Saturday, January 17, 2009

Outliers - Malcolm Gladwell

Gladwell's latest book takes a look at successful individuals and groups, and their paths to success. His hypothesis is that while innate ability and hard-work ceretainly play a major role in success, all successful people have been given some preference and chance that was not based on being the best or the brightest. His areas of examination are quite interesting - he looks at professional hockey players and their dates of birth, he looks at Bill Gates and his access to computers at a very young age, he looks at Asians and their cultural work ethic which had lead to their superiority in math. I've seen several critiques of this book, accusing Gladwell of molding the facts to fit his hypothesis. But, possible criticisms aside, I think Outliers makes a very important and relevant point about success. It is a call to provide opportunity to everywhere - not to discount the people who have achieved success, but to imagine the efficient and productive world we would live in if everyone were given the same chances. I particularly enjoyed the chapters about airline crashes - in which Gladwell argues that the reason for non-mechanical crashes are often due to cultural coomunication styles involving deference (or lack thereof) to heirarchy. His dissection of conversations is fascinating - and is easily transferable from the cockpit to any work situation. I also enjoyed one of his later chapters about KIPP schools - and the idea that public schools work for both low-income and high-income students, but that the difference in achievement lies in what these kids are exposed to during their summer breaks. Like Gladwell's other books (The Tipping Point and Blink), this book is filled with ideas that make for fun and worthwhile discussion.

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