Author: Malcolm Gladwell

Rating: 8/10

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There are two main "theories" of success.

There are two main "theories" of success. On one hand, there's the theory that credits success mostly to innate ability and talent coupled with hard-work. On the other hand, there's the theory that circumstance and extraordinary opportunity coupled with hard-work are the main determinants of success. Mr Gladwell clearly favors the later and makes a compelling argument in this book that, what we might otherwise understand as extraordinary talent and genius, can often be better explained by an extraordinary set of circumstances and privilege. What both camps seem to agree on is the "hard-work" factor. Whatever the circumstances and talent might be, it will not produce success if not coupled with hard work. In one chapter the author explores the idea that 10000 hours of practice is the "magic" number of hours that makes one excel in any activity. That is hard-work.

Outliers is a fascinating and engaging read. The examples that Gladwell chooses are interesting and sometimes unexpected. It is also a humbling experience as you realize that whatever successes you have in your own experience are not only the result of your talent and hard work, but are also heavily influenced by more "random" factors such as your parents, the education you received, and the country you were born.
The theory proposed in this book is compelling but, once you distance yourself from the initial excitement of reading such an interesting book, you can't help but wonder if the claims are exaggerated or if the arguments are rigorous. Gladwell clearly favors the circumstance and opportunity theory, maybe a bit too much so.  And ideas like the 10000 hour practice as a "magic" number for excellence, while they ring true they also sound arbitrary. Clearly, 10000 hours playing the piano will not turn me into Beethoven, not to mention that it would carry considerable risk of insanity to my neighbors.

Alas, I suspect Mr Gladwell didn't set out to write a science book but a very entertaining and provoking popular culture book. And if this was his objective, he succeeded brilliantly.


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