Gå till innehåll

Book review of Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell. Sketchnote attached.

Just finshed reading another great book. This time the famous piece Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell.

An outlier is defined as

1. something that is situated away from or is classed differently from a main or related body

2. a statistical observation that is markedly different in value from the others of the sample

Why do some people achieve so much more than other? Malcolm has done extensive research on the subject, there are ample references in the book.

It is often said that behaind every great man there is a great woman, if we generalize it more it is true that no man/woman make it all on their own. Support from family, friends, business partners or others are nescessary in order to have the energy to keep going.

Another important factor is timing. Beeing born in january means you have an advantage when junior sports teams are picked, that advantage means you are a bit better than the people born later the same year. Given that extra advantage you get picked and thus have oppurtunity to increase that differnce since you get more practice time and better coaching. It is a self-fulfilling prophesy!

You cerainly have an advantage if yu have talent, but you only go so far using only that. Talent helps you getting selected but then there are others that are equally talented. If you have a really low IQ yuo do have a disadvantage, however if you have enough brains to score above 115 it stops making that much of a difference. You just have to be good enough!

High IQ will not help you if you totally lack the social skills to communicate with the rest of the world. There are lots of tales told about really smart (high IQ) people that do not make it!  Growing up in a supportive environment, given the chance to develop and beeing encouraged to trying things will give you a significant advantage.

Outliers Sketchnote
Outliers Sketchnote


But I am a self-made man. Sorry but that seems to be only one part of the equation. If you have some luck beeing born at the right time in the right family and several things coincide to give you an opportunity and then you DO take hat opportunity and work hard - THEN you are destined to make it big. Because without hard work, I mean really hard, you are destined to become just average.

Hard work is however a crucial part of becoming an outlier. Far from all hard working people succeed but it would be pretty safe to say that those that DO succeed all have worked really hard. If you put 10 000 hours into what you do - you will eventually become really good at what you do!

Actually this last part is where I lack some additional research. What about the quality of those 10 000 hours? The importance of getting instructions and feedback? Well, maybe that is the content of future book.

In all, this is a joy to read, could hardly put the book down until it was finished. it seem to be thoroughly researched and I DO like it when somebody questions what people think is common knowledge when there turns out to be a different explanation. I am more inspired than ever tu burn down my 10 000 hours in visual problem solving! Waiting for David and Goliat to arrive in my mailbox shortly.


Have a look at a sketchnote review of the book Fish.
Fish sketchnote
Fish sketchnote


If you think that your workplace really sucks. Find inspiration to change it in this litle nugget of a book.

I feel that what is told in the book are things that I already knew. But that is the case with a lot of the good stuff I read.

The book is short and very readable. It made me laugh and shed a tear. Management book told as a Hollywood story - with a happy ending. In the french translation of the book they first have sex and then all die... just kidding.

One of the central points in Start with Why - earlier reviewed - is to make the customer happy, another to make employees happy. When that is done (not so easy) you will reap the monetary profits you so much want!

I think the sketchnote says most of what I got from reading it, no more text today.

From the beginning Agile has felt very developer-centered. Some major questions regarding the new roles of requirements, design and testers have been discussed as we are trying to find useful ways of working together. My experience with agile projects so far has been very differentiated. The key success factors for the projects I have been in are: working together, sitting together, delivering working functions every sprint, close collaboration with the users, developers that understand the idea of good enough coding and foremost the team spirit of doing things together. Unfortunately many so called agile projects still seem to be completely unaware of the core values of Agile - requirement analysts only changed their templates and now try to write complete requirements in a user story format - forgetting that every story is a promise of a conversation, interaction design and usability is regarded as cosmetics and therefore less important by project managers that think that everyone can design and developers that focus on the beauty of their code. this rant could go on ...

It is therefore very encouraging to dive into the book Lean UX by Jeff Gothelf and Josh Seiden which I think focus very much of the important core values of SW development namely to solve real problems for real customers by constant iteration and feedback. Here the interaction designers have given a lot of thought of how they can be of the best help for the team effort. This requires a mind-set where no heroes are allowed in the fairly common manner that one person comes in temporarily, solves a problem and then leaves. Instead the interaction designer is part of the team and acts more like a facilitator for the design effort. Certainly the skills and knowledge are used but more in a collaboratve way saying - I have a suggestion on how to solve this, let me show show you and then YOU can give your input so that we end up with a design that is accepted by all!

The pillars of Lean UX

The authors refer to three core processes that together support Lean UX. These are the Lean startup, agile development and design thinking. I have a hard time making a clear distincion between them as they share a lot of common ground. They are all highly iterative, focus on business value and collaboration. There are some core values of each that are emphasized for each core process.

  • Lean Startup - we have an idea of what we want to build. This must solve some form of existing problem. Instead of spending loads of cash on building something we make an MVP - minimum viable product. It is iportant that the product is not only minimal but also viable - it is NOT about creating something crappy - rather to test a hypothesis we have.
  • Agile development: working in small, collocated teams with much interaction with the customer, delivering working software in small increments that each focus on outcome - solving real problems.
  • Design thinking: focus on solving prolems by suggesting solutions. Requires a user interface. We have an idea of what is the problem and design something that we think will solve it - then go out and get feedback from users. Analyse and then redesign and the process starts over.


The Lean UX process



Start by trying to understand what the problem is, make assumptions on what we need to solve. Then suggest ways of solving this by creating one or more prototypes. Also write down what signals you can get in order to validate or invalidate your assumptions.

In the beginning your prototype may be handdrawn on paper, later interactive in Balsamiq and to get close to reality a coded prototype maybe even with some real data in it. The important thing is that you have an MVP that actually works for getting feedback.

