Malcolm Gladwell is a jaunty writer, with a gift for portraying complex cerebral ideas in a very simple and common-sense manner. His first book, The Tipping Point, studied events such as crime waves and fashion trends and settled on an arresting metaphor to explain why they happen. ‘Ideas and products and messages and behaviors spread just like viruses,’ he wrote, suggesting that we contaminate and infect one another with preferences and recommendations until we reach a ‘tipping point’, after which a social epidemic becomes contagious and crosses a threshold to reach saturation point. The tipping point: who does not now use this phrase to describe a moment of definitive transition?
The success of this book led him to write Outliers A Story of Success, in which he asks his readers “What is an outlier?” According to one dictionary definition, an outlier is ‘something that is situated away from or classed differently from a main or related body’. For Gladwell, an outlier is a truly exceptional individual who, in his or her field of expertise, is so superior that he defines his own category of success. Bill Gates is an outlier and so are Steve Jobs of Apple, Robert Oppenheimer, and many others Gladwell speaks to or writes about as he seeks to offer a more complete understanding of success.
The book begs to understand if we in wider society, really believe that outstanding success, in whichever field, is achieved without extraordinary dedication, talent, and fortuitous circumstance? Do we really take no account of the sociopolitical context into which someone was born and through which they emerged when we attempt to quantify outlandish achievement? Do we really believe that genius is simply born rather than formed? Gladwell wants his readers to take away from this book ‘the idea that the values of the world we inhabit and the people we surround ourselves with have a profound effect on who we are’.
It’s fun to follow Gladwell on his meandering intellectual journeys as his case studies are well-chosen, wide-ranging, and he writes with great observation. Both books written by the author are compelling works, seeking to find out how people come to occupy the exalted positions they do along with wonderful ideas to dwell on this lockdown.
Kriti Srivastava, Assistant Professor, School of Fashion Design, Unitedworld Institute of Design (UID)
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