Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell

Chapter 1: Matthew’s Effect

This chapter is dedicated to hockey, so the author writes about Canada, which is the most hockey-crazy country. The story begins from the moment the author notices strange things in the hockey player roster. He starts to realize that all the successful hockey players from the list were born in certain months of the year. These are January, February, and March. There has to be some explanation for that, so the author begins to investigate the case. Naturally, what he finds out is not related to the magic or the horoscope. Their success is easy to explain by the eligibility cutoff for the hockey class date that was on January 1. According to that, if a boy was born on January 2, he will be playing hockey more than his peers who were born closer to the end of the year. At first, the difference would not be noticeable, but later, that gap would play a key role in their game. The other thing is that the hockey success depends on the individual merit. Annually “players are scrutinized and arranged and estimated, with the most talented separated out and trained for the next level” (Gladwell, 2008, p. 16). That is a meritocracy principle in action. This principle is valid in such spheres as arts, music, and science as well. An ability and talent are the main criteria of the castings of a different kind. The whole system of talent spotters is based on these criteria.

This hockey example is very significant. It works without failures. Therefore, the author talks about the iron law of the Canadian hockey. It states that, in any ice-hockey team, nearly 40 percent of the best players will be born between January and March. These older boys just get the benefit of better coaching and extra practice. According to this chapter, successful people are those who have opportunities. People usually underestimate the importance of opportunities. They believe that the main success factor is the talent so they can reject too many opportunities. People, therefore, are responsible for their own happiness and success.

Chapter 2: The 10,000 – Hour Rule

This chapter is about different successful people, particularly about musicians and programmers. The first story is about Bill Joy, a computer genius. He wrote most of the software people use today. He is the author of Java and the so called “Edison of Internet”. The next story is about the childhood and life of a great composer named Mozart. From the classical music, the story goes to the Beatles, the pop rock legends. Finally, the story comes to Bill Gates, the Microsoft founder. Gladwell shows that all these people have something in common. All of them had the opportunities for their talents’ development. Bill Joy was lucky to find himself in the University of Michigan with a time-sharing system. He had an opportunity to sit in the Computer Center with no time limits as there was a bug. Since Computer Center was open twenty-four hours, he could stay up all night. Before he could become an expert, he received the opportunity to learn. Mozart also had great opportunities. His father was a composer himself so he taught his son to play musical instruments and allowed young Mozart to practice on the concerts. The Beatles had an opportunity to play in Hamburg clubs. Bill Gates had three opportunities. Firstly, he had the opportunity to study at a reputable university and had an opportunity to develop his computer skills. Secondly, his parents had money to pay for his computer time. Thirdly, his parents became involved in programming. Besides, he was exactly in the right place and at the right time.

The 10,000 – Hour Rule is what readers get to know from this chapter. The neurologist Daniel Levitin formulated this rule. According to the rule, person needs 10, 000 hours to improve his or her skills, gain the experience, and develop the practice. It equals nearly to ten years of an active and meaningful practice of one’s ability. Thus, the heroes of this chapter became famous because they had opportunities for the practice.

Chapter 3: The Trouble with Geniuses, Part 1

The author talks about natural outliers – the geniuses – in this chapter. These people usually reveal some unique abilities since their childhood and their talents are so obvious that they cannot be ignored. The author talks about one of the most famous talents’ researches in this chapter. Just after the First World War, a certain Lewis Terman, a young professor of psychology at Stanford University conducted it. This professors’ specialty was intelligence testing so he invented the standard IQ test. Then he decided to find as many clever children as he could. He tested the most brilliant pupils for that purpose. The ones with the best results became his “experimental animals”, his Termites. He wrote his life book based on the results of his research. He noted everything: their progress, their private life, and their career. However, he was disappointed. They have not become the great personalities. They were just good enough.

