Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Are you an Outlier?

Midas Touch! Every one of us would like to lead our life in the ‘Midas touch’ way isn’t it? We always look forward to see Success in our lives. And that success makes you an Outlier!

Outlier is the latest book I read. It was so outstanding that I read the full book in four sittings in two days. The author who already had two of his bestselling books in the market: ‘The Tipping Point’ and ‘Blink’ – Malcolm Gladwell has put in his heart and soul in his latest work Outliers. This is a book about Outliers, about men and women who do things that are out of the ordinary.

I was impressed with the way Gladwell writes after reading his work on ‘The Tipping Point’ which produced the turnaround stories of many things that we see in the world. It showed how little things can make a big difference. In Outliers, Gladwell has beautifully created the new story for the success. The definition of success is a very subjective matter, and Malcolm Gladwell, posits a theory that success is not based on ambition or intelligence, but rather from culture, ethnicity and unexpected logic, among other things.

It talks about secrets of geniuses, business tycoons, rock stars, and Software programmers, students, remarkable lawyers, best pilots, talented Asians and many other professions. After reading it, I am now trying to relate the way I was brought up and the way I look at things at this point in my life and my expectations on all the aspects of my life.

It is so true that whenever we hear about successful people, we tend to ask what made them successful. That is exactly what Gladwell has tried to communicate in this book. His brilliant efforts and his outstanding research on this topic has given him enough content to argue over the ‘success’ in life. Once you read this book, you will certainly come to know what makes successful people. What are the factors associated for the success and the like. He has classified the chapters into two categories: Opportunity and Legacy.

First category - Opportunity talks about how lucky the successful people were in getting the right opportunity at the right time. Not only getting opportunities, but also how effectively they could manage to convert them into results. One aspect that amazed me here is that most of the successful people followed the “10000 hour rule”. It is the number of hours of practice required for any person to succeed in whatever he or she does. It has been substantiated with a lot of statistics and true stories as well. I wonder how many hours of practice I have put in for my life and into what?

These stories include - the one who was lucky enough to get an opportunity to get access to a computer at his early age which could turn his life around to create the mighty ‘Microsoft’. Yes that was Bill Gates. He was lucky to get access to a computer when he was at thirteen years of age and eventually become entrepreneur. It was just the right opportunity and right time. There were lot many people who had not got access to what he got and they were unlucky enough. Else imagine how many such Microsofts we would have today?

Same way Bill Joy, who cofounded Sun Microsystems, got a lucky break at the right time at the University of Michigan. The opportunity was big enough as he was one of the first students who got access to get into the newly created Computer Center opened in 1971 at the University campus. And like others, he could practice beyond 10000 hours on what he loved to do.

Few more stories under this category explain the patterns of successful people. Like in Canadian Hockey League, most of the successful players are born in Jan, Feb and March months of a year. Surprising? Yes. It’s the pattern that’s shown in the statistics. And it is because of a valid reason of the cut-off date for the eligibility for the Canadian hockey team every year. That allowed them hiring and grooming only those players who were born during the first half of the year. Interesting isn’t it? It was again the opportunity and exposure to get the right coaching in their life. Imagine how many successful hockey players Canada Hockey League would’ve produced if there was no such silly cut-off?

Story on Beatles – John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr - talked again on opportunity at the right time. It even emphasized on the 10000 hours work rule. They could easily get to practice by performing at the Hamburg (strip club) which eventually led them to success.

Two stories were on how does it matter to have a high IQ? Or will it not matter if you are bright enough with less IQ. Here the story explained is of the troubles we face with the so called geniuses with their IQ levels. Chris Langan’s story is impressive to read. It tells us not just the IQs matters for success, the secret behind how one got the high IQ, family background and the like. Story on Oppenheimer who was the noble prize winner and founder of ‘Atom Bomb’ is also very impressive - that how a guy who had the tag of ‘tried to kill his tutor in his school’ in his resume turned into successful scientist given the rich and educated family background. It was just one opportunity and he made effective use of it.

