Asian Writers

June is dedicated to authors with ASIAN of books in this category will be posted all month....

Monday, April 20, 2009

Did you fail to succeed? Blame your culture....

So you are not successful as you thought you would be? Go ahead and blame it on your family, friends, ethnicity and God. At least thats what Malcolm Gladwell's in his book "Outliers" suggests.
The book is about what makes an outliers. It’s replete with statistical data and anecdotes that make it an interesting read if one ignores the fact that not all examples cited in this book are outliers (someone who is not just successful but super-successful), the lack of objectivity in the research and Gladwell’s claim that it’s not talent that makes someone a success. Per Gladwell, to be an outlier you need to be born at a particular period in time, be lucky to be born in a family and society that has been blessed with the right cultural and ethnic advantage or disadvantage, and work hard for atleast 10,000 hours. It’s this basic premise that fails to ring a bell for me and the book falls short of delivering.

The book meanders from a community in Pennsylvania to Canadian Hockey to Bill Gates, Chris Langan and then on to the Jewish and Asian communities and finally a chapter dedicated to Gladwell’s own roots. The examples cited in each case is interesting to say the least and Gladwell is a great story teller and he almost manages to convince his readers. Almost, because there is clearly a disjoint between the stories and the reader is left to join the dots, unsuccessfully, and figure out the significance and credibility of some of the incidents mentioned, and also because after a point Gladwell gets repetitive.

While stating the obvious that it’s not mere talent but hard work and luck as well, Gladwell underplays talent to a great degree and stresses on socio-economic reasons, which are often beyond the control of an individual, and to propose that success is not an individual feat but hugely dependent upon luck, IQ, family etc is not a comforting thought. One can’t help but wonder if Gladwell used only that data that bolsters his theory and ignored the many examples that don’t? For example, Sergey Brin the founder of Google was born in 1973 and also happens to be of Jewish origin. He was not born at the right time i.e. 1953-54 nor did he have the historical advantage that was the reason, per Gladwell, for the success of Jews in New York. Yet he is the co-founder of the biggest internet based company in the world today.

Indeed Gladwell has a mesmerizing way of articulating and although one doesn’t feel convinced about Gladwell’s theory yet quite a few of the examples are thought provoking and leave us looking at success in a different light and agreeing with him at some level that it’s not just about talent all the time.