Outliers is one of those books I kept hearing praise of in the most varied circumstances, from colleagues to the newsletter I get from the Aikidō club, so it was time that I read it to figure out what it was all about. I’m usually wary of books that have “#1 international bestseller” written on the cover, but in this case, I think the praise is deserved, and I hope this was not only a book that was sold a lot, but also a book that was read a lot.
The catch phrase of the book is “the story of success” which is somehow misleading, because this is not a historical book. It is basically an essay about the circumstances of success. The author asserts that each time somebody is successful, the same story is told: the person was very gifted, worked hard, and the context beyond the direct family circle is ignored. This books looks into the context behind successes and shows two things: first that being gifted is not enough, a lot of work is necessary for reaching mastery, the author mentions 10’000 hours of work; secondly, the book shows many factors play a huge role in a success story, some of them circumstantial, some social, some cultural.
out•li•er \-, lī(-ə)r\ noun
- something that is situated away from or classed differently from a main or related body
- a statistical observation that is markedly different in value from the others of the sample
While claiming that cultural background has an impact on the way people work might not be exactly politically correct, at the same time if you ever worked abroad or in an international company, it is quite obvious. I found the book refreshing because it tried to look at the issue in a constructive way. He also argues that being from a certain culture can be both and advantage and a handicap, depending on the circumstance.
One reason I like this book is that it has a good, broad overview, of many ideas on success, with a few practical examples. It also structured some thoughts, some observations I had made in my own life. When I lived in Japan, I was struck about the complexity of rice paddies, and it made sense that such a form of agriculture requires more cooperation, better structure than what is needed in western fields. The book goes into that exact subject, but with other conclusions. The 10’000 hours ideas also jives with my experience with computer programming, there is no such thing as a genius, but there are people with a lot of experience.