Now run experiments. This can be in the form of a landing page, a structured usability test, interviews, site analytics and more. The important thing is to know what you need to find out and to run experiments so those questions can be answered.

What Else?

There is a description of how to create and maintain a style guide which is good info for interaction designers. The book ends with how to integrate with agile and make organisational shifts.

My Own Reflections 

I feel that the message here is pretty clear and along the same lines that I am already thinking. The main points I take with me is to let the design drive the project even earlier on. I have been mostly focused on impact mapping. Prototyping like this may very well be a much better way than to start writing requirements for the GUI -parts. I have decided do learn how to make interactive prototypes in Balsamiq and maybe in Powerpoint as well.

It is a fairly easy read and I specifically like the strong focus on solving real problems together with the users. It is definetly time for the UX movement to take more place in our often dysfunctional projects.

A couple of weeks ago my colleague Mattias Nordin sent me a link to Simon Sineks TED talk Start with why. Since I am undergoing a slight shifting of careers at the moment - trying to figure out what I really want to do has occupied my mind for quite some time now. Taking a different angle to the question I decided to figure out WHY I want to do whatever I do. That question turned out to be fairly easy to answer.

I have a vision that the IT-systems I help build have smiling and content users. I want to spend my time making useful great tools instead of systems that make users swear, cry and feel bad!

Contrary to what would be reasonable to think - focus is still - in 2014 - very often more on single functions than actually solving a user´s need! Anyhow, the Ted talk inspired me enough to buy the book Start With Why which I spent the last few days reading and reflecting over. Here's a review:

Carrots and Sticks

For short term effects, manipulation in the form of price, promotions, peer pressure, fear, aspiration or novelty often works fine. You can get someone to buy your product or idea once. In order to buy the same thing repeatedly you have to repeat you carrot or stick procedure which becomes costly in the long run. Short term motivators does not build loyaly or repeat customers but works temporarily.

Carrot, not sure of what the stick would look like?

How the brain works

Your brain as well as mine work according to the laws of biology. The limbic brain is the center of feelings and also for decision making. Our neo-cortex is the center of reasoning, language and structured thinking. So the decisions we make are based on the feelings we have, not on the facts. We often try to rationalise our choices after they are made by claiming a structured decision process. The truth is probably closer to what Jerry Weinberg says (can't find the source at the moment, so much to choose from) - that "we make decisions not based on the facts but on what we feel about the facts" . That is also why we have a hard time putting words to our feelings, they reside in different places.

Another reflection is that if we all acted rationally all of the time - there would be no innovation, exploration or small companies. We need to act on feelings and inspiration in order to create something new. We most likely need some structure and rational thinking to make it work in the end.

Why, How and What - the Model


The top of the cone represents WHY. We need clarity on why a business is doing what it does, what are the dreams of thinkers like Martin Luther King and Mahatma Gandhi. Why did the do what they did? When we feel that our own felings resonate with the message given then we are willing to join, buy or offer our help. There are ample references in the book to Apple who according to the author are extremely successful in communicating and living their why. Their message could be something like this

Everything we do, we believe in challenging the status quo. We believe in thinking differently. The way we do this is by making our products beautifylly designed, simple to use and user friendly. We happen to make great computers,. Wanna buy one?  (p 41)

The clue is the first two sentences where we find the why part. This is symbolized in the Apple case by Steve Jobs who made sure all employees and all buyers clearly understood Apples WHY.

The middle layer in the cone represents the how. This can be routines for doing things, having discipline and creating models. In order to have a fully functioning organisation we need some good HOW people.

The bottom layer is where it all happens. The WHAT part is what is usually easiest to identify - we build systems or computers. If all the people working here clearly understands the Why and the How - your company stand a much better chance of beeing successful!

Long-Term Success

The point Simon makes is that if we want to build loyalty with customers, employees or followers in general we have to know our own WHY and we also have to communicate it clearly.

A large part of the book is spent on discussing highly successful businesses as Apple, Southwest Airlines, Wal-Mart and Starbucks. As long as these companies knew and followed their Why - they were successful. When their great leaders quit and Why got fuzzy or disappeared then the profitability and success diminished rapidly. I have seen the same thing happening over and over again when smaller It-companies with a strong sense of Why and loyal employees are bought by IT-giants and their sense of Why is replaced by profitability calculated in numbers. This has the effect that profits become lower and employees are unhappy and the inevitable happens - customers are becoming unhappy as well.

So in order to make a profit you have to start with happy and well performing employees that share the Why of the leader, that in turn means that your customers will be happier when they are served by loyal and motivated people. As a reward you will get a profit! Try to do it the other way around and focus on profit - employees will be unhappy and treat customers worse...yes, as you guessed, profits diminish. Ths seems to be the dominating business model of today.

My Reflections on The Book

I think it was a fairly easy read although a bit repeatable in some parts. It was interesting to dig a bit deeper into Simons message which I by now totally buy - not for his sake but for my own. He inspires me to inspire others. I guess he started with Why!

A lot of the same ideas can be found in Ricardo Semlers thoughts - making sure everyone knows why they are working and using the power if the individual. The Toyota Way to Lean Leadership also has valid points along the same lines. A clear why and a wish to serve the world paired with respect for the individual.

I think the impact mapping technique is very well aligned with this book as well as the Lean UX movement. They both focus on WHY we are building something - we want to solve a real user´s real problem. A pretty good why to start with I think.

So do I recommend the book? Yup, start with the TED Talk and then read the book to dig deeper. Then spread the message if you feel inspired to do so.