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Book Review - Outliers

Outliers ... Malcolm Gladwell

Gladwell's book is primarily about why some people becomes successful, but goes beyond that to explain why certain situations are they way they are ... such as why Korean Air went through such a rough period when their crash rate was seventeen times higher than the average (which apparently is one in 4 million flights); or even why Asian people tend to be better at math than Western cultures (no apologies for this generalization, but you will need to read Gladwell's book to understand why!) Gladwell's Outlier theory explains Bill Gate's success and even explains why the Beatles enjoyed the popularity they did!

Clearly this is a book with a lot detail, and I can't do it justice in a short book review ... this also explains why, despite my predisposition to reading Executive Book Summaries, I actually read Gladwell's book! (I don't think there is a summary available for Outliers, although one is available for Blink)

What can I tell you?

I can tell you that one of Gladwell's theories is that it takes 10,000 hours working at a skill to become an expert ... and how you get that experience is often based upon luck, circumstance or a series of events. It might be because of where or when you were born, or maybe a series of events that put you in the right place at the right time and with the right background!

One of the examples revolves around why Canadian hockey players go on to reach the professional level. Yes ... hard work, natural ability and physical attributes all play a part. However it also turns out that 40% of elite hockey players were born in January, February or March; 30% in April, May or June; 20% July, August or September; and only 10% after that! (The theory applies equally to soccer players in the UK ... which clearly explains why I never played for Manchester United!) At age 9 or 10, children begin to get streamed into the tiered system, with the bigger, better players going to the higher level teams ... which gives them better coaching, more ice time and subsequently the opportunity to "pull away" from their less fortunate hockey friends. The "age cut off" is January 1, so most of the bigger, better children were born early in the year and they can be almost a year older than the December babies! So an accident of birth gives these athletes a significant "leg up" because they achieve the 10,000 hours of expertise much faster than those without the same opportunities.

This is one of those "must read" books, and whether you buy in to Gladwell's theories or not it is a fascinating subject with lots of interesting stories of people who have become super successful, and an "outlier" theory as to why.

Gladwell is also well known as the author of Blink and The Tipping Point ... but he might not be as well known for his New Yorker article, Million Dollar Murray. This article is a great example of the reasoning behind the cause to end homelessness, which I am involved with in Ottawa. I will also recommend you read this short story that explains the needless cost our systems bear because as a society we have not "yet" solved the social issue of chronic homelessness.