Sunday, March 17, 2013

Book Review #15: Outliers

After four years, I have finally gotten around to reading Outliers: The Story of Success, written by Malcolm Gladwell in 2008. As much as I have kept telling myself over the years that I needed to get to it, I'd be lying if I didn't say that the reason I finally picked it up is that I ran out of books to read (I ordered a dozen in January and have made it through all of them - thankfully my most recent order arrived on Friday).

This book was very similar in style to Gladwell's other works (Tipping Point and Blink), in that it begins with a fairly simple concept, and then consists of several examples supporting it.  The premise for Outliers, is that one cannot just assume that the 'world's greatests' were simply born with an innate talent or gift, but actually reached this exceptional status through timing and circumstance (essentially being at the right place at the right time).

An example in the book is of Bill Gates, who happened to be entering his teenage years when a fundraising group purchased a computer for his school. After using up countless hours of computer time, he found a company needing work completed, a university computer lab with available time in the middle of the night, etc.  All these conditions resulted in Gates working up to 10,000 hours on programming, before he finally dropped out of Harvard after his sophomore year to start Microsoft. Now had Bill Gates not been born in 1955, had Lakeside not received a computer, had C-cubed not been willing to allow teenagers to check code on weekends, had ISI not needed someone to work on its payroll software, had the University of Washington not have open computer time from 3-6am, etc., Microsoft might not exist today.

This book definitely provides some food for thought, and truly makes readers appreciate the various circumstances which can come together to 'make or break' someone.

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