On the other side, the author tells about the well-known modern wise man Cristopher Langan. He has an IQ of one hundred ninety-five comparing to Einstein one hundred fifty. He became an embodiment of genius in the United States, a superstar outlier. He was invited to news shows and was published in magazines; Errol Morris even shot a documentary about him, all because of his unique brain. Yet, having such abilities, he did not receive any education and did not gain success.

One can understand from this chapter that high IQ works together with a practical mind. To become successful, people need to have flexible thinking, shrewdness, creativity, and reach imagination. Only high IQ is not enough. The first trouble with geniuses is that, though their IQ helps solving theoretical tasks, it does not help in their everyday life. That is the exact reason why Terman’s Termites had not become Nobel prizewinners. They had just high IQ without practical minds.

Chapter 4: The Trouble with Geniuses, Part 2

The author compares two geniuses Christopher Langan and Robert Oppenheimer in this chapter. These two men have much in common, but they have particular differences as well. When Langan was a child, he had troubles with his studying for his family was a poor one. Finally, he left college and started to work in different places. At school, Langan could not attend classes showing up only for tests. Although he was not able to attend foreign language classes, he always passed the tests excellent. He studied French, Russian, Math, and Philosophy an hour a day each. Later, he went to study to Reed College in Oregon.

Oppenheimer was a child thinking in a similar way as Chris Langan did. His parents believed he was a genius. He left behind his peers in studying Physics and Chemistry. He knew Latin and Greek. Oppenheimer went to Harvard. He wanted to pursue a doctorate in physics so he went to Cambridge University.

Their “studying stories” do not have a happy end. Langan lost his scholarship for his mother missed a deadline for his financial aid. Oppenheimer tried to poison his teacher so he was put out for probation. Nevertheless, Oppenheimer became famous afterwards for he had invented a nuclear bomb.

Thus, to become successful, one has to have a practical mind and the so-called “Sense of entitlement”. In this context, the term mentioned relates to a skill of pursuing individual inclinations and managing communications in formal surroundings. Though this type of skill is inherent to middle-class children, it might be developed regardless of the class. Oppenheimer and Langan had different origins, which explains why the former became successful and the latter did not. The author insists that the main point of success is the origin.

Chapter 5: The Three Lessons of Joe Flom

This chapter tells the story of the Jewish immigrants’ life in 1950s in America. Joseph Flom was a Jewish lawyer. His business started as a risky venture and resulted in the world business. Making his way to success, he learned three important lessons.

His first lesson was to understand the importance of being Jewish. Being Jewish at that time in America meant that you were treated as someone worse. He wanted to be a lawyer, but since he was Jewish, he had to take cases that others rejected. There were “white companies” and Jewish companies. The first ones never took the “worse”; cases like litigation, which were reserved for Jewish. However, the historical situation changed and the world happened to be in need for the people that could “take care” of hostile takeovers and litigation.

His second lesson was about demographical luck. He was a representative of the so-called “small generation”. Because of the Depression, families stopped having children, which led to a decrease in birthrate and this in turn provoked a decrease in population. As it turned out, being born in a small generation had some advantages. Children of the small generation received more attention from teachers, then professors, and later on, they had no problems with finding a job. When there is a lack of workers, each of them is worth his/her weight in gold. There is an example of Janklow’s family in this chapter. Regardless of all the expectations, Janklow’s son achieved success as he was born in the small generation.

The third lesson Flom had to learn was about a meaningful work and the garment industry. The meaningful work is the one that combines autonomy, complexity, and an effort-reward balance. Getting a meaningful work was the first step to success. Jews were good particularly in the garment industry. It became their meaningful work.

Chapter 6: Harlan, Kentucky

This is a chapter about Harlan, a city known as a “Bloody Harlan”. There were many murders at that city in the late 19th century. Apparently, there was a feud between the two clans, that of the Howards and the one of the Turners. The feud started because of a cow that walked into the neighbor’s territory. After that, too many people were murdered.

