“Outliers: The Story of Success” by Malcolm Gladwell – A review

Outliers - The Story of Success
Outliers – The Story of Success

Outliers: The Story of Success” by Malcolm Gladwell is one of the best-sellers in the U.S. This is the third non-fiction book by Gladwell that was published in 2008. Gladwell is an English journalist, author, and speaker from Canada. Previously, Gladwell wrote some popular books including “Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking” and “The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference”.

Think differently (Source: dutchessny.gov)
Think differently (Source: dutchessny.gov)

The term “outliers” refers to the brightest and the best people, and who can achieve a high level of success by stepping out from the main thinking, i.e. they think differently. In the book, Gladwell tells about the factors that are mostly responsible for high levels of success. The author tells that we usually give too much attention to the characteristics of successful people, but we often forget to give attention to other important factors such as culture, family, and generation of successful people. While describing the factors behind the success of people, Gladwell also discusses the secrets of software billionaires, great soccer players, good mathematical abilities of Asians, and greatest rock bands.

Player (Source: quigley.house.gov)
Player (Source: quigley.house.gov)

Gladwell tells that one of the most important factor for Canadian hockey players to become an elite player is that they born in the early parts of the years, especially in the first quarter. This is due to the fact that youth-hockey leagues usually determine eligibility of hockey players on the bases of calendar year. Consequently, people born in the first quarter of the year receive more coaching and have more chances of becoming elite players. This shows that success in hockey is not only dependent on the natural abilities but also on the idiosyncrasy of the process of selection for the identification of talent.

Bill Gates (Source: forbes.house.gov)
Bill Gates (Source: forbes.house.gov)

Gladwell also discusses importance of practical IQ and 10,000 hour rule (i.e. hardworking). He tells the stories of Bill Gates from Microsoft and Bill Joy from Sun Microsystems. Although, most of the biographies focus on the exceptional individual qualities of these successful people, Gladwell presents several other factors behind their success. For example, Mr. Gates attended an influential Seattle private school in which there was a computer terminal in the year 1968. This was not an ordinary thing as the computer was also connected to a mainframe in downtown Seattle. That computer grabbed attention of Mr. Gates, and became one of the reasons for his huge success. In the same way, Mr. Joy attended the University of Michigan and allowed to program on computers for the first time. His option of programming helped him in moving ahead in computing industry.

The book also tells the stories of Robert Oppenheimer, who is considered as the father of the atomic bomb, and Christopher Langan, who is thought to have almost same level of intelligence. On one hand, Oppenheimer had an urbane upbringing, and had many opportunities to work. Whereas, Langan grew up in a small town and had little opportunities to work. Therefore, Langan was not able to get as much success as Oppenheimer.

Considering these things, the basic point of “Outliers” is that although intrinsic qualities are important, luck also plays an important role in success. This book is not a self-help book, but it is trying to tell that most of us are ignoring most of the talent hidden in people. We usually think that success comes only from hardwork, but there are other things also that are involved in success as, for example, seizing the moment at the right time and place. The author wants the great minds to be explored by broadening the circumstances or changing the environment of people. Overall, this book is showing the ability of Gladwell to make the complicated concepts and things simple, and to provide common-sense explanations for the complex social phenomena, mysteries and problems.

Usman Zafar Paracha

Usman Zafar Paracha is Assistant Professor, Pharmaceutics, in Hajvery University, Lahore, Pakistan.