I just checked, for the fun of it. And Outliers: The Story of Success, is the second highest non-fiction book on the over-all list of bests sellers on Amazon.com. The Tipping Point, after nearly nine years, is still in the top 50. And his second book, Blink, is still in the top 100. This is one well-read (or at least well-purchased) author.
Outliers has generated a lot of conversation. On his own blog, Gladwell links to a column by David Boooks. In fact, Outliers very much takes the idea of a meritocracy which Brooks wrote about in his Bobos in Paradise, and then says that meritocracy of itself is not sufficient to explain success.
The Wall Street Journal provided a significant ctritique of the book, and even The Onion (in its AV Club) has a terrific article by Donna Howard.
You probably know the essence by now. Athletes born in the first few months of the year have a great advantage. It takes 10,000 hours to get really, really good at anything. Culture really does shape behavior, which is why Korean Air had more plane crashes and Asian culture created behaviors that provide advantages in math. To Gladwell, the story of success is work ethic + other factors, and it is the pursuit of these other factors that intrigues him.
Don’t misunderstand, work ethic still counts for much. In fact, here is my favorite quote from Outliers: “The people at the very top don’t work just harder or even much harder than everyone else. They work much, much harder.” (p. 39).
It is true that Gladwell builds on research and findings from others. He is a great “popularizer,” letting us in on the insights of more original thinkers.
But what explains his enduring appeal? Here are my two thoughts:
1. Malcolm Gladwell is a very curious man. Even a casual look at the titles of his archived New Yorker artices (available on his web site) reveals a great breadth of curiosity. I remember reading that his agreemment with the New Yorker allows him to write about anything that interests him. His curiosity has created a gold mine of wisdom and insight.
2. Malcolm Gladwell is the best story-teller in print. For a non-fiction writer, I know no one who rivals Gladwell as a story-teller. His books are books that I simply can not put down, and Outliers is one of the few non-fiction books that I have read more than once. I realize that I am describing a matter of “taste” — but a whole lot of people share my enthusiasm. Gladwell is a very popular story-teller.
So — if you haven’t read Outliers yet, it is worth a read. (And, yes, my synopsis, with handout and audio, is available at our 15minutebusinessbooks site).
“Here’s a counter-intuitive thought: Shoppers with less information about a product are happier than those with more information.” (from Guy Kawasaki’s blog).
In the old days, an author would write a book. Then, we would read the book. And then, we would wait for the author’s next book.
That was ancient history. Now, the author writes a book, writes a blog, writes about his of her next book on the blog, and we read the blog, the books, and the blog some more.
Some author’s have bad blogs. Others have simply interesting blogs. And some have really useful blogs. Many are worth a few minutes of our time once a week or so, just to see what’s next on their radar.
Here are a few of the blogs I check regulary, all by author’s whose books I have read and presented at the First Friday Book Synopsis. I read Guy Kawasaki’s blog and Seth Godin’s blog regularly. Godin is a blogging machine, writing new stuff every day. Just this week, I remembered one of his earlier posts, found it in his archives, and used it to order something I really needed for my business.
My book selection for the March synopsis, the Four-Hour Workweek, has one of the more entertaining and interesting blogs by an author. Tim Ferris just likes to think differently. He thinks about and writes about a wide, diverse set of subjects. Reading his blog just gets the juices flowing. Chris Anderson, who wrote The Long Tail, keeps teasing us about his next/new book. It is apparently about “free.” I really can’t wait!
And then, when I get a block of time, I tackle my favorite. It is the web site and blog of Malcolm Gladwell, the author of The Tipping Point and Blink. He has all of his New Yorker articles archived (a truly eclectic set of mini-educations), and he blogs in short, but substantial bursts.
We truly live in a world of information overload. A lot of it is just noise. But some of the noise contains great insight, practical suggestions, and challenges to live better. That’ s what life is all about.
(What blogs do you read that we should check out?)