Sunday, December 14, 2008

If Man Works Hard the Land Will Not Be Lazy … by guest blogger Steve Head

Today’s title is taken from a Chinese proverb cited in Malcolm Gladwell’s, Outliers, The Story of Success. You might be familiar with his earlier books, The Tipping Point, How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference, and Blink, The Power of Thinking Without Thinking. Both best sellers.

Like the earlier books, Gladwell takes a phenomenon wrapped in conventional wisdom and dismantles it. By looking at the contents page you will discover Opportunity and Legacy are the broad concepts he uses to de-construction our notions of success.

Starting with the Canadian junior hockey league championship, where the players involved have not made it to the finals through the influence of parents or their business connections, financial contributions, or the schools they attended, but through their ‘individual merit’. Or so we think.

While Gladwell does not dispute the talent and hard work of these hockey players, by the end of the first chapter the ‘individual merit’ myth is dismantled and replaced by a surprising explanation that goes well beyond hockey. Along with junior hockey players, Gladwell looks at Bill Gates, The Beatles, and a host of other accomplished, and not so accomplished, individuals to populate his investigation into success.

Gladwell mines a wealth of information from psychological studies and measures, historic analysis, student achievement scores, cross cultural comparisons, and emperical data, all detailed in the Notes section with references.

At first I thought the new book was not as good as the previous two. By the time I finished the Epilogue my opinion had changed. Like the earlier books, Gladwell not only challenged conventional wisdom, he revealed some of the underlying dynamics of human behavior.

My sister contends she only reads one book a year. I am going to suggest Outliers be her 2009 book. It is relatively short at 285 pages with generously spaced text in a readable font, as well as being written in an easy to digest style. Like Tipping Point and Blink, Outliers is filled with information and concepts useful to people in all walks of life.

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