? Can we use our drive for success in new ways, and bring forward new symbols of success? To understand questions like this would need a cultural and historical overview and Gladwell seems perfect for the task ;-)
There is of course a lot of criticism of Outliers, and it is easy to agree with most that I have read. Here’s one example.
But a book like this has to be read responsibly and you as a reader have to be aware of the different views that can be taken in such a complex issue. So I encourage you to:
- Read the book
- Think for yourself about validity and implications
- Check out reviews and critiques available on the web
That should give you a fairly balanced view. My own stand is that the book was worth reading. It gave me a lot of aha-moments and interesting new knowledge that I value highly. Still, I’m not prepared to accept Outliers as a ”theory for success”. That is just taking his book too far.