Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Outliers, the Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell

Lest we forget, our successes are the result of our times, our heritage, our parents' influence, and the opportunities that come our way. This is the premise of Malcolm Gladwell's 2008 book titled Outliers

A master storyteller, Gladwell weaves an astonishing tapestry from case examples in sports, technology, manufacturing, education, and other unrelated arenas to support his premise. Outliers is fascinating as a sociological study of those we might consider geniuses. But, upon further analysis, many are people who were just smart enough. What sets them apart is an obsession, talent, or interest they pursued until it led them to fame, fortune, and universes beyond their wildest imagination. 

Gladwell offers numerous examples of wealthy individuals, including early railroad barons and today's tech giants, like Microsoft founder, Bill Gates, who happened to be born at a time when their skills were needed and fostered. He describes their journeys, noting pivotal points along the way, to develop some of the world's biggest companies and most important innovations. In support of Gladwell's premise, Warren Buffet has famously declared in interviews that he was born into a society that takes advantage of his personal strengths to analyze and profit from stock market investments. He claims he would've been an average bloke in other societies geared less toward capitalism.

On the flip side of the coin, Gladwell tells the story of at least one true genius who's still on the farm, or very nearly. His situation in life limits rather than nurtures his talents. Circumstances such as poverty and a lack of educational development have failed to provide the fertile soil necessary to propel even a genius beyond everyday experience. In addition, ingrained practices can interfere and even set the stage for failure, as illustrated in the story of airline pilots whose cockpit communications were compromised by the unspoken dictates of cultural behavior. In this example, a series of tragic airplane crashes occurred before the common cause was uncovered and training could address it.  

From The Tipping Point and Blink to Outliers and David and Goliath, Gladwell entertains the reader with novel stories that could offer inspiration for your own pursuits. Even if you question the universal application of his premises and conclusions, they are thought-provoking. Gladwell's unique gift to take commonly accepted notions, turn them upside down, and look at them in new and refreshing ways can only encourage us to tap into our own human potential.