February 2020 Book Review: Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell

My Rating

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Successful people are often deemed different from the norm. They have an extra level of focus, skill and determination that make them outliers – people who stand out as different from the average person. At least that’s what most of us think.

“Outliers” provides a unique perspective on the concept of success. Gladwell creates a compelling argument for the notion that success is born from the steady accumulation of three distinct advantages:

  • when and where you were born
  • your parents’ career choices
  • the circumstances of your upbringing

He also argues that the cultural legacy we inherent plays a critical role in our ability to succeed.

One of the most consistent themes from this book was Gladwell’s emphasis on opportunity and cultural heritage. He says,

Here are three key takeaways from this bestseller.

Ten Thousand is a Magic Number

Practice plays a crucial role in achieving lasting success. It tends to be what separates those who are average from those who are extraordinary. You can only become an expert through at least 10,000 hours of practice. It’s important to have an overwhelming desire to want to learn how to be an expert. As Gladwell eloquently says,

“Practice isn’t the thing you do once you’re good. It’s the thing you do that makes you good.” ~Malcolm Gladwell

A High IQ Doesn’t Guarantee Success

There are several people with high IQs who are living below their potential. Success in this world ultimately isn’t the result of “book smarts” or a strong ability to decipher patterns. Christopher Langan, someone Gladwell believes is one of the smartest people in the world, did not attain the expected level of success because they don’t have the right opportunities. He ended up dropping out of college and eventually lived on a farm with his wife and children. Success is a combination of opportunity and social skills not taught in schools.

“Intelligence matters up to a point then past that point other things that have nothing to do with intelligence must start to matter more. ” ~Malcolm Gladwell

Culture Impacts Our Approach to Success

I found the stories of the airline pilots particularly interesting. You’ll have to purchase a copy of the book to read the details of these stories. Nevertheless, some of the airplane crashes of the 1980s and 1990s could have been avoided if the interaction between the pilot and his co-pilot was stronger. Culture often caused the co-pilot to be timid in his responses to the pilot even when his opinion could have prevented the plane from crashing.

Gladwell also describes how the rice fields helped Asians develop aculture of hard work and discipline. Understanding the history helped me understanding why the Asian people I have met or heard about have a strong work ethic. It also helped me realize that I need to be cognizant about how my culture impacts my road to success and the changes I need to make to chart the right path.

“Each of us has our own distinct personality. But overlaid on top of that are the tendencies, assumptions and reflexes handed down to us by the history of the community we grew up in, and those differences are extraordinarily specific.” ~Malcolm Gladwell

Final Words

I wanted more from this book. It truly was interesting to read the stories and case studies which helped support Gladwell’s central theory about the three things that create the environment for success. However, it never explained to me how those of us who are at a distinct disadvantage can create the opportunities we need to experience the success we desire. Practicing for 10,000 hours is great, but how can someone who doesn’t have a strong family background or who was born in the wrong era still get ahead? I recommend that you purchase and read this book for the sake of knowledge but read it with other books, such as the Cashflow Quadrant, which provide a more practical way to create a successful life.

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