Ever since I read Tipping Point and Blink, especially Blink, I have been a Malcolm Gladwell fan. In any of my discussion in recent years about memorable books I have read recently, the name Blink comes up inevitably. This book has had a huge impact on how I process information, make critical decisions. Without doubt I have internalized a lot of the lessons learnt in Blink in my day to day living. If you have not read Blink my suggestion would be run, and don't walk, to your nearest Barnes and Noble and buy the book and read it as soon as possible. After reading the book if you can't figure out what's the big fuss about, call me.
Malcolm Gladwell has a unique ability to assimilate many many isolated pieces of facts and information and make some sense out of them into a comprehensible picture. He paints a picture that not only makes sense but has practical application in our lives. In Blink he shows us how we can summon our collective life experience into specific situation in life where we may not have all the facts gathered and analyzed but even with relatively small amount of facts and data gathered we can make remarkably accurate assessment of situations or circumstances.
In Outliers Malcolm Gladwell examines what are the factors that go into making of a successful individual. How much of the success is the unique and innate talent of the individual and how much is other factors that the individual had no control over. He dissects the lives of the usual suspects, Tiger Woods, The Beatles, Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, and Bill Joy. He also examines lives of less stellar abut successful people such as a 12 year old girl, Maria, daughter of a single mother attending KIP Academy in Bronx.
His major conclusion in the book, is talent is a small part of the success, be it Bill Gates and Tiger Woods or Maria. Tiger Woods and Bill Gates had talent undeniably, but they had circumstance that they had no control over that lead to who they became. In case of Bill, at the age of 13 he walks into this school in Lakeside High School where they installed a timesharing terminal connected to a mainframe computer that he could use to his hearts content. He fell in love with programming and spent thousand sand thousands of hours of programming before he graduated from high school. By Bill Gates' own recounting of his circumstance there may not have been another middle school having such access to computing in the whole country. What would have been Bill Gates life had it not been for that fortunate occurrence? I am sure it would have been very successful in some profession, but would he have had the chance to be Bill Gates that we know today, the richest man in the world, possibly the most successful businessman ever. But there is much much more to the story of Bill Gates success. So many other factors that went into making of Bill, that Bill had no control over. I don't want to give away the suspense of all of it. I want you to read for yourself and enjoy Malcolm Gladwell's analysis and observation.
In addition to circumstances, such as the time sharing terminal at Lakeside High School for Bill Gates, Malcolm Gladwell makes a very powerful case for the key to our success is not only who we are, but what family we came from, the culture we came from, not only just the recent past but generations past, that has powerful influence of what we become. The way he puts it, our talent is just one layer of many complex layers of factors that contribute to our success that we should recognize as we idolize the successes of Bill Gates, Tiger Woods or The Beatles.
I really enjoyed the book because many of his observations and conclusions resonated through my own life experiences. I have always prided myself as the prototypical self-made man. It is a typical immigrant success story in modern day America. After reading the book I have a much better appreciation for all the circumstances that lead to my success in life that I had very little control over. I don't call it lucky, I call it as many of the layers of contributing factors to my success in life, only a part of it was my talent and many many other layers I had no control over. Such as being born and brought up in a family having such abiding respect for education; such as, taking a course in FORTRAN programming in my second year summer school while going to Graduate School in Boston University working on my PhD in Geology. I took that course not because I wanted to take a course in programming but the school will give me financial assistance if I attended a summer course. So I took the FORTRAN course to qualify for financial assistance. From that course I fell in love with programming and my life would have been decidedly different if I had not taken that course. That course was the starting point in my journey in the profession of software, that I have enjoyed so enormously and has enriched my life in every possible way. This for me was similar to Bill Gates and the Timesharing terminal in Lakeside High School. As I have been examining my own life as I had been listening to the book on my iPod, I have so many other examples of happy circumstances in my own life that I had no control over but had contributed mightily to my success in life.
Accurate assessment of our lives and acknowledging what has contributed to where I am today and who I am today, in no way diminishes my own talent and contribution I made to be where I am today. It simply makes the picture more complete and more accurate. Most importantly, it brings a certain amount of humility that I may have lacked before.