Three lessons from Joe Flom – a successful Jewish lawyer is a very good learning in terms of how Flom became successful not being hired during the campus interview at the Harvard Law School and eventually became the top one lawyer who deals with acquisitions in the wall street of America. In this chapter we learn the three lessons, one on the importance of being a Jewish – it talks a lot on immigrants in America and their success in early late nineteenth century, family tree of lawyers and advocates in America and their connectivity to the roots of garment business and immigration, and finally the demographic luck.

Most touchy story in this category was of the secret of Communication and cultivation! It is on how effective the kids were brought up and what was the family status. It argues that Children of so called rich-people class get exposed to good communication skills and preparation for every event in their life. They start asking questions aggressively and they communicate and express whatever comes to their mind to keep themselves comfortable. Whereas, children of lower middle class or the poor class will never get that kind of upbringing; because of their poor background and lack of access to good knowledge. It is so true. You must read the story to get a good feel of what matters for ones success right from their early ages.

Second category: Legacy talks about how the cultures, family background, demography determines success in life. It starts with the interesting story of ‘Culture of honor’ where we can see the genital link in our behaviors. A few communities even now, relate to their background in their behavior wherever they go. If they have an aggressive family background, they will be aggressive in their life which eventually may lead to a success or a failure. All they tend to do is to protect the ‘culture of honor’. If they do not do that, it is like insulting their own culture. Based on this there are lot of studies and reports.

The second story in this category will give us a sense of how demographic traits and improper communication lead to failures. This is a story on Korean Air failing again and again because of its carelessness in effective communication between the pilot and the co-pilot. All because of the culture they were brought up. You will figure out when you read this story. Story eventually ends as a successful turnaround of the Korean Air.

The third story is on the hard work and the talent developed through that hard work made Asians to top in the Mathematics. The hard work again comes from their cultural and traditional background of cultivating and relating it from their culture of growing Rice Paddies. It is an interesting relativity that is created in the story.

Most impressive story of the whole Outliers book is the story on KIPP. KIPP public school was an experimental initiative in the mid 1990s in America. KIPP stands for ‘Knowledge in Power Program’ and it was founded by David Levin. This initiative was to give education to the lowest income groups of America. Their interesting protocols, quality of education, commitment to service, identifying gaps in the current system, emphasizing on original work gave them success and now KIPP has 50 branches in the United States. Their initiatives like reducing the summer vacation and giving more access to knowledge for their students turned them around. It is known for its Mathematics against all the other schools which did not focus on it. At KIPP, they focused on Mathematics, English, Speaking and writing skills to the maximum. KIPP is, rather, an organization that has succeeded by taking the idea of cultural legacies seriously. Marita’s bargain – the story title – is so wonderful to read and you will feel so good to read about how Marita bargains on what she wants from the school and how committed she was to get the things that she wanted from KIPP to eventually become a Accounting Major in her career. It is the story of the miracle school that transforms losers to winners. There is one more story at the end which is Malcolm's own family story of Jamaica, its interesting past, support system a family can get and the commitment to the society.

Opportunities at the right time, 10000 hours of practice, Patterns in life, Communication, Access to knowledge, Family background, Cultivation during the childhood days, Demography, Culture of honor and the Achievement gap – all these combines to the secrets behind success of any person.

I strongly suggest reading this beautiful book to enjoy each and every story. After which we can learn and apply these stories to our own lives to become Outliers!

But now I am trying to identify what is it that I have done all these days and where will it lead to? What is that O-factor behind me (factor of Outlier)?



Unknown said...

Hi Sri,
You have given gist of the book very nicely, I too am started thinking what did I do till now, and what made me to be here where I am now!!!!!!!!!!!

Shailaja VB

sunaath said...

Thank you for introducing this `must-read' book to us.

Motivation for success is of course
very important. Sometimes it is the motivation through environment, and sometimes self-motivation.

Well, there is life beyond success also.

Unknown said...

Dear Shrikant, I am very much impressed by your article. I completely agree with you.

Raghu said...

Thanks Sri for introducing this book to the larger audience group through your blog. Yes, i completely agree with Gladwill that the factors mentioned in the book will contribute to the success of any individual.

Srik said...

