Booktips: Outliers, The Story of Success

by Barak Kassar
we shall overcome .. culture. photo by alaskan dude via creative commons
Culture impacts communications in the cockpit… And culture can change.  Photo by “alaskan dude” via creative commons

I really dug Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers: The Story of Success (thanks to my mother-in-law for giving it to me). I’d skimmed Gladwell’s Tipping Point and Blink but really got into this one. No skimming. Actual reading.

Gladwell’s premise is that success comes not just from within ourselves.. our grit, determination, hard work, talent, etc… but also from a gift, often hidden, unseen and unappreciated:  The gift of circumstance.

Gladwell gives loads of great examples. When we were born in history (some clearly statistically significant percentage of the wealthiest people EVER were born within a few years of each other); when we were born in a year (some equally significant percentage of Canadian pro hockey players are born within a few days of each other) … etc.

The culture we come from is one such circumstance. And as an example Gladwell writes of certain plane crashes and how culture impacted communications in the cockpit and led to the crashes.

In one, a Columbian jetliner crashes in New York after running out of  fuel — seemingly (from cockpit transcripts) because the person radioing with the airport was too deferential and indirect in his language with air traffic controllers. He just kind of hinted that they basically had no fuel left.. while air traffic control put them in a long holding pattern.

Some of Gladwell’s circumstances are unchangeable… we’re born when we’re born. That’s the deal.

But others, like how crew communicate in a cockpit, can be changed. He write a lot about Korean Airlines and its radical shift from having a high number of crashes to becoming an extremely safe airline  — after a new executive actively worked on changing the culture in the company and how people communicated in the cockpit.

The book is definately worth a read … it has a section at Gladwell’s website.


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Prior to co-founding BKW (formerly Rassak), Barak served as CEO of INBOXTV, VP Marketing for (acquired by CNET/CBS); and an early marketing manager at Wink Communications (acquired by Liberty Media).

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