Success and Malcolm Gladwell

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One of the biggest sociological buzz books in recent years was Malcolm Gladwell’s “The Tipping Point,” in which the journalist looked at the root causes of popularity–what are the circumstances that lead to a sudden skyrocketing of awareness

His next book, “Blink,” examined the decisions we make in an instant–and whether those decisions are more or less reliable than those we agonize over.

I just gave an advance read through his next book, “Outliers,” which is due out next month, and I’m guessing this page-turner will be just as talked about, if not more, than his previous two bestsellers.

His premise this time is that, when it comes to the best and the brightest (according to the galley’s jacket copy), “we pay too much attention to what successful people are like and too little attention to where they are from: that is, their culture, their family, their generation, and the idiosyncratic experiences of their upbringing.”

What does this have to do with arts and entertainment?

Well, Gladwell early on quotes studies that he believes establish that there aren’t “naturals” when it comes to outstanding musicians (violinists, in his example). It really is hard work and other factors that takes them there, not genetics. And that specific kind of hard work is only encouraged under certain sociological conditions.

He takes that idea into pop music as well, making the case that the Beatles wouldn’t have become what they became without playing approximately 1200 life gigs before they achieved “overnight” success in 1964. And to do that required, again, certain sociological conditions.

There’s much more to the book. Gladwell soaks up information from studies of everything from Canadian hockey players to the pioneers of computer science in his quest to understand why certain people make it and others don’t. What does rice farming have to do with mathmatical ability? How does a culture’s attitude toward authority influence plane crash statistics?

And where, Gladwell asks, is the line between understanding the impact of culture and unfairly stereotyping?

Expect to hear much more about “Outliers” from the press–and from the people in your marketing department–after the book is released on November 18.

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