Thank you all for your nice comments. I am glad the review was useful.
@Sunnath: you are right! there is life beyond success too!

Manjunath Byadigere said...

Hi Srikanth...
Before I start let me tell you that I believe that one sure way of attaining success is to write books about getting success!

Srikanth is very much right in telling that success is subjective.
Yes it sure is, very much!

Let me add that by reading a book about getting success we can only know how people have attained success (only after they have achieved it!...yeah sad but true). These books dont say how you can achieve success, they only say how people achieved it! It is very important to recognise the somewhat subtle difference between the two, ...and imagine what would happen if you became successful by reading one(or many) book(s)...we would all be Einsteins and Newtons and Gatess!

I have not seen the book but I'am guessing Mr Gladwell must have put a note in the preface telling something like 'this book is only a guide, the author is not responsible if the reader does not become successful after reading this book'!!

Yes, I agree that the book could be a good guide to tell us about how we can come closer to achieve our aims and ambitions.

10,000 hours in ones life is a VERY VERY significant amount of time. (Almost one hour a day for thirty years!!) Imagine the amount of passion, interest, enthusiasm, desire and/or necessity of practicing anything for such loooong duration...yes, time can be quantified...unlike all those things mentioned.
I just want to tell you that,as we all know, its difficult to quantify success ...or life, and sometimes,by quantifying something we only mean to signify the importance of so many unquantifiable things which tag along.
In a similar way we have 'side effects' of drugs.Sometimes its difficult to estimate the real effect of a drug but a side effect of the drug can be measured,by measuring the side effect we only mean to estimate the real effect of the drug.Please dont be carried away in under estimating the side effect of the side effect!

Frankly I have not read any book which tries to inspire somebody to get inspired...or books which try to give secret formulas for success...or books which say how to get rich.I like to read them in the same sense as reading horoscope or palmistry...purely for entertainment.Maybe they are some sort of science...which I havent explored yet.Srik and Hari keep telling me about these kinds of books, maybe it is time I try one of them soon.

Hey Srik...pass me your copy!

Doc Manjunath B D

Srik said...

@Doc: May be you should read the book Outliers without fail! all that i have mentioned is what Gladwell has researched over number of years and given the good statistics and justifications as well. Kind of practical examples for us to think and thank!we cannot follow books for success... rather.. we can learn from other stories and realise what it takes for someone who is successful in life.

Vaishnavi said...

For starters, of all the posts written by you (and of what I have read, I like this the best in terms of writing style. Damn neat! And yeah, I too wonder how many hours I have to put in now!

Narasim said...

It is a thorough review of stories that Gladwell has assembled. The stories are truly inspirational. No question about it.

The book is an easy read. I suggest that those who are interested in human achievement may derive vicarious pleasure by reading success stories.

Gladwell, a Canadian by birth now living and writing in the United States is an excellent story teller. It is easy enough to be seduced by his writing style. We need to step back, however, and assess the relevance of such stories for our own lives.

All three books by him, Tipping Point, Blink, and Outlier are descriptions of successful outcomes. From the success stories he tries to draw some general "laws".

The fundamental flaw in his reasoning is as follows. Necessary conditions are general but sufficient conditions are unique.

In each example he gives in his three books, there is not sufficient critical analysis of unique conditions that made the success possible. Surely, sustained effort and other character traits that he outlines in Outlier are necessary but they are not sufficient either individually or collectively to lead to success that he so venerates. For every Bill Gates (or should I say, Bill Gay, as they say in Bangalore Chikpet)there are countless not so successful people, notwithstanding tremendous talent and effort.

The book Outlier can be enjoyed for its inspirational value. Not for its analytical content.

My own approach has been to focus on one thing at a time and do that well to the best of my abilities. Beyond that I do not worry too much about social recognition. Personal satisfaction to me is more valuable than social approbation.

For others, Gladwell may point the way for self-discovery. I wish them all well.

Life is too complex to be reduced to simple formulae for success.

Srikanth's careful book review is very helpful in thinking things through. For that I am thankful to him.

Srikanth should begin to think seriously of writing book reviews for the national newspapers published in Bangalore.