In this book, the author Malcolm Gladwell dissects success to examine two things that influence it – opportunity and legacy. He argues that these factors play a key role in the making of men proclaiming themselves as “self-made men”. The book itself is divided into two parts based on these two factors.
Part 1: Opportunity consists of the following chapters.
- The Matthew Effect:Using the list of hockey players chosen for a particular team, the author introduces and also explains the phenomenon of “accumulative advantage” and it’s impact on success.
- The 10,000-hour rule: With the help of success stories of Bill Joy, the Beatles and Bill Gates, the author attributes your success to the number of hours you practice a particular skill.
- The Trouble with Geniuses: Divided into two parts, the author introduces the concept of concerted cultivation, wherein parents encourage their children to stand up and put forward their views or concerns.
- The Three Lessons of Joe Flom: Taking Joe Flom, a successful attorney, as an example, the author teaches us three lessons.
- The first lesson is the importance of being Jewish. Jews were not offered jobs in old-line Wall Street law firms and hence he specialized in the litigation case these white shoe firm abhorred. Later in the century, these skills were must sought after.
- The second lesson is the demographic luck. Joe Flom was born in the 1930s. After the second World War, it was easier to get into the best schools of NY for this generation because of lower population and less competition.
- The third lesson is the garment factory and meaningful work. Joe Flom’s dad was an immigrant who was also a skilled laborer and became a successful entrepreneur. So, Joe learnt from his dad’s entrepreneurial success.
Part 2: Legacy consists of the following chapters.
- Harlan, Kentucky: Here, a blood feud between two families – the Howards and the Turners – in the Harlan County, Kentucky during the 1800s is used to tell us the effect of your environments on your temperament. You develop a “culture of honor”.
- The Ethnic Theory of Plane Crashes: Your cultural heritage influences the style of communication used by you! This is illustrated airplane crashes by Korean Air. When they understood their limitations because of the cultural heritage, they worked hard to rectify the problem. The results are for everyone to see. Here, the author introduces the concepts of “mitigated speech”, “uncertainty avoidance” and “Power Distance Index”.
- Rice Paddies and Math Tests. Asian are good at math. The author explains why and how legacy comes into the picture!
- Marita’s Bargain:KIPP is a middle school targeting to reduce the “achievement gap” between youngsters from different income groups. Here the author emphasizes on the school system being right! But what happens outside school needs to be addressed.
- A Jamaican Story: In this chapter, Malcom Gladwell examines his legacy starting from his great grandfather’s relationship with a Jamaican slave and his grandmother’s persistence in getting a better education for his mother and aunt.
Through this book, Malcolm delves behind the famous lives to uncover what really takes it to be successful. He attributes it to opportunity and legacy more than the talent. Although, it is very difficult to fully agree with the author, he quotes several examples which can be inspiring for our professional and personal lives.