Malcolm Gladwell

By Chrissy Evans

January’s YWE Book Club met to discuss Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell.

According to Malcolm Gladwell, an outlier is a scientific term to describe things or phenomena’s that lie outside normal experience. Outliers are men and women who, for one reason or another, are so accomplished and so extraordinary and so outside of ordinary experience that they are puzzling to the rest of us.

In the book Outliers, Gladwell identifies what makes someone an outlier using personal antidotes and extensive research to back up his conclusions. Through a combination of uncontrollable circumstances, call it a perfect storm if you will, readers were given a glimpse into the extraordinary conditions that create outliers.

The icebreaker question for the book club this month was, “do you agree or disagree with Gladwell’s assertion that there is no such thing as a self-made person and what personal experiences can you think of that support to challenge his ideas?”

Unanimously, the group agreed with Gladwell. Hard work, dedication (10,000 hours), someone to look up to and the desire to change, all contribute to who you are and who you will become.

In Outliers, Gladwell discusses the following uncontrollable circumstances that contribute to being an outlier:

  • When you were born;
  • What your parents did for a living;
  • The 10,000 hour rule;
  • Timing of economic and technology change; and
  • Your IQ.

All of these factors play a role in how well we will do in the world.

From hockey players, The Beatles and Bill Gates the group dived into a discussion regarding if there are different definitions of success that Gladwell does not consider. However, the book seems to solely focus on “Hollywood” examples of outliers. We agreed that Galdwell’s definition of success is narrow-minded. Success is a personal metric for everyone that our personal values play into. Let’s take work-life balance for example. Work-life balance might be a significant priority for some people but for others, it is not as critical. It all comes down to what you are willing to give up for your version of success.

After Gladwell goes through the factors that we cannot change, he discusses the correlation between effort and reward. Gladwell uses the example of Jews working in the garment industry and the impact it has on their children. Although a lot of factors in Gladwell’s book are not something we have control of, we are in control of our strength and perseverance. We ourselves have to be strong enough to work though challenges and grow. Do you think it was easy for the Jews in the garment industry to be as successful as they were? Many came to America with nothing. The group Gladwell highlights was strong enough to push through and become an outlier.

To leave you with a quote, “It is not the brightest who succeed … nor is success simply the sum of decisions and efforts we make on our own behalf, rather, a gift. Outliers are those who have been given opportunities – and who have had the strength and presence of mind to seize them” (p. 167).