Outliers: The Story of Success by Malcom Gladwell

Whenever people find great success and become millonaires like Bill Gates, legendary musicans like the Beatles or shape the future of the world like J. Robert Oppenheimer the story told is one of the person’s great hardships, impeccable skills and inherent intelligence, making us being fascinated of these people’s skills and success. What Gladwell analyses however, is whether these fairytales of success and self-made millionaires are really true, in that they did it all by themselfes.

What Gladwell presents is a convincing account on how circumstances, luck and legacy factor into the success of individuals. Without the right time, place, access to resources, opportunity and family background, these successes would not have happened.

Gladwell’s analyses the circumstances of each respective background and discribes, that without advantages, may those be unlimited access to computers in a time when those were rare, opportunities to play live to an audience 8 hours a day, having personal connections to people of influence, or simply being born in the right year or month.

He states that via 10.000 hours of training, his “10.000 hour rule”, one can master pretty much anything. Therefor, the earlier you start learning a specific skill, the younger you are at the time of it’s mastery. Without unlimited access to then rare and expensive computers, Bill Gates wouldn’t have been able to become profficient at programming at a young age and without plaing 8 hours a day for months on end in Hamburg, the Beatles wouldn’t have become the legends they are today.

Therefor, no mastery without the necessary training and circumstances.
Gladwell, as with most his other books, makes an intriguing case, that fairytales of solely self-made success are just that, fairytales. I found this book quick and easy to read and interesting throuout. Recommended, if you are interested in the content.

Shoe Dog by Phil Knight

Shoe Dog is the much talked about memoir of Nike founder Phil Knight. In all honesty, until I read rave reviews of this book, it wasn’t even on my radar. I know the brand Nike (of course), but never cared much about the companies’ history or founder.
Still, I must say I am glad I picked it up.

Knight starts his tale with a journey around the globe and his first meeting with the Japanese company Onitsuka, who’s Tiger shoes Knight started to sell in the US before there ever were any Nike. While Knight describes his companies journey until it’s first public offering in 1980, this book doesn’t tell the story of Nike, but the story of Phil Knight.
It is a story of Knight’s struggling for identity and meaning, his need to make his father proud, to leave his mark on this world, of companionship, first love and the tragic death of his eldest son.
At times, it reads like a thriller, with Knight struggling to keep the company afloat and him fighting a federal investigation. Other times it’s like a romance novel, as when tells of his first meeting of his future wife.
But first and foremost, Knight is a philosophe, in search for meaning.

What I found the most remarkable, is Knight’s ability, to create a rag-tag motley crew of co-workers and confidants, based on their individual merit, skills and personality and less so on their formal education and agreeableness. Without his band of brothers, his company wouldn’t have become what it is today, as his skill to amass capable people and giving them the room to become the best they can be, via his hands-off approach to leadership, is the real secret to Nike’s success.

His memoir is simply stunning. The way he presents the events of his past and describes the people he met on his journey, are masterfully coloured. I hope, one day he writes a second book. Wholeheartedly recommended.

Malcolm Gladwell – David and Goliath

Why did I choose to read the book?

After having heard and read a wide range of opinions on Malcom Gladwell’s books (especially Thiel’s name-dropping in his book Zero to One), I decided to start with one of his earlier books.

What is it about?

The legendary eponymous adversaries. Small, lean, quick and witty David, slayed the big, slow and unprepared Goliath, a biblical story used to explain many circumstances of how an underdog rose up to prominence to overthrow the established competition, which has fascinated popular culture for centuries (or maybe even millenia). What Gladwell asks though, is this really true? Is the underdog always the small David, and the established competition always the enormous Goliath? Also, how did David, but a small and insignificant Shepard, find the courage to stand against the perceived overwhelming odds? Gladwell seeks to answer the question, why people become exceptional and what their experiences have been like, to shape them into the people they become.

How did I like the book?

While it started quite slow, with a retelling of the ancient myth and some historical analysis of the story, the book swiftly picked up its pace. Especially memorable were his explanations how misconceived some public beliefs are. Also jarring were his ideas about extremes. Its more often than not just as bad to have too much, as it is to have too little. Too much money for example can lead to new discomforts different or maybe even similar to those that originate from too little or lack thereof. Most fascinating though, were his ideas of how Davids are created. Disadvantages can lead people to do extraordinary things to overcome them and trauma can make people more resilient. Overall, this book does quite a feat in showing how people have and do overcome the unthinkable.

Viktor Mayer-Schönberger & Kenneth Cukier – Big Data: A Revolution That Will Transform How We Live, Work and Think

Why did I choose to read the book?

Big Data, one of the big buzzwords and game changers of our generation. Though I thought I know what it is, what it meant, its applications etc. I still wanted to know more, hence, this book.

What is it about?

