Malcolm Gladwell wrote Outliers: The Story of Success (2008) to explain why some people are more successful than others. Gladwell (2008) argues that people like Bill Gates and the Beatles are successful not solely based on talent. The author describes these kinds of people (outliers) as a product of history, timing, heritage, opportunities, and work ethic. Gladwell cites examples of people who not only worked hard but were recipients of opportunities, beneficiaries of cultural characteristics, and products of a favored society.
In this book, Malcolm Gladwell (2008) has generated much debate about the source of success in the fields of education, music, sports, business, and others. Gladwell (2008) argues that the secrets to success can be identified and reconstructed, allowing more people to reach higher levels of success. Building his case with real stories and real people, Gladwell (2008) reveals patterns in a person’s life and opportunities the person seized that allowed for success to happen. He continues to explain that we generally pay too much attention to what successful people are like, ignoring where successful people are from. The author explains that culture, family, and the generation a person is born in has an effect on the amount of success the person enjoys.
Gladwell (2008) refers to the studies on culture done by Geert Hofstede in the 1960s and 1970s. The author describes personality as something that each person has distinctly. But added to the personality, Gladwell (2008) states, “are tendencies and assumptions and reflexes handed down to us by the history of the community we grew up in, and those differences are extraordinarily specific” (p. 204). In Hofstede’s work on culture, the dimension of Power Distance describes the extent to which a community (or organization) emphasizes the stratification of power with more power at the top. This type of cultural dimension could affect whether a person seizes the opportunities presented. In addition, Bill George’s work on authentic leadership (2003) describe self awareness as an important indicator of authentic leadership. In order to really be successful and take full advantage of opportunities presented to you, one must be authentic and self aware. Malcolm Gladwell (2008) provided examples such as Bill Gates who is a great example of an authentic leader. In addition, Robert Greenleaf (1970) describes awareness as a disturber and awakener and Goleman, Boyatzis, and McKee (2002) list awareness as one characteristic of resonant leadership.
The implications of the topic of outliers to leaders and leadership are significant. Leaders (and we all are, whether we want to be or not) must realize that there is much more to success than hard work and talent. There are opportunities and other factors that create success. I believe this book has allowed me to reflect on my path to “success.” Are you working hard and being open to the opportunities you have been given? The following tips will help you recognize and take advantage of opportunities in life:
- Develop your foresight skills by learning from lessons of the past.
- Develop relationships with others that will promote opportunities for both parties.
- Work on self awareness skills by engaging in reflection time daily.