Friday, February 20, 2009

Book Review: "Outliers", Malcolm Gladwell

An interesting examination of people that are outside normal experience. It discusses those who are extraordinarily successful, and sometimes those who had the innate potential for greatness, but didn't get the right "breaks". Gladwell conjectures that "outlier" success is primarily due to two factors: 1) being fortunate enough to be born in the right place at the right time; and 2) hard, meaningful work. He suggests that there are many people who have the ability to be wildly successful (Bill Gates, world-class gymnasts, etc.) but were not given the opportunity to succeed.

Interesting facts abound: 1) almost all the Canadian junior hockey system's great players are born in the first three months of the year; 2) Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, and Bill Joy - perhaps the preeminent pioneers in the PC or workstation computing industry - were born in 1954 or 1955.

Gladwell also conjectures. My favorite: Asian's stereotypical prowess in mathematics is due to the Asian language linguistic rendition of numerical systems and the culture that came from thousands of years of wet-rice farming!

Gladwell's bottom line: Successful people do not achieve greatness despite their backgrounds (Horatio Alger's take) but BECAUSE of their backgrounds. It is an interesting hypothesis and certainly true to some extent. However, Gladwell seems to choose evidence that only supports his theory. Certainly not EVERY Canadian hockey player born in January, February, or March reaches the NHL. Certainly not every computer geek born in 1954 or 1955 founds companies like Microsoft or Apple. Nonethless, it is thought-provoking book.

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