Via a high level approach, this book gives laymen the chance to understand the history, current usage and potential future of big data. It tells the story of how mankind used and still uses sampling by hypothesis (and thereby biased) to be able to manage vast amounts of data, as we were not able to analyse all data at once. Now, with big data mining, we can do just that, analyse all data, n = all. Big data companies, such as Google, Facebook, Amazon, LinkedIn and the like, use their collected data to build new services and to learn new things about our world, our behaviours and how to identify patterns. Due to the vast amounts of data being collected (especially considering the rise of the Internet of Things – IoT), the quality of data is not as important, as patterns and conclusions can still be derived. What has to be kept in mind, when working with big data, is that big data delivers correlations, not causality. Correlations are derived from recognized patterns, answering what, but missing to answer the question of why.

How did I like the book?

Awesome book. I found it to be the perfect choice to deliver on what I set out to learn about big data. The book keeps the high level approach throughout, without going into too much detail. Perfect read, if you want to learn what the buzz is all about and you want to be able to join the conversation on this topic.

Susan Cane – Quiet

Why did I choose to read the book?

I really liked Susan Canes TED conference, which I watched some time ago and made me decide to read her book. Also, I have a negative bias on introversion, which I hope this book will prove wrong.

What is it about?

Susan Cane is an introvert in the USA, the most extraverted culture in the world. Her book describes, how extraversion became the american social norm and how a lack of this personality trait can thwart your professional success. She describes the history of extro- and introversion and how today most US leaders specifically those, which graduated Harvard are extroverts. For the most part though, she centers on the virtues of introversion, of how being shy, non-impulsive, creative thinkers have shaped our world and how a focus on one specific trait can but simply be wrong.

How did I like the book?

It certainly did the trick. I too am subject to the negative bias on introversion, as I too believe only those which are loud and possess a powerful outgoing presence can be successful. The insight and historical background given by this book are amazing, especially the comparison between the US (culturally extraverted) and China (culturally introverted) was quite fascinating. Which was great as well were the insights given on how to recharge energy in your comfort zone, while still being bold and outgoing when necessity arrives. Overall, this book gives quite some food for thought, as to how important introverted people are to our society as a whole, though I found it slipping in the last third, when it focused on how to treat introverts properly, which I felt was mostly unnecessary.

Peter Thiel – Zero to One

Why did I choose to read the book?

Thiel via his serial entrepreneurship, creating Paypal and investing in Facebook early has become a venture capital celebrity of silicon valley, a VC rock star so to speak. With him being an interesting personality as well, I always wondered what he thought like and what his methods and presumptions to business are.

What is it about?

Thiel presents a lot of unconventional wisdom, amassed during his years of activity in entrepreneurship and venture capital investment and in this book describes how, in his opinion, a lot of common beliefs, are false assumptions.

The eponymous Zero to One describes the following

Go from zero to one by doing new things, as in innovate and distinguish by creating new products and technologies. Focus on people and usage, not on competition.

Do not go from one to N by copying things that work already, as in copy something which already exists and streamline or globalise it.

According to Thiel, innovation will always lead to grater success, than sheer coping or streamlining.

How did I like the book?

Let’s start with an analogy which I really liked and believe to be true:

ZERO TO ONE every moment in business happens only once. The next Bill Gates will not build an operating system. The next Larry Page or Sergey Brin won’t make a search engine. And the next Mark Zuckerberg won’t create a social network. If you are copying these guys, you aren’t learning from them. – Peter Thiel

Thiel proves himself to be quite insightful in a lot of areas. Especially his thoughts on competition and the need to focus on the new, not the path well trodden, to escape said competition and become a monopoly were very interesting. Other insight, e.g. the need for long-term planning, even in start-ups or the need for entrepreneurs to start in small markets before diversifying or scaling to neighbouring markets were great insight as well. Overall, this book represents Thiel’s opinions, experiences and best-practices for entrepreneurs and venture capitalists as well as other interested parties, while not being very academic, the book supports questioning conventional belief (which I wholly support) and provides a lot of high quality food for further thought.

Seth Godin – We Are All Weird

Why did I choose to read the book?

After having read All Marketeers are Liars, which I liked quite a bit, another of Godin’s books was in order.

What is it about?

Godin proclaims the end of mass marketing. Mass marketing is no more, the times when buying TV ads and billboards was enough, is over. The internet has splintered consumer groups into tribes, each with their own interests and abundance of living necessities has made the developed world rich, which means, people have all they need and now buy stuff they want, which is often quite weird. This has led to individualistic interests and thereby products, not covered my mass production and catered to fans / fanatics / individualists / the weird may it be old-school iPad compatible typewriters or audio cable covered in gold. Godin explains his concept of weird marketing and how to turn these tribes into customers.

How did I like the book?

Quite fun. Godin is again proving to be a master storyteller, which made the book an easy and quick read. While the books content in my opinion, holds true and was presented clever enough, I also felt it to be a bit esoteric. I wholeheartedly agree on his assessment, that the internet has splintered interest groups into tribes (some small, some big) I am not sure whether businesses focusing on these (often volatile) tribes can be profitable for long, then again, I have seen some strive in their respective niches. Quite interesting food for thought for sure.