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Another horizon-broadening book by Malcolm Gladwell
on December 3, 2008
In short, Mr. Gladwell's writing--his earnestness, optimism, and persuasiveness--never ceases to impress me.
He broke down trends like no one else in The Tipping Point, and was single-handedly the most convincing voice for trusting your gut reactions (in an age of numbers, facts, and analysis no less) in Blink; this guy knows how to research, and better yet, put the nuggets of wisdom he's found in psychology and science into terrifically engaging and palatable text.
And the most amazing thing is, I don't think he's doing anything new--it's the way he presents it. Where most people could do similar research into his topics and write up their own findings and support already existing and accepted thought, Malcolm succeeds because he looks at it from outside the box. He's not doing much, but he does it so well--he turns things on their head, or reveals things that sit in plain view to us, because we mostly can't see the forest for the trees.
He puts this to high form again in his latest book, and the premise is as provocative and unconventional as his previous efforts, if not more so: he argues that a person's success has much to do with such things as luck (circumstance, fortuitous or unlikely events), culture, environment growing up, and of course, practice. The last point is not terribly groundbreaking, but the rest flies in the face of what we typically credit a successful individual for. Because let's be frank, in today's era, we all strive very hard for equality and to look past a person's background or upbringing (and don't get me wrong, I support that fully), emphasizing the fact that it doesn't matter who you are or where you came from, we can all achieve great things. Turning things on their head as he does, the author takes a step back and argues that these things DO matter.
Influential people today are sometimes paid extravagant sums to tour and speak of leadership, and we see them as charismatic, pioneering folks. Nothing wrong with that, but Mr. Gladwell digs deeper, and presents convincing cases where simply what happened to someone in their lives could almost be said to predispose them to success. Bill Gates is a fascinating example he explores--the world's richest man, he's a successful figure most will not attribute a great deal of charisma to, but he got there somehow. The how of it is eye-opening stuff.
It may please many fellow Canadians when I mention the part where he looks at an NHLer's success in the league; call me biased, but it was another favourite anecdote in a book full of insights. As a prime example of what I think he does so well--revealing what's staring at us in the face all along by looking at things another way--he attributes the great successes to something as simple as birth months. He found a disproportionally large number of elite players born in January, February, and March--why is that so? You'll have to read it to find out, and it elicits one of those reactions commonly encountered in all his books: a slapped forehead, an exclamation of, "Why didn't I think of that??", and then rushing off to tell the nearest person this newest, coolest tidbit of information.
And you'll do that with this book just like with his previous two. You'll read a section of it, and feel the urge and need to share it with others because of how honestly interesting it is. In Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell demonstrates again why he is one of today's most celebrated and influential voices in non-fiction; already, I eagerly await his next book!