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.”