This chapter tells the readers that there were many other similar stories at that time. Therefore, there had to be some kind of a pattern. According to the book, Harlan people shared the so-called culture of honor. Cultures of such a kind usually appear somewhere in the mountains. Because of the bad soil in the mountains, people cannot work on the fields and raise crops. All they can do is to breed cattle and be the herdsmen. It means that they do not have to cooperate as farmers do. They are all by themselves. However, herdsmen are always in danger of loosing their animals. Therefore, they have to be aggressive. They have to prove that they are tough enough to protect their property and are ready to fight for it. Thus, the most important thing in their life is their reputation.

It is an interesting fact that this culture of honor is in human’s blood. There was a research in the early 1990s, conducted by the two psychologists Dov Cohen and Richard Nisbett. They decided to investigate the question of the culture of honor. They wanted to know whether there were any remnants of this culture in the modern era. Their research showed that cultural legacy is a powerful force. The participants of the research, who were the offspring of that culture, behaved as their ancestors did even in other time and place conditions. It is something they received through their blood; it was sub conscience and social heritance.

Chapter 7: The Ethnic Theory of Plane Crashes

This is a chapter about the plane crashes. The chapter begins with a strange story about an increase in plane crashes within Korean Air Company. One of the most famous plane crash stories is the one that happened in Guam. Nowadays, all the future pilots study this plane crush as a model example. According to the text, the main reasons of the plane crashes are some slight malfunctions. There are also some other reasons on the list, such as bad weather conditions, tired and sleepy pilots, and late departures. In general, there are seven human errors that can cause plane crashes. They are always related to errors of teamwork and communication.

However, the plane crash in Guam led to an extensive research on human factors. After this research, Korean Air became one of the most secure airline companies in the world. Their services are now of the highest quality, and people may only wonder what changed this company forever.

Nevertheless, there is nothing so amazing for the author of this book. He knows that Korean Air could not become successful until it admitted the importance of the culture legacy. The main reason of the plane crash in Guam was a communication misunderstanding caused by the mitigated speech. There were two pilots in the plane, a first officer and a captain. The first officer was a Korean so he followed the rules of the subordination. The captain did not get his hints so they crashed. After that crash, the new system was established in Korean Air. All the pilots had to study English and this helped them to overcome the subordinate instincts. That was a successful strategy. Having fought cultural and ceremonial stereotypes, the aviation administration improved the quality of their service and made their airlines more reliable.

Chapter 8: Rice Paddies and Math Tests

This chapter is about such two incompatible things as rice paddies and mathematics. The readers get to know that there is a very special connection between these things. Growing rice is a kind of art as it implies a manifold balanced system and a special approach. A Chinese farmer cannot just go and get some rest anytime he wants. He has to measure the dampness of the soil and the water temperature; he has to check his paddy for weeds and harvest in time so he could get another harvest in winter. A distinctive feature of a paddy is that it is small. Though the work is extremely hard and tedious, this work is meaningful. There is a stable balance between the efforts and the reward. Thus, the hard work is a pledge of success for the Chinese people.

Still the difference between the Europeans and the Chinese lies not only in the hard work. Chinese children always surpass their European peers in mathematics. The whole point is in a Chinese number system. There is a big difference between the construction of number naming systems in European and Asian languages. In Asian languages, all the numbers are of one syllable and they are constructed according to the strict rules with no exceptions. As the Chinese number system is less complex and more easily understood, Chinese children learn to count faster and surpass their American peers at least for a year. When talking about math, Asian children have a built-in advantage (Gladwell,2008, p. 230). There is nothing much about the talent here. It is about something else. Thus, the author states that culture legacies matter. As Chinese believe that they have to be hardworking people and they can calculate everything faster, they have all the preconditions for their success.

Chapter 9: Marita’s Bargain

This is a chapter about a unique middle school – the KIPP Academy. This is the place where children from poor city blocks study. A majority of the students are Mexicans and blacks. However, this school is thriving for it takes into account the cultural legacies of its students. One of the main concerns of the KIPP Academy is to provide a balance between studying and having rest. This understanding of the rest efficiency dates back to the 19th century. That was the exact time when people understood the advantages of balanced education. Hence, the changes were made. The schedule was simplified, the classes became shorter, and the summer holidays became longer. The key principle of the KIPP Academy is: “Effort must be balanced by rest.” This school is well known for its pupils’ math progress. The teachers explain that fact with a meaningful approach. Children have time to study, to play games, and to ask questions at the classes. As a result, they are more motivated and their efforts always bring the rewards.

