Tuesday 12th August 2008
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From Bill Gates to Richard Branson to Warren Buffett, being different from their peers, and proud of it, has served as prime motivation for many of the world's most spectacularly successful people. Turning the conventional wisdom about wealth on its head, The Outsider's Edge reveals the true value and importance of being different.
Reviewed by Paula Cheetham on behalf of Good Returns Bookstore
Having always felt something of an outsider myself the title and cover blurb of this book immediately attracted me. A few words first about the author, Brent Taylor is a New Zealand born professional researcher with an honours degree in psychology. He has always had a keen interest in extreme achievement and to research this book he turned to the ‘Forbes’ rich list. He also read biographies and autobiographies for each person with particular emphasis on their childhoods.
Initially he was just studying the world’s wealthiest people to see if he could identify the single factor that made them successful where others fail. He wasn’t sure there was a single factor or indeed if he would find any particular trait in common. However, by the time he got through his fifth study the ‘outsider’ theme had begun to emerge and by the tenth study it was obvious that this was a common theme. In all he studied seventeen self made billionaires and could not find one who was an exception to the outsider rule. Apparently now, he sees ‘the pattern’ everywhere.
The seventeen billionaires in the book range from the well known, Bill Gates and Oprah Winfrey to the less internationally well known but equally successful, Carl Icahn and John Sperling Some extraordinary and unexpected factors have been revealed explaining why some people become billionaires. All those featured in the book come from very different backgrounds and chose fields as varied as themselves to work in. They have different personalities and were raised in different types of homes with different standards and principles. But the one common trait is that they are all outsiders and this is what gives them their edge. According to Brent Taylor it doesn’t matter how happy you are or how well educated you are or how determined you are it’s whether or not something in your childhood and upbringing made you an outsider.
It could be argued that the book is written to reflect the theory. Certainly all the stories are big on the detail that marks the subjects as outsiders. Some of his conclusions don’t really bear close scrutiny, for example he describes Richard Branson’s mother as a fun- loving air hostess and uses this as his reasoning that Branson went into the airline business in order to impress his mother. It’s a stretch for the imagination. Taylor seems to be fixated on the importance of mothers and they recur throughout the book bearing different degrees of responsibility for their ‘outsider’ offspring.
Leaving that aside there is plenty to interest the reader in the story of each individual’s rise to the top. The way they operate, the deals they made, the gaps in the market they recognised and their ability to cut a deal. One strikingly commonality is that most did not shine academically. They were not unintelligent they just didn’t fit the mould at school.
If the theory of the book is correct there is not much hope for the rest of us. Taylor’s premise is that it was during the years of their childhood, from which they emerged often socially inadequate, suffering from issues and needing to deal with the effect of their mothers, the foundation was laid for their ability to create a fortune. Their social estrangement and alone-ness developed in them a different way of thinking which led to behaviours and strategies that the more conventional of us could not achieve. Everyone’s life is different and we can probably all find in our childhood something that has marked us out in adulthood, but not many of us can parlay that into a billion dollars.
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