Wednesday, November 18, 2009


Malcolm Gladwell's 'Tipping Point' has become a verb, his 'Blink' was OK and his 'Outliers' will open your eyes in the first half and re-instate what you already know in the second. It is a MUST READ book for everyone and it will help you understand a lot of things that seem obvious - why are Asians (actually Chinese, for Malcolm) better at Maths and how is that connected to Rice Paddy farming? Why was Korean Air the worst airline with multiple crashes and how that was linked to their culture?

The best things about Malcolm Gladwell's writing is that he starts off with a story that gets you engrossed, then questions the assumptions that we have made and finally puts forth his hypothesis. This type of writing gets you interested to know what will be the next story and as you read the book you try to question the assumptions in the story and try to get one step ahead to guess his hypothesis to follow. This ensures that you stay with the book and don't get bored too easily. Other writers of non-fiction should learn from that.

Gladwell has split the book into two parts - Opportunity & Legacy.

In Opportunity he presents the facts that success is a combination of multiple factors and not just hard work. It depends on your upbringing, your lucky breaks, the society and your hard work. As you start the book there is a possibility of falling into the trap that you are not successful because of the month or year that you were born. Gladwell starts by comparing the best ice hockey players of Canada, best basketball players of US and concludes that kids born in the first half of the year are the ones who turn out to be most successful. This is because of the cut off date for trying for these leagues. Without revealing too much (on my side) he draws a conclusion that the kids born in the latter part of the year in these countries might as well not try for the league playoffs and hopes that the country's sports administration wakes up to this fact. The year you were born in also determines if you have been successful although this is really in hindsight. He presents facts of the computer revolution and compares the age of Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Vinod Khosla and other successful IT people drawing a conclusion that they were born just at the right time to take advantage of the revolution.

You might despair as you read this but the books really gets interesting after this. An underlining factor of his book is the '10,000 rule' where he says that to be successful in anything you want to do, you need to have put 10,000 hours of practicing that under your belt before you can even think of being good at it. Bill Gates had 10,000 hours of programming before he started thinking of Microsoft, Beatles had 10,000 hours of playing in Hamburg before they became famous, successful pilots have 10,000 hours of flying before they become good and so on. So practice hard at what you want to be good at. There is no escape from hard work.

But it also depends on your upbringing and if you parents have taught you to question everything or bow down to authority. Chris Langan is the person with the highest IQ but because he does not have good social skills and is unable to converse with people or question them or present his case, he is not as successful or as famous as Einstein. It also depends on what your ancestors used to do as you tend to carry their values and teachings with you. The reason Jewish lawyers are so successful is because their grand parents or parents use to own sweat shops and taught their children the value of hard work and the relationship between effort and reward. If you have not seen or been taught that, you tend to take life easy and shy away from hard work therefore not getting the 10,000 hours under your belt.

The second section of Legacy deals with explaining that it is also important where you have come from. This is where it got really interesting for me. He explains the reason of Korean Air disastrous run as an airline and presents the study of PDI - Power Difference Index. This determines how you respond to authority and how you interact with someone in a position of power over you. I think this section makes sure that you get all your money back as reading this will explain to you how to react and work with people from Korea or Japan or India or US for that matter.

In summary, Malclom Gladwell seems to say the same thing that we knew all along. While luck may favour you and give you some chances, there is really no shortcut to hard work.

Success still depends on leveraging the opportunities that you get, understanding and respecting your values and culture and doing plain hard work.

I rate it 4.5/5

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