The graduates of the KIPP Academy do not have to worry for their future. They receive a chance to get out from poverty. They will surely improve their level in mathematics. The majority of them will get scholarships to private high schools so they are not doomed to attend high schools in the Bronx. Furthermore, most of the KIPP graduates would be able to go to college, often being the first in their family to do so.

The author shows in this chapter that children that spend most of their free time studying will get a reward for such a sacrifice. The main point is that they do not waste their opportunities. Therefore, he encourages society to create equal possibilities for everybody. Children like Marita just need a chance.

Book Report

Gladwell, M. (2008). Outliers. The story of success. New York: Little, Brown and Company.

Many books nowadays concentrate on how to become successful in different areas of life. People want to stand out; people want to be better than others are. Everyone wants to take the cake. Some people succeed in it and some do not for certain reasons. Most of them believe that there is a strong connection between their luck, abilities or talent and their success. They all tend to think that they owe their success to some of the latter. But what if it is just a superstition? What if all people have the same potential, equal conditions, and equal skills for reaching their goals? It seems that this new way of thinking will replace the previous one soon, particularly after reading Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell.

Malcolm Gladwell is also the author of the famous books Blink and The Tipping Point. He is currently The New Yorker writer. He started his career as a reporter at the Washington Post. In his Outliers, he writes about people that are above average. In this book, he proves that success does not depend solely on the individual talent. He tries to find out what are the key factors for success. For that, Gladwell analyzes the life stories of famous people and searches for something they have in common. He is looking forward to spotlight the secret of talented people. For that, he observes their distinctive patterns of practice, motivation, and coaching.

After his research, Gladwell concludes that there are three components of success. These are an origin, practice, and an opportunity. The main claim of Gladwell is that success majorly depends on the origin. The birth dates also have an impact on personal success. Gladwell finds the perfect birth dates for hockey players, musicians, sportsmen, programmers, and executives. Each century in some exact time creates all the conditions needed for a special kind of occupation. All a person has to do is to be born in the right time and in the right place.

The second component of success is practice. It seems that Gladwell was the first one to proclaim the ideas of deep practice:

A group of wonderful psychologists in the field of expertise research have gathered together and tried to find out how long do people have to work at something before they become really good? And the answer appears to be 10, 000 of hours… in an unbelievable quantity of spheres: you need to get practiced for ten thousand hours before you get good (Gladwell, 2008).

The similar ideas are there in the book of Daniel Coyle – The Talent Code. What Coyle calls “deep practice”, Gladwell calls “ten thousand hours rule”. Geoff Colvin calls this kind of practice “deliberate practice” in another book Talent is overrated, which was published in 2008.

According to Gladwell, the third success factor is an opportunity. He speaks of it mainly in his second chapter. When analyzing the life stories of famous people, he states that children from rich families have more opportunities. Their opportunities come not only from their money, but also from the fact that they receive the sense of entitlement from their parents. They are accustomed to reaching their goals better for they are not afraid of authorities.

Gladwell supports his arguments with many examples and statistics data. He strives to provide valid information. He frequently refers to reputable sociologists, psychologists, and economists. Thus, his research methods are: a qualitative analysis of data with recording experiences and meanings; a content analysis with studying the messages contained in media; interpretations of interviews, case studies, and observations; and descriptive statistics. In order to avoid confusions and misunderstandings, the author gives many clarifying notes. These provide useful information for the readers. For instance, when he speaks of Jewish emigrants, he explains that their additional advantage was that they were of a literate culture and intelligent origin.

