Book Review: Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell

I recommend Outliers particularly for parents or soon-to-be parents. It describes the combination of opportunities, timing, hard work, and background that forms an extraordinarily successful person, an outlier. What made Bill Gates the tech tycoon he is today? Was it his genius mind or upbringing? Gladwell uses interesting anecdotes and research to prove his point. The book is incredibly easy to read (can be read in one day) and you will be quickly flipping through the pages. There are flaws in the author’s grand generalizations, and he notes this, but the overall concepts are definitely thought provoking. A few of my key takeaways from the book:

Birth Date Matters In sports such as hockey, the date of your birth plays a huge part in determining your ability to become a successful athlete. The idea goes something like this: A few months’ difference in age between children can demonstrate huge variances in knowledge and abilities. Let’s say the cutoff date for first grade is October 1st. Jill was born on October 2nd and enrolls as the youngest kid in her grade. Jack was born on January 2nd, 9 months before Jill. 9 months of additional “life” for a 6 year old is enough to make Jack slightly better at reading or other academic subjects than Jill. Because Jack is ahead of many of his classmates, he is placed in a program for gifted students. The additional attention he receives helps him learn even faster. This creates a snowball effect, a type of self-fulfilling prophecy. If you deem a kid “talented” at a young age, they are more likely to receive additional attention that will help them become even more “talented.” After reading this, I would rather enroll my child in a lower grade level than a higher grade level if the child was on the cutoff date.

Practice Matters Gladwell proposes a 10,000 hours rule: Do anything for 10,000 hours and you will be an expert. Bill Gates received access to a computer years before most people. He became interested in programming at a young age so that by the time he got to college, he was far ahead of anyone else. For musicians and athletes alike, 10,000 hours of practice will set you apart from others in the field.

Cultural Background Matters In one of the most intriguing chapters in the book, Gladwell explains the reason behind the series of Korean Air airplane crashes in the 1990s. The airline became so infamous during that time because of its continuous run of tragedies that some airports wanted to ban them. It wasn’t after they hired an American to run their flight training programs that the airline took a turn for the better. During this section, Gladwell references Hofstede’s cultural dimensions theory. This theory is often taught in organizational behavioral courses and highlights cultural background as the guide for a person’s decision making. Korea has a high power distance. This means that society is very hierarchical. Subordinates are expected to clearly show respect for superiors. Planes are flown with a captain, second officer, and flight engineer. In the Korean Air plane crashes, the black box recorded conversations where the second officer and flight engineer expressed something was wrong to the captain. However, because of the culture’s emphasis on respecting superiors, they hinted to the captain that something might be wrong rather than directly telling the captain “hey…the runway is in the opposite direction.”

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11 responses to “Book Review: Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell

  1. Thanks for visiting my blog. Great overview – this is one of my favorite books! I have a lot of favorites though.

  2. I’ve read a few books by him. They always leave me shaking my head in amazement. I really enjoyed Tipping Point.

  3. Oh. This sounds like an interesting book. I liked your point/the other’s point of kids who are deemed gifted early on have more opportunities to become more gifted. I’ll have to check this book sometime soon.

  4. I also enjoyed reading this book, and I think it’s ideal for mothers -I know some that pushing their kids do to something ‘great’ at a very tender age. Imho, it’s unhealthy and they gotta find out why. 2 thumbs-up for Outliers!

  5. Also Malcom’s hypothesis on why rice-growing community do better at mathematics is interesting! Great book, following his other two books, Blink! and Tipping Point. Have you guys check out his two TED Talk? The one on statistics and tomato sauce and the newer one on bomb sights? Very interesting and entertaining!

  6. Great review and today I just so happen to have bookstore visit in my plans. I’ll give it a quick read and if I like it.. i’m buying. I liked his earlier book “The Tipping Point” which was a hellllaaa easy read

  7. Malcolm Gladwell is a blast to read. Loved Outliers, The Tipping Point, and now am reading What the Dog Saw. Thanks for the review of Outliers– it was fun to revisit.

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