The Story of Success

“Why Do Some People Succeed Far More Than Others?”

Malcolm Gladwell explores "success" in

OUTLIERS – The Story of Success

If you enjoyed Gladwell’s previous best sellers The Tipping Point and Blink, you will find his newest best seller OUTLIERS to be a great read – especially if you are involved in a family business.

“In my studies of family businesses, I have long been impressed by what causes family business entrepreneurs to launch a family business – and then go on to make the business successful, even generational,” notes top family business expert Don Schwerzler “There are the obvious factors – discovery of a niche market, process innovations, new inventions, technical skills, perseverance, long hours, hard work – and some good luck!” notes Schwerzler. “But given all of those factors, only about 30 % of family businesses successfully transition to the second generation; about 12% to the third generation; and only about 3% make it to the fourth generation.”

Schwerzler has been studying and advising family businesses for more than 40 years and he is the founder of the Family Business Institute. OUTLIERS is a fascinating book about success – not so much about a person’s innate abilility or intelligence – but taking a look at the broader set of circumstances that influence and impact “success”. The influence of family, environment, culture – and what we refer to as the “serendipity factor” when we are working with our family business clients.

In statistics, an “outlier” is an observation that is numerically distant from the rest of the data – an anomoly.

Gladwell uses the word to present a new and different way of looking at what makes people successful – in “terms of generation, family, culture and class.” Some interesting questions asked and answered in OUTLIERS:

  • What is the key factor in being a successful hockey player in Canada?
  • Why do Asian kids do better at math than any other ethnic group?
  • Why were there so many “Hatfield - McCoy” types of bloody family feuds in Appalachia and not in other parts of the country?
  • Why is 10,000 such an important number?

One of the stories presented in OUTLIERS has to do with “mitigated speech,” a term used by linguists to note differential speech patterns – not only what we say but how we say it… or not!

According to Schwerzler, “Within the context of a family business, “mitigated speech” is a huge factor as to why so many family businesses have destructive communication issues in both the family and in the family’s business.”

Wikipedia – Speech Mitigation

The term was recently popularized by Malcolm Gladwell in his book, Outliers, where he defines mitigated speech as "any attempt to downplay or sugarcoat the meaning of what is being said"[5]. He continues with reference to Fischer and Orasanu [6], to describe 6 degrees of mitigation with which we make suggestions to authority:

1. Command – “Strategy X is going to be implemented”

2. Team Obligation Statement – “We need to try strategy X”

3. Team Suggestion – “Why don’t we try strategy X”

4. Query – “Do you think strategy X would help us in this situation?”

5. Preference – “Perhaps we should take a look at one of these Y alternatives”

6. Hint – “I wonder if we could run into any roadblocks on our current course”

Gladwell brings up the concept in the context of how crews relate to each other in the cockpit of a commercial airliner, graphically illustrating the degree to which mitigated speech can be detrimental in high risk situations which require clear communication.

We recommend OUTLIERS to anyone interested in gaining a better understanding of the obvious and not so obvious factors that shape the ecology for “success”!

Do you have questions about your Family Business?
Don't have the answers - don't know who to ask?
It's FREE to

Contact the


Reply within 48 hours.


Chaos Busters - The Management Guide

Identifies 160 Key Business Questions

  • 160 Key Business Questions will stimulate creativity and innovation for your entire management team!

  • 160 Key Business Questions are the keys to unlock the hidden potential of your organization!

  • 160 Key Business Questions will save you time and make your work more effective!

  • 160 Key Business Questions is a Multi-purpose tool with unlimited applications!


How Well Organized is YOUR Organization?

Your Business Will Succeed...


You have The Roadmap for Success

That's What

The Practitioner's Guide for Organizing an Organization
Is All About

  • PGOO shows how to identify the most pressing problems to solve
  • PGOO introduces the ODS-OL (Organizational Diagnostic Survey –Online) - an electronic assessment tool that is highly effective, easy to use, systematic and data-based
  • PGOO explains how to produce a better-organized organization

Family Business Experts Understands
Family Values
and Business Systems

Return from Outliers to
Family Business Experts Home Page