Peter's Reviews > Outliers: The Story of Success

Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell
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's review
Dec 26, 10

Read in November, 2010

I usually give five stars to a movie or book only if it moves me, or changes my life in some way. The latter is true for Outliers. Sonia and I might delay our boys entry into Kindergarten by one school year because of this book.

It's data, baby. Students (and athletes) who are older are, naturally, more mature than those in the same grade who are younger. This maturity is often construed as talent by teachers and coaches, for example, and thus they provide more attention and guidance to these older kids. For example, studies show that older kids score roughly 12 percentage points higher on standardized testing, which could allow for added advantages year after year. If our boys enter public school when they are first eligible, they'd be on the young side due to their respective birth dates in relation to the December cut-off date. If we simply wait until the following school year, they'll be on the mature side, which gives them a built in advantage all the way until adulthood (studies also show that the advantages are indeed lasting and won't simply "even out" over time). When I play black jack in Vegas, I play the strategy that provides the best odds for success. It doesn't guarantee anything, of course. But why wouldn't I apply the same theory to my own kids?

The main premise of the book is to dispense the myth of "rags to riches" success. People become successful because of, not in spite of, there humble upbringings. See the chapter on Jewish immigrants working in the garment industry during the beginning of the 20th century. They were poor, but engaged in meaningful work that taught them marketing, business, salesmanship, etc. Talk about ahead of one's time! We should stop wondering why so many Jews are financially successful. Their ancestral trades naturally led them into positions of professional prominence here in America.

Speaking of Jews, I also admire Gladwell's contention concerning cultural differences. Why are we so afraid to speak about them? Groups of people can be observably different from one another. There is no judgment here, just observation. Take his brilliant chapter about Korean airlines. Why was their accident rate umpteen times higher than that of airlines in America? All were equally trained and flying similar routes... The difference was cultural! The Korean language shows seven layers of deference. So, when a tired pilot flying through bad weather makes errors during his landing, his co-pilot(s) will not speak directly about vital information that could save the plane. It wouldn't be polite! (Korean Airlines has since fixed this problem by forcing pilots to use English, the primary language of aviation around the world, and one that doesn't have seven layers of deference built into it).

Speaking of Asians, how about that myth that they are simply better at math? Such a stereotype, right? Well, it happens to be...TRUE! They are not born innately smarter at it than their English counterparts. But look at all the built in cultural advantages Asians have.

#1 - Their language makes number sense SO much easier. Americans say Four hundred seventeen thousand, six hundred ninety nine. Asians say "Sho pun tay" (I made that up, but my point is it's WAY shorter (and more logical)).

I have to get back to my family, but read the book for other built-in advantages successful people have that helped them become successful. Awesome read.

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