Another good thing about Gladwell’s book is that he encourages his readers to an active reading. Gladwell poses many open questions to make his readers think about it: What do people usually think of the successful? Do people know enough about the sunlight that warms successful people, the soil in which they are putting down their roots, and the hindrances they were lucky enough to avoid? Do people see the consequences of their understanding of success? Can the pattern of special opportunities function in the real world also? Is there such a thing as an inborn talent? Is the ten-thousand-hour rule a universal principle of success? Where does practical intelligence come from? The reader cannot ignore such questions – he has to react somehow.

Gladwell is being worth given credit for his courage as well. The author dares the public opinion. Gladwell realizes that his deep practice concept is weird. Firstly, because people think that talent does not need much practice. Secondly, people need to have a meaningful work. He suggests the opposite: the talent is not born – it is grown. According to Gladwell, everybody can get better results with some efforts. Furthermore, these efforts do not necessarily produce perfection. A 10,000 hours rule implies that there are some obstacles on the way to success. Gladwell shows rather unexpected patterns, which do not meet society expectations: talented people spend much of their time on improving their skills. His view differs so much from the one that is constantly promoted on television. All those talents’ shows “profess another faith”: you have a talent or you do not. Therefore, writing such a book seems to be a challenge for the author.

It seems that author’s purpose is to change the public opinion. As long as the society believes that success is luck for the chosen ones, the number of the latter would be low. People underestimate the importance of practice. Gladwell’s book is supposed to encourage the society to create equal opportunities for everybody. It will result in an increase in the number of successful individuals. This can be understood from the instances of Michigan University and the KIPP Academy.

The good side of the author’s argumentation is that he does not only describe but also analyzes his research findings. He writes thoughtfully and calls his testimonies into question. After all, he poses many questions and expresses some doubt to find the truth and be objective. He considers all the available data equally. He does not have any preferences as to pay more attention to some particular themes and ignore the rest of them. He demonstrates the same attitude to the research in all chapters and provides a balanced information in each of them. The book is well organized. All parts of it are equally well reasoned and developed.

Nevertheless, his argumentation has some limitations. He takes a one-sided view of his topic. The prefect birth date does not guarantee success for everybody who was born on that day. Not all children of rich parents have special opportunities and a sense of entitlement. Gladwell’s theory just explains some more aspects of the different stories. It explains hockey regularities, the honor code, the society’s specifics, Korean subordination, and other features of cultural legacies. However, in order to become successful, people need to have a motivation, strong will, and persistence as well. Without that, people will remain unknown geniuses like the most intelligent person in the world – Chris Langan.

It seems that the author omits possible alternative interpretations. He never compares his research to the other authors. It is obviously that there were no similar authors before him, but he could have investigated different pinions much deeper. The author’s approach is not very flexible. He believes that his findings (particularly what it takes to become successful) are universal. He is not so dogmatic about it, but he is close to that. Of course, an achievement requires a talent plus preparation, but it is a bit complex phenomenon though.

This book was written in 2008, but it is still of interest now. People are still looking for success explanations and there are much more Gladwell-like authors today. It means that his book had a profound impact on the way people perceive success nowadays. The book appeals to a very broad audience for everybody is looking for the truth. Everybody wants to be happy and successful. Everybody wants to grasp the essence of success. People tend to explain their success by luck, hard work or talent. On the other hand, Gladwell believes that, to be successful, one needs to have the right origin, right parents, and a perfect birth date. The other things that matter are customs and traditions of one’s ancestors and his or her cultural legacy. These ideas are simple to understand and to remember. Nevertheless, where are those people who would claim, “Hey, that book of Gladwell was so much help for me. Now I am a very successful person”? It seems that there were not such cases mentioned in the media.

Thus, this book is good as a theory handbook. This book made a lasting contribution to its field, but it cannot be considered as a “Bible of success”. The readers are free to decide whether to follow its recommendations or not. In both cases, they are encouraged for further reading to find where the secret of success is hidden.

Reference

Gladwell, M. (2008). Outliers. The story od success. New York: Little, Brown and Company.