Title: "Outliers: The Story of Success"
Author: Malcom Gladwell
Publisher: Little, Brown and Co.
Being an outlier is generally defined as someone, something or some fact that is very different from others of the larger group of which it is a part. The author is focused on exceptional cases of success, and he attempts to understand how one becomes such an outstanding success.
He touches on Cleopatra, the Beatles, Bill Gates, Andrew Carnegie, Albert Einstein and many others in his broad-ranging survey.
Can it be that the month in which you are born, or the year or even the century in which you were born that in part that determines your career success? Or, can the community in which you are born impact your physical and mental health? Based upon the author’s case studies and illustrations, the answer would be yes.
For example, you are much more likely to be a Canadian all-star hockey player if you are born in January. Your chance of becoming a computer industry billionaire increased dramatically if you were born in the early 1950s. If you grew up in Roseto, Pa., you had a 30 percent lower death rate from all causes than did the population at large. Rates for crime, suicide, alcoholism and many other conditions were lower, not because of diet, exercise or genetics, but because of the egalitarian ethos of the community.
Very interesting is the author’s exploration of the research of Lewis Terman of Stanford University. Terman devoted his career to researching the lives of exceptionally bright children. He found high intelligence was no guarantee of success. The results were distressing, yet illuminating, “… almost none of the genius children from the lowest social and economic class ended up making a name for themselves.” He found the results were related to the differences in parenting style of the lower economic families and the middle class families.
Middle class parents engaged in “concerted cultivation,” while lower economic parents left the children to their own devices, “natural growth,” in growing up. This important difference in parenting also was found in the author’s review of a Baltimore school system study of school achievement. He observed that, in younger children of upper, middle and lower classes, learning tested as equal in the classroom during the school year. However, over the summer, lower class student scores dropped while the other groups maintained or gained in scores. This was a function of enrichment activities provided by the parents.
Gladwell also explores how Asian language and custom made learning math easier for Chinese children, yet led to problems in how Korean pilots dealt with aircraft emergencies.
“Everything we have learned in 'Outliers' says that success follows a predictable course. It is not the brightest who succeed .... Outliers are those who have been given opportunities — and who have had the strength and presence of mind to seize them.”
As I read this book, I could not help but think of our state government’s effort to “reinvent” government and education. There are many potential ideas in this book on how to develop success.