Jason’s Ranting & Raving

Those who don’t read have no advantage over those who can’t.

Book Review: Outliers – The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell

Posted by jaystile on January 6, 2009

Outliers - The Story of Success

Outliers - The Story of Success

Malcolm Gladwell has done it to me again. The beginning of this book comes out giving you both barrels. A double shot blast to the psyche. It is so profound and simple it has driven me to the point of agitation and a rapid pulse. Are you ready for it? Talent is overrated. You might have heard me rant about this before on my other post on Expert Theory (what does it take to succeed). Malcolm presents you with evidence about junior hockey players. The cutoff date for Hockey Players is January 1st. That means if you were born January 2nd 1990 you would play against other competitors born up until December 31st 1990. An almost 12 month age advantage. This might not seem like a big deal to adults, but in the realm of childhood it has huge ramifications. Those who are the biggest and more coordinated are also the ones born closest to the cutoff date. Those are the same children that get chosen for the elite teams. Then they play more games. Then they get more experience. Then they show up as the ‘best’ next year. It becomes a self fulfilling prophecy! Those born in December might as well not even try out. This disparity carries over into college and then into the professional levels. What is the chance that a professional hockey player (or college or elite junior) was born in January, February, or December? 60%! Hockey is not the only field where this applies. It also works for soccer and little things like your education!

Malcolm Gladwell’s evidence backed assertion is that your talents do not matter as much as you think they do. It matters what family you were born to, where you were born, and when you were born. This has become very personal for me. Allow me to explain. My daughter is scheduled to start Kindergarten next fall. She will be 4 when she starts and turn 5 in September. She is two weeks from the cutoff date of October 1. That means most of her classmates will probably have 6 – 12 months of maturity and growth on her. That didn’t bother me so much but Gladwell presented evidence that a student with an eight month age advantage will score about 81% on the standardized tests compared to the 68% by their younger peers. Holy Cow! I have an August birthday and my mom waited to enroll me in Kindergarten until I was 6. I was always just a little bit older than everyone else. This put me in the advanced reading program from an early age. That means, I got more experience reading than my underage peers. This set me up for the gifted and talented programs which gave me even more experience. This has definitely given me something to think about for my daughter. Do I want her to struggle to keep up with her older peers? Or do I want her to smack down her peers education-wise like a 14 year old Cuban pitching in the 12 year old World Series?

The book slows down after the start and continues to show that circumstances lead more to success than any one factor. He demonstrates that a high IQ does not immediately equals success. He discusses the differences between convergent IQ (can you get the right answer) and divergent IQ (how many uses can you come up for with a brick?) He continues to demonstrate that 1830 was the best year to be born to be an entrepreneur (Cargnegie, Vanderbilt, Rockfeller), The best year to become a lawyer specializing in corporate takeovers 1930, and 1955 was the best year to become a software tycoon (Bill Gate, Steve Jobs). The point that is driven home is that you need a good IQ, not the best IQ, you need a good education not necessarily the best education, and the experience (10000hrs) in your field. What you need more than anything is the proper set of circumstances and the opportunity.

I have been exposed to these ideas before, but this book goes more in depth. I enjoyed reading it. The prose is easy to understand and he presents many interesting anecdotes to demonstrate the concepts. I should probably read The Tipping Point next since I enjoyed his other book Blink: The Power of Thinking without Thinking

Outliers: The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell. Published by Little, Brown and Company, Hachette Book Group. 285 pages.

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One Response to “Book Review: Outliers – The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell”

  1. […] studies concerning experts which I tend to categorize as expert theory. Malcolm Gladwell wrote an entire book on the subject. The summation is that it takes 10000 hours of practice and learning in a field to […]

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