Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell

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outliersIn this book, the fact that Gladwell’s academic work includes sociology is apparent. Oddly, his work reminds me of Freakonomics which is an economist’s work to evaluate the answers to questions that we generally take for granted to determine the validity of what we assume to be true, i.e., does it really take lots of money to win political office, does an increase in police really translate into less crime, or why do drug dealers live with their mothers? Gladwell’s work reminds me of Freakonomics because he evaluates the same thing in OUTLIERS when he studies what it takes for individuals to achieve noteworthy success.

Society takes for granted that success rests largely on an individual’s willingness to work really hard. In order to evaluate this premise, Gladwell begins by putting forth the 10,000 hours concept. The 10,000 hours concept is the idea that it takes approximately 10,000 hours (or 10 years) of rigorous focus on a thing to become exceptionally good at it. From there, Gladwell evaluates the lives and backgrounds of individuals who are able to perform 10,000 hours of focused work. You see, in order to achieve 10,000 hours, you have to have the luxury of time. From that point, Gladwell starts a discussion of what is called “accumulated advantage” which is the idea that opportunity begets opportunity. After explaining accumulated advantage, Gladwell goes on to demonstrate how accumulated advantage is apparent over and over again in the stories of very successful individuals rather than the idea that their successes are simply the outcomes of individual aptitude and hard work. After looking at how individuals are impacted by accumulated advantage, he looks at how ethnic groups are impacted by accumulated advantage.

OUTLIERS is a useful read because it demands that people rethink the line between individual failure and accumulated advantage. Gladwell’s objective isn’t to liberate people from personal responsibility. Rather, he makes the case that our society has the ability to overcome what could be viewed as accumulated disadvantage by acknowledging that it takes more than an individual’ hard work to achieve success.

Implications for managers and leaders:  How much practice have your team members had?  What was the quality of their practice?  How might you merge the importance of practice with the strategies put forth in Smart Trust?

Additional Reading:  Since OUTLIERS was published, several outlets have unleashed harsh criticism of Gladwell and the 10,000 theory.   Click here for Gladwell’s response.

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