Feeling cheated by an education system “too linear and too rigid” to accommodate those who didn’t conform, Robert Kelsey left school with only one O-Level.
But instead of allowing feelings of inadequacy and ignorance to paralyse him, he has gone on to become the owner and CEO of a successful PR agency and a best-selling author too.
Kelsey’s latest book The Outside Edge, sets out to help fellow ‘outsiders’ succeed despite their disadvantages.
The Hackney-based author suggests London is the outsider capital of the world, with Hackney having the city’s highest concentration.
In the book Kelsey argues that spotting an outsider is not a matter of race or gender, but a combination of up to twelve characteristics including sensitivity and cynicism.
However, unlike other social observers, Kelsey denies that being alternative is a prerequisite to success.
“Despite the myth peddled by [Malcolm] Gladwell (and others), the attributes of genuine outsiders are usually highly disabling – with most successful outsiders no more than insiders with an attitude,” he writes.
The book is a manual towards identifying one’s own outsider status and reframing disadvantage or suffering towards success.
Kelsey sees Hackney as a destination for outsiders and argues that “it has managed to stay relevant through all of the changes, from something almost anarchistic to entrepreneurial”.
In particular, he sees the transformation of Shoreditch into a hive of entrepreneurship as a logical mutation of the radicalism that characterised Hackney through the 1970s and 80s.
In his opinion, Hackney has an attitude of ‘anti-collectivism’ – a refusal to conform, and instead maintains a population of fierce individualists.
Frequent references to contemporary culture and popular philosophers make the book’s theory more accessible and engaging.
Above all, Kelsey’s mission is a human one, as he states that an original perspective on the world more often leads to suicide than to conquering the world, “a depressing conclusion that every word in this book is aimed at preventing”.
The Outside Edge is published by Capstone ISBN: 9780857085757 RRP: £9.99