Book Review: Outliers – The Story of Success

Outliers – The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell

This is a superbly interesting book that looks in depth into the lives of “outliers” and the circumstances that cumulatively lead up to their successes.

I initially started reading this book just for fun, as the I thought the topic was particularly interesting – but the book offers more than that. Told through a series of different scenarios and life stories across different talent fields from ice hockey, to computer geniuses, through to lawyers, you can’t help but assess your own life story as you read along.

The notion of hard work, mastery and autonomy arose often, reminding me much of the same ideas surfaced in Dan Pink’s “Drive – The suprising truth about what motivates us” – where it’s suggested that the things that motivate us are actually autonomy, mastery and purpose. My favourite quotes:

… three things – autonomy, complexity, and a connection between effort and reward – are, most people agree, the three qualities that work has to have if it is to be satisfying

On working hard:

if you work hard enough, and assert yourself, and use your mind and imagination, you can shape the world to your desires

On persistance:

Success is a function of persistence and doggedness and the willingness to work hard for twenty-two minutes to make sense of something that most people would give up on after thirty seconds.

Gladwell also discusses the notion that the typical measure of intelligence we use via “IQ” tests on its own is not a measure of success. The notion of “practical intelligence” from Robert Sternberg, or “social savvy” as opposed to analytical intelligence, is the kind of knowledge we acquire significantly through our families.

Another interesting idea raised is the notion of cultural differences, and how our cultural background has a large affect on how we interact in the world. In particular, cross-cultural differences can provide us with an interesting lens on which to gather insights when designing meaningful experiences for the user.

Another key factor mentioned is merely the luck of being in the right place, at the right time. Being born in a certain window of time. Being lucky enough to receive an opportunity, but also being bold enough to seize the opportunity:

Outliers are those who have been given opportunities – and who have had the strength and presence of mind to seize them.

In the end, this book inspires you to want to work harder at the things you love most!