Outliers: The Story of Success (book review)
Outliers: The Story of Success
By Malcolm Gladwell
Published by Little, Brown and Company, 2008

Reviewed by: Anthony “Tony” Gordon, Gordon Salons and Spas, Highland Park and Chicago, Illinois

What is the best book you’ve recently read?

When I heard Gladwell was writing another book, I found myself waiting impatiently. Like his previous books (The Tipping Point, Blink), Gladwell’s insights about people are mind-bogglingly simple, and yet profound enough to ask, “Why didn’t I think of that.” In this book, he discusses the age-old question of: Where does success come from? I learned that, often, success is just a series of lucky situations; a series of lucky happenings or manipulations that work in favor of people prepared to take advantage of circumstances. Often, the fact that these people were prepared for success was luck as well.

Why do you recommend the book?
It helps open your eyes to the notion that great education and loads of experience are precursors to trends that lead to massive success. Those trends can be demographic, technological, societal shifts, etc.

This book taught me to be grateful for any success. I’ve found that even though I’ve worked very hard over the years, some of my success can be attributed to luck. I’m grateful that I’ve been named a SALON TODAY 200 Salon for seven years in a row. But what if I was slightly younger and was just now ready to open my salons in 2009’s difficult economy? Could I have opened in 2009 as easily as I opened in 2006? Definitely not. In 2006, the banks were giving money to anyone who wanted it. As I’ve said to myself, I may not be the next Horst, Vidal or Mario Triccoci. But I realize now that their success, in addition to their genius, had something to do with luck, maybe a lot of it. Right time, right place, right preparation.

How does this book change the way you look at your business?
The second big takeaway from this book is that it takes 10,000 hours to really become great at doing something. The Beatles performed live in Germany more than 1,200 times by 1964, accruing more than 10,000 hours. Gladwell says that all of the time The Beatles were on stage shaped their talent, so by the time they returned to England they sounded like no one else. This made me think about how long it takes to become a great hair designer. Not just good, but great. No less than 10,000 hours. If you work 2,000 hours a year and you are 70-percent booked, according to Gladwell you should be a great hair designer in approximately seven years.

By then you come across a lot of situations—enough to call yourself an expert. Imagine having all that experience, and as you get to that 10,000-hour number or higher, the blow dryer is invented and becomes popular, and you live and work in one of the greatest hair cities in the world, at the height of the women’s liberation movement. All this comes to pass and Vidal Sassoon goes down in history as being the most influential hair designer of all time.

According to Gladwell, success is an accumulation of forces that just occur. Although Vidal Sassoon is an amazing man, with a meteoric rise to fame, could he have had this rise to fame in Toledo or Peoria or even New York? No! It was a specific time and a specific place, according to Gladwell, not likely to be repeated.


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