Holidays and vacations are nice because people can actually read something in peace and that means not get interrupted after the first 10 pages by their work or the microwave sound. The book of choice for my last vacation was Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell, an author that never disappoints. The thing with Gladwell is that all his books "force" you to finish them fast (and then the next 2 weeks of the vacation you have nothing to read) leaving space and time to think about the content of the book. My introduction to Malcolm Gladwell's works came through Blink. The very first pages of the book didn't promise anything then. I was thinking that the book was abstract and didn't catch the idea what Blink actually is. After I read ⅓ of the book, it seems that everything begun to make sense. I started to understand where Gladwell stands and from which perspective he is seeing things. It is no wonder he is a successful writer and The New Yorker (for the time this is written) journalist. He is great! Although at some points his works (at least those I have read so far) look like an interpretation of what other people have experienced and researched and how he sees those results, there are lots of inner paragraphs full of wisdom that I humbly recommend for anyone.
If you have never heard of Malcolm Gladwell so far, lets get something straight: most of his books are not guides, tutorials and 'howtos' on how to succeed in life. They can make you think but will not teach you how to become anything more than you are now if you don't go deeper in what's behind. There are no straight forward ideas on how to make big money, become better lover or increase your sex stamina! But I must confess that when I had to choose between his two books "The Tipping Point" and "Outliers" I chose the later, because the full name of the book is "Outliers: The Story of Success". And you have to admit, those tricky self-help books almost always have the word 'success' in their names. So, after reading Rework [by 37signals] this summer I thought, it'd be nice to see how other successful people had made it there. What's their story? I came to the complete opinion on Outliers right before reading the last chapter of the book. And that is something we learned from Blink, didn't we?
Success is something pretty relative. For some success is their family, their work/achievements or even the way they have organized and maintain their garden, and for others success is the role they have in the society, the amount of salary they are getting at the end of the month, the money they can spend and the number of people they know (meaning, how famous they are). These are, generally speaking, two kinds of successes. Personal and general success. Some feel successful in what they have accomplished in their small world and others feel successful on bigger scale in their own worlds including parts of the worlds of other people. That is why success is pretty relative thing and I consider Gladwell in his book thinks on success the way the majority of people see it, the way it is accepted and imagined by the society in general.
The book starts with the general idea on the sociological and cultural background of people living in Roseto, making the whole village an Outlier. It is that way because Roseto people from one perspective are the same as their original Italian ancestors in their habits (or even worse!) but yet they are healthier and the doctors have noticed that the people in this village die naturally from being old and not by cardiovascular diseases. The point is that the inhabitants of Roseto live life no different than the others, but they handle the stress a lot different than the others (at this point I still haven’t made a research on why stress is a killer but I promise I will). And that is because often these people live as extended families under one roof, sharing their responsibilities, worries and resolving troubles the easier way, together. Gladwell is pointing that if these people are analyzed in a quick glance one would not notice how their cultural habits help them survive much longer today.
One of the best chapters in this book, at least from my perspective is the 10,000 Hour Rule. It tells nothing new actually. It just storms with examples of people all around the world working hard until they reach and become successful. It's all about work and hard work. And among the examples is Bill Gates. Gladwell clearly puts it like this. Bill Gates was lucky enough to be born in the mid 20th century. Then when the computer industry was starting to grow enormously, he succeeded because he had already done his 10,000 hours of computer programming and managed to create Microsoft. The thing that I mentioned before is that an example of success for Malcolm Gladwell is being rich and famous. Later on he gives the example of The Beatles as a band that did their gigs in Germany on festivals where they had to play and play until people notice them. Again, one question that arises here is in whose eyes The Beatles and Bill Gates are successful? (I am not saying they are not, I also consider them to be successful, but I do believe not everyone shares this opinion). So if this book was read by a guy whose success means raising his children, helping them go through college and become individuals, then it would make not much sense. After all, if you ask me Bill Gates’ success is not due to his 10,000 hours of hard work doing programming, but rather to an idea that came from himself and few other guys that had created another famous company called Apple. So he made an advantage and used that idea involving few other programmers do what IBM asked for and voila - he had created an operating system called Windows. And talking about The Beatles, I do believe the level of creativity and talent made at least 50% of their success (and again, by success I mean being rich and famous). Success like this is something we all want. I do also. But I am not always sure if wealth and fame make one happy and by that successful.
The most morbid and full of truth chapter is The Ethnic History of Plane Crashes. It’s a morbid because there are logs from the black box’ from planes that had crashed, analyzing what the Captain and the First Officer are saying seconds before the crash and it’s full of truth because it introduces concepts that I was totally unfamiliar with. Among other concepts like this is PDI (Power Distance Index, which also is something that the psychologist Geert Hofstede had introduced years before). PDI measures:
the extent to which the less powerful members of organizations and institutions (like the family) accept and expect that power is distributed unequally. This represents inequality (more versus less), but defined from below, not from above. It suggests that a society’s level of inequality is endorsed by the followers as much as by the leaders.
In one sentence, it means how a person would behave if power of any kind had been given to him/her.
Then Gladwell argues:
Those three things - autonomy, complexity, and a connection between effort and reward - are, most people will agree, the three qualities that work has to have if it is to be satisfying.
By narrating the story behind Korean Airlines plane crash (Flight 801) and Avianca Flight 52 Outliers shows how people from different cultures and countries behave when they have to make a decision and they have a superior to announce that decision to. Gladwell manages to make it clear here, he expects that this should not be a decision and a hint, it should be an order.
At the end of the book something a bit controversial rises from the book. While he is giving nice examples on how the people should and can be given a chance to change their opportunities, the author also narrates the story of his family and how his mother got her education and became what she became, a successful woman. While everything fits fine within the story, showing how people behaved in Jamaica in the past centuries and how people were making their decisions over people regarding their skin color, Malcolm Gladwell finishes the book by putting something pretty clear. His ancestors were doing something right and that is why he is successful and has a nice house on the hill living a life in peace. Ending the book made me wonder. Does having a house on the hill with all the advantages it has compared to other people’s homes make a person successful? Because the examples we read in this book showed that people have to be either rich or famous or most of the time both. In this case, Malcolm Gladwell is rich and successful but I am not quite sure how famous he is when compared to Bill Gates or The Beatles. Ask my mom, if someone is famous she will certainly know him.