In this stunning new book, Malcolm Gladwell takes us on an intellectual journey through the world of "outliers"--the best and the brightest, the most famous and the most successful. He asks the question: what makes high-achievers different? His answer is that we pay too much attention to what successful people are like, and too little attention to where they are from: that is, their culture, their family, their generation, and the idiosyncratic experiences of their upbringing. Along the way he explains the secrets of software billionaires, what it takes to be a great soccer player, why Asians are good at math, and what made the Beatles the greatest rock band.
Brilliant and entertaining, OUTLIERS is a landmark work that will simultaneously delight and illuminate.
Isn't Malcolm going to ruin the usefulness of the word "outliers"? We typically use the world outliers in statistics to refer to data points that aren't useful in finding a general pattern and therefore should be ignored. Malcolm's using it to mean the opposite -- the people we should most pay attention to in order to learn how the system works.
For example, say you were to make a study of how to succeed in golf by looking at the behavioral traits of the golfers who have won multiple major championships. By the traditional definition, John Daley would be an obvious outlier that you wouldn't learn much from studying -- he's fat, alcoholic, mentally unstable, a poor decision maker on and off the course. But he's double-jointed, so his incredible flexibility lets him wind up like a pretzel and crush the ball. Unless you're double-jointed too, he's a true outlier whom you should discard from your study.
In contrast, Tiger Woods is not an outlier for the purposes of learning to succeed. His achievements are stunning, but they flow directly from how he has optimized for golf success virtually every aspect of his game (and, indeed, life -- when he's home, guests say, he goes to bed at 8:30 pm and is working out by 5:30 am). I was a huge fan of Jack Nicklaus when he intimidated most other golfers in the 1970s with his focus and analytical mind, but Tiger does everything right that Jack did, and he also does things right where Jack got hung up by overthinking.
But, come November, everybody is going to start referring to Tiger, Roger Federer, Warren Buffett, Meryl Streep, and other people who most should be in the databases of anybody studying how to succeed in their fields as "Outliers!"
Similarly, anybody who wants to make a lot of money in print journalism should study Gladwell closely.
However, there is a sense in which Malcolm is a true outlier. He himself succeeds -- he may well be the highest grossing print journalist in America -- not because he understands the common mind, but because he has the common mind. His inability to think critically means that he's always sincerely gee-willikers enthusiastic about whatever snake oil he's infatuated with at the moment. His lack of skepticism makes him a natural for the self-help circuit.
But Malcolm's ability to be a complete sell-out while also being a complete innocent is an odd, John Daley-like combination. It's hard for normal people to consciously draw useful career lessons from Malcolm's success because the kind of lessons you'd come up with -- e.g., "New Yorker subscribers, editors, and fact-checkers will believe anything" -- undermines achieving the necessary Malcolmtastic mental state of sappy sincerity.