Friday, April 13, 2012

Outliers: The Story of Success ...by Malcom Gladwell

This is one of those books that I just picked up by chance for the simple reason that I just wanted something to read. I was intrigued by the word 'outlier' and since I didn't know what it meant, I looked it up. Basically it means something that lies outside the normal experience. For example, if you have a high IQ you are expected to do well in life because that is supposed to be a normal expected progression in today's world. But sometimes it doesn't happen. Then you become an outlier when you don't succeed.

But this is a book about success, or rather the stories about success - what contributes to success. So often, we read the romanticised versions of how our industry shakers and movers attain success like how Bill Gates quite college and then he made it big. Often, those stories don't give us the details that involve the long and ardous climb up, the hours of work put in before success is achieved. And basically, I think most if us are suckers for fairy tale endings. That's why the omission of those hard work, etc. that makes a story lose its magic.

Anyway, this book tells the stuff that goes beyond what meets our eyes, like the all those long hours of hard work that take place for years before success, those stuff that we never get to see and seldom read about. Mosf of us know success involves hard work - but I think most people don't realize how much hard work it involves. Reading the romanticised version makes success seems like a piece of cake, which it's not.

Success (Failure) is actually an accumulation of many factors. And I like how the writer puts it. The when and where you are born, your social and economic background and guess what, the traditions and attitudes we inherit from our forebears too! If you were born between 1910-20, that's a bad time. You'll go through 2 major upheavals in your life - Depression of the 30s and WW2. You'll spend most of your life picking up pieces cos the world is in pieces a food part of your life.

Cultural legacies apparently play an important role too! Just go read Tiger Mom by Amy Chua to get a feel of how cultural legacies play a role in how she brought up her children. Yet sometimes even when all those fall right into place, if we do not seize the opportunity through hardwork and discipline, success remains elusive.

I enjoyed this book a lot. The writer brought me all over the world.... to Roseto in Pennsylvania where he wrote about the community which seemed to be immune to heart disease. And to Korea where I learned how one's culture can hold success back and even cause harm. I learned too that many ice hockey stars in Canada are mostly born in the early months of the year and how paddy cultivation in China drilled into the Chinese peasants this resilience to keep trying. Thorughout the book too, I learned too how we are the products of our upbringing; an example of a genius supposedly having a higher IQ than Einstein yet never able to be quite as smart as him because he was in a way incapacitated by his upbringing. I read about how timing of birth played a role in shaping the destinies of Bill Gates, Bill Joy (Sun Microsystem), Paul Allen, Ballmer, etc. I understand better too why Steve Jobs was able to get where he ended. He was in the right place and the right time with the right opportunities and attitude.

I learned a bit too about the garment industries and how different immigrants made it there at the turn of the 20th century in New York which today is a fashion capital of the world, and of the Jews in America and the practice of law which was shun by the well-known firms. In each case, those who achieved success worked very hard... Opportunities must be accompanied by meaningful work... which often entails a lot of long hours of hard work too. And you have to have the right amount of skills to make it work. Genius alone is never enough to get you there. Time, place, upbringing, your parents, your cultural legacy.... they each make the pieces which complete the picture. I think this makes a very good read for those about to embark on their college life. Coming in at Book 9.

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