Saturday, January 17, 2009

Book Report: Outliers

Meh. Ok sure it's the cocktail party chatter book of late 2008 so you'll probably end up reading it, but please allow me to spoil it for you...

You're not that great and you're not that talented, so get over yourself. 

It's true, we're all a product of our (random and sometimes privileged) circumstances. As Buffett likes to say he won the ovarian lottery, if he were born dirt poor in rural Africa could he possibly have achieved so much? Hardly.

Gladwell is a great story teller and the book is not without it's surprising and delightful anecdotes (the opening Canadian hockey tale and Manhattan law firm history were two of my favorites). However, if you take away the sizzle of these stories and focus on the book's main point, you're left with a big... well duh. Obviously extremely successful people are just people. Yes they are motivated and hardworking, but they've also benefited from unique opportunities and timing aka luck. 

No one ever said life was fair, and randomness plays a huge role in everyone's outcome starting with which womb and in which country you popped out. Malcolm seems somewhat uncomfortable with the fact that life does not provide a level playing field. While it's an admirable goal to smooth such disparity, random happenstance will always play a major role. 

If you're interested in reading more about outliers try Creativity by Csikszent Mihaly