The book leads in with the success of good health in the small, working-class town of Roseto, Pennsylvania. The description of the town is non-distinct. The people living there were neither distinctly fit, athletic, or focused on eating a specifically healthy diet. Some were overweight, while others drank too much or smoked. Yet, there were no known heart conditions of people under the age of 55. To find their secret to good health, extensive medical studies were undertaken. The medical profession discovered nothing overtly measurable. Instead, it was found that the very essence of the town of Roseto was one of community and belonging; it was typical of the Italian town and culture where the townspeople came from over many generations. This social support and sense of well-being acted as a health buffer to the people of Roseto.
Gladwell looks at the diversity among our global interactions and points out that culture needs to be thought of more deeply. He outlines how cultural dictates and sophisticated technology – such as airplanes – can contribute to disasters when misunderstood or poorly addressed. He does this in a chapter on cockpit recordings from black boxes that reveal co-pilots’ passive attempts to warn pilots (the power person) of dangerous situations, like being out of fuel. When the passive language used by the subordinate (co-pilot) is not clear to the pilot (or in many cases, to the air traffic controller) the result is often a plane crash. Many of these crashes happened with great frequency in the 1990s within Asia and South America – cultures that have high power distance and “respectfulness” by subordinates. Cross-cultural training by U.S. pilots reduced this problem. Gladwell points out the need to understand cross-cultural and diverse communication, which can reduce effectiveness and minimize success if not addressed.
The book is provocative and has a wealth of information. It includes: the Beatles, Bill Gates and Microsoft, why Asians have an advantage with numbers and why Jewish garment worker families have produced an astonishing number of doctors and lawyers. Gladwell’s narrative is convincing and logical, with documentation for the skeptical. His research is thorough and teases the mind to know more. I recommend this book to anyone who enjoys surprises with a global vision. The book is a keeper and also makes a great gift for those who want to know more about winners – the outliers in our world.