I picked up Gladwell’s Outliers: The Story of Success during the Christmas season from the HMV that’s next door to my store in the mall. It happened to be on sale, and I’d heard some decent reviews – I didn’t know what I was getting into, though. It’s not an overstatement to say that Outliers has changed something fundamental in how I do my work, what I see as my advantages, and where the idea of success has totally fallen down around my ears.
Let me explain.
The book is glibly subtitled “The Story of Success” but it’s really not. It’s the story of people who have taken opportunity where they saw it, and identified more accurately their strengths and interests, compared to the rest of us. I have to assume that this is either Gladwell’s summation of what success is, or that the latter simply didn’t fit on a cover as well. Either way, by about fifty pages in, my head had been blown clean off my shoulders about four times.
The first noggin knocker came with the formula the book would follow; identify a seemingly privileged set of people, or an individual, and examine the individual’s roots. Find out what it was that put this group or person where they are, and totally remove the shiny pedestal from their feet. This has helped me see celebrities in a new light, one that thankfully makes them more human.
The second came from Gladwell’s style. He’s a journalist, and it shows, but he’s also a phenomenal storyteller. As a writer myself, I’m always really interested in how authors compose their ideas, and draw the reader through the story as if by way of treasure map. By the time I had figured out where the X was on Malcolm’s map, I was only twenty pages in – but still, the book didn’t get boring, and that’s all about presentation.
The third brain buster was the shear weight of information. From the beginning of the first chapter, where Gladwell dissects the birthdays of hockey players, right up to the last few pages where he tells the story of a Jamaican woman who moved to Britain for love of knowledge (arguably the best story in the book), the statistical density is high. It speaks to the power of Gladwell’s writing, as well, that this barely becomes overwhelming, and that it’s so understandable.
The one that really baked my noodle, however, and that’s changed my life approach in certain respects, was one really simple idea, the one that takes a page to explain, but requires Gladwell to make universally accessible: Your personal history, everything from the beginning of the universe until now that went into the making of the You that you are, provides you with the infinite capacity for wealth, success, the realization of all your dreams, and total, utter fulfilment in whatever flavour you can conjure. It requires only that you identify where you need to be for your highest good, and that you act on that highest good without hesitation, without compromise, and without any thought to how much work you’ll need to do.
There really is no such thing as an overnight success, but you can become one, if you find your highest good and work yourself to every bone you’ve got to get there. Because once you’re there, you can change the world – not just for yourself, but if you do it right and well, for everyone after you.
The people, places and organizations Gladwell has studied in this book: Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Eric Schmidt, Chris Langan, Joe Flom, the city of Harlan, Kentucky, Korean Air, rice paddy farmers in China, and these are just a sample. These people, places and organizations build on each other toward that inevitable truth. Your hard work is not enough to make you an outlier. But your hard work at something your entire chronology an ecology have uniquely prepared you for can shift the very earth you walk on and turn your touch to a golden blessing – if you do it right.
By the time Gladwell tells the story of Daisy Nation and her twin daughters in the final chapter, he has taught an entirely new world view, one that prepares the reader to receive the story, which he relates in a very flat, biographical way for portions, with the light of the Outlier on it, and make unwritten connections proving the concept in a beautiful manner.
I would buy this book again. I’d buy it for friends. I’d buy it for you, if you haven’t read it (if I had the cash to spare) – or I’ll lend you mine if you’re in town and can convince me it’ll make its way back to me in one piece. Or, if you want, you can also go buy yourself a copy here because this is definitely a book that’s worth having, and coming back to again whenever you’re feeling downtrodden on the road to success.
Photo by me!