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An interesting, but incomplete study of super-achievers
on December 17, 2011
In Outliers, Malcolm explores the information he has gathered on what makes people excel. It goes back to the age-old question from psychology - what makes people the way they are - their genetic or the environment - and the answer is both and much more.
I couldn't help but remember a study mentioned once by Tonny Robbins, in which motivational researchers asked two brothers, one of whom has become a successful business man, and the other man alcoholic - both had a father who was an alcoholic, and both man gave the same answer "What else could I become with a father like that." This too may be simplistic, because we really don't have information about how they were individually treated, or any other events in their lives that influenced them to think and act in ways that shaped their life path.
Malcolm begins with a story about a specific group of early Italian settlers in America, who despite of being overweight and eating unhealthy food, lack of exercise, smoking and other unhealthy habits, had much longer lives and better health than average Americans. Apparently the key element that made their bodies and immune system resilient is that they lived with a sense of belonging to the close-knit community where they deeply cared for each other.
Malcolm then proceeds with the study cases of people involved in music, sports, computers and other areas of human achievement and the conclusion is that while talent is most-certainly helpful, regardless of what talent one may have, nothing beats good old hard work. Frankly speaking, this is no groundbreaking revelation, and if you're looking for any self-help tips that you may get from this book related to what you can do to make the most out of your life, just remember the old adage - "follow your passion and be willing to roll up your sleeves and get your fingers dirty". If you want to know how many hours you need to put into your work to become a world class expert in anything - the magic number is 10,000 hours, which roughly translates into about 10 years if you're working on developing your skills 20 hours a week, 5 years if you're investing 40 hours a week, and perhaps 2.5 years if you are truly madly and deeply passionate about what you're doing and work at it 80 hours a week.
Malcolm then continues that just because you're following your willing to follow your passion and work hard, that doesn't guarantee you'll succeed unless you have an opportunity. Here though he brings up the element of upbringing, where the super-achievers he picked grew up in supportive environments that enabled them to put them into what they were passionate about. This is true up to a point - it was true for Bill Gates or for Mozart, and for all practical intents or purposes, none of us will become either Bill Gates or Mozart, but each of us do have our own talents and abilities, our passions which we can develop if we are willing to put in the hours to develop them, and more importantly, from my experience, whether the opportunity is there or not - successful people create the opportunities even if they had none. I like to think of North America as a "land of opportunity" and when I compare the opportunities for success here to those in let's say Eastern Europe and never mind other impoverished countries in the world - everyone in North America should be wildly successful, but they are not. And there are many of those who grew up in environments where they didn't have much opportunity to follow their passions and talents who came to North America and created more successful lives than those who grew up in the "land of opportunity". Thomas Stanley explores countless stories of self-made millionaire in his book "The Millionaire next door". These guys started from scratch. They adopted habits, a lifestyle that enabled them to make something out of their lives.
And then there's a famous Viktor Frankl's, a Holocaust survivor, who escaped from a concentration camp, and who described his experience in the book "In Search of meaning". It's not that the opportunity landed in his lap - he created it. And on that note, I would like to mention another characteristic of exceptional people that is not mentioned in the book Outliers. The characteristic may be an offshoot of passions, but it's having the guts to follow your heart, to do what you feel driven to do even if everyone else in the world thinks that you're crazy or that what you want may be impossible.
It may be very interesting to read stories about the upbringing of people who had something you didn't have, but it doesn't really have any practical value - unless, perhaps you were to work with your subconscious and re-imprint your mind with all those experiences and with all that nurturing and support that would've made a dramatic change in your life, but was missing from your life while you were growing up. Dr. Milton Erickson describes one case at great length in his book "The February Man". Then again, hypnosis and NLP techniques for boosting one's potential and filling the gaps, are not the topic covered in this book, and may or may not be your cup of tea.
If you are interested in modeling excellence, a more practical book would be Robert Dilts' "Strategies of Genius." Actually, there are 3 volumes.
The next topic covered in this book is the influence of one's IQ upon the success. While the information provided points in the direction that one's IQ is important up to a certain point and it makes no more difference in terms of one's success in life - this issue brings to my mind the question of different kinds of IQ, of different kinds of intelligences required to excel in different areas of life, which then leads me back to the basic question of what is Malcolm's definition of "success" - since his book is a book about "success". For some people it may be excelling in one particular area of life, while for others it may be living a fulfilling and purposeful life, and perhaps excelling in the experience of inner peace, love, joy and happiness. Or is success here measured more by how many hearts, minds or lives you manage to stir and influence with your life ...