After seeing Malcolm Gladwell speak at a conference earlier this month, I was eagerly awaiting the release of his book, Outliers: The Story of Success (amazon link). I tore through this book in a manner of hours - Gladwell is so good at pulling the reader in with interesting anecdotes, then illuminating his observations. The style of this book is similar to previous bestsellers The Tipping Point and Blink. Outliers takes us on an examination of successful people in our modern world. It challenges the idea that we, as a culture, are "good" at finding and fostering human potential. In fact, there are so many barriers - both accidental and intentional - that it is surprising to find highly successful individuals in our society at all.
Gladwell observes that in the cases of these exceptionally successful people, there were both a set of circumstances and people in their lives that enabled their success. To some degree, he discards the notion of inate "talent" being the key to success. In fact, less "talented" people who are in an environment where they can work and be rewarded are more likely to succeed.
The big takeaway that I see (and that Gladwell highlighted in his live speech), is that in order to move forward and have a sense of fulfillment in life, people must have an opportunity to do "meaningful work." Environmental and economic barriers that prevent people from feeling that control and satisfaction will indeed prevent them from having success. Whether the meaning in their work is simple personal achievement, or part of a larger effort to improve the world - it does not matter - a person can become exceptional when they put their mind and soul into something.
The part of this book that impacted me most profoundly was the last section about educational opportunity. It made me want to go open a school - really. Untapped academic potential in the youngest members of our society, particularly in the poorer communities of the U.S., is an unbelievably rich resource. Here is an opportunity to improve the lives of young people, and ultimately the world. These are very big ideas, indeed.