I was visiting Buenos Aires for a few weeks. I had two flights lasting more 12 h and took advantage of the time to read a very interesting book. I am no expert on the subject, and the book is written for general public by a reporter. Following what, I think, is a common approach in humanities, the text is structured around case studies of the careers of well-known successful people like Bill Gates and obscure unsuccessful people who had all the features that are usually assumed to lead to success in business, science or arts. The book is very well written and engaging, but in a way that encourages the reader to think and reach his/her own conclusions before the author reveals his own ideas.
The overall message is that the circumstances allow the outliers to achieve success. That because of the way teaching, sports, and other activities are scheduled and organized things as simple as the birth date can constrain in what activities we can be successful in.
The interesting message is that in many cases simple changes to how we select students, teach, etc. could improve the chances for more people to succeed in life. This made me ponder about my own career path and reinforced my view that I am where I am because of taking advantage of the opportunities that came along the way rather than by having had a well defined career plan from the very beginning.
To some extent this book links to the my earlier post on career paths and specialists vs. generalists.
The full reference to “Outliers” is:
Gladwell, Malcolm (2009) Outliers: the story of success. London New York: Penguin Books, 320 pp, ISBN 9780141036250.