Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Book Review - Outliers by Malcom Gladwill

What is in the making of personal success

It's rather ironic use of the term outlier for the title. I do recognise it as a technical term as oppose to word as it signifies a specific concept in data analysis. Outlier takes centre stage in data science, concerned with an events or phenomena that fall outside the normal pattern. The book outlier is a refreshing outlook at a time when data science not only come to dominate virtual space but most contemporary literature concern itself with a sobering study of the subject.

The book deals with the broader context of collective contribution, a concept not new at all and acknowledged and documented in the work of most geniuses such as Isaac Newton and Albert Einstein. The book adds its twist by combining it with how the Western culture view success and its contemporary drivers. The book debunks the misconception that success is an outcome of personal achievement but rather a mix of a string of opportunities, concerted effort of communities and families, luck, dedication and a quirky take on the world.

The book is an eye opener to rigid individualism and how viewing success in those terms are not only false but dangerous. We do live at a time which offers great opportunities and unprecedented potentials but they are only few and it’s important to be aware of how we view the majority who are unsuccessful. We view our system in a sentimental way that it rewards hard work with astonishing success and wealth, this is false the truth is that it only rewards one billionaire Bill Gates and one billionaire Richard Branson and nobody else can have that opportunity and if Bill Gates was not born in 1955 plus another series of lucky events the opportunity would have gone to someone else and only them. This leaves the reader ponder about our system where the successful and rich get only richer and the poor and unsuccessful get poorer. Unable to cope with its own contradiction our policy and politics had reverted to the primitive and nasty habit of assigning blame which should have no place in modern policy. The poor and immigrants have been blamed but this didn’t bring any change and now the turmoil is spiralling out of control threatening the whole liberal system.
After dealing with what produces successful people the book naturally turns to understanding the role of culture, the framework that moulds us and shapes our consciousness and subconscious. Our culture gives us strength but it can also constraint us. When the Korean Airways have a record of crushes that is 17 times more than other western industrialised countries and the pattern continues over 1980s while everything else is held equal then studying the Korean culture and the social structure it imposes might contain answers. We are squeamish to do that because the way we talk about culture is unscrupulous and since most cultural ideas are ill-informed such discourse are often disparaging. East Asians continually and consistently achieve higher grades in international math scoring competitions. I'm not talking about achievement by margins but significant that can be represented by standard deviation. When all else is held equal such difference can be explained by culture which goes hundred and thousands of years back to rice cultivation. if you want the full relationship between rice and math then you should read the book.

This book makes a lot of sense to me, I know several fellow Afghans who are extremely talented, educated and driven but yet they make less money, unable to travel or take jobs they qualify while a British Citizen with below average intellect and high school dropout makes more money ( several fold), free to travel and access to diverse occupational opportunities. This modern system surely rewards other things as well beside personal stamina and talent.