Book recommendation: Outliers by Malcolm Caldwell

From the author that wrote Tipping point (on my reading list) as well as Blink – which I listened to but found rather controversial. I was very curious what will this one be about.

The book is about success and people that managed to achieve extraordinary results. It touches several topics, I will pick three of them that I found most interesting. It starts with interesting observation – if you look at the MONTH of the birth of junior NHL hockey players, you’ll discover that over 50% of them was born between January and April. Certainly not anything like normal distribution. The point is that cutoff-date for signing up children into hockey training in Canada is January 1st. At the age when this happens (5-6 years), kid born in January has significant physical and mental advantage against kid born in November or December. As result, the early born children perform better in their category, and as result they are more likely to make the selection between the talented and perspective. Those selected get much more opportunities to play and practice, which causes them being really better players than late born ones – a kind of self fulfilling prophecy. As result – if your kids are born after August, better reconsider the NHL dreams. If you believe what M.G. is saying, I mean.

This topic leads to the second big theme that made me think really deep – the 10’000 hours rule.  M.G. claims that in order to be really good at pretty much anything, you have to spend about 10000 hour practicing.  Among many examples he mentions Bill Joy and Bill Gates with their early years almost unlimited access to the computer, Beatles during their concerts in Germany and several others. If this is really true, it has quite serious implications for our profession.

The third is very interesting comparison about how differences between eastern and western agriculture – growing rice in rice paddies vs  western farms has implications on the work ethic and math skills of the population.

He also explores many other quite interesting subjects – the ethnic theory of plane crashes (exploring how “power distance” in particular cultures impacts the communication between captain of the aircraft and first officers), why are merger and acquisition law firms pretty much of the same ethnic origin and also claims that the US schools are basically OK, it’s the parents that do not do enough for their kids education.  Hmm.

To sum it up, it was good and interesting read. Certain parts could be shorter – sometimes it unnecessarily re-iterates the same message,  but it is certainly very intellectually stimulating and thought provoking book.
Although I am a bit skeptical with respect to some of his conclusions or input data – as we know, if we properly select data set it is easy to prove pretty much anything ;-), I am very glad I picked it – the point of view and approach presented is absolutely worth the time and money spent.

The destilled message of the book can a bit demotivating to those who believe that talent and hard work will always pay back: even if you have all the talent and put in all 10K hours, you still need to have that final ingredients of success – such as being born in January for NHL hockey player and a bit of luck. Also those who believe that the succesful people are just lucky or born with silverspoon may be disappointed that all that does not work without the really hard work and practice.

Unless you belong to one of the above groups – recommended. And if you do – you should definitely read it !

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One Response to Book recommendation: Outliers by Malcolm Caldwell

  1. I really liked reading it as well – lots of great stories and MG’s writing style is very entertaining. I’m reading Tipping Point now and Blink is sitting on the dining table waiting to be read as well!

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