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 ...
on December 3, 2008
In short, Mr. Gladwell's writing--his earnestness, optimism, and persuasiveness--never ceases to impress me.
He broke down trends like no one else in The Tipping Point, and was single-handedly the most convincing voice for trusting your gut reactions (in an age of numbers, facts, and analysis no less) in Blink; this guy knows how to research, and better yet, put the nuggets of wisdom he's found in psychology and science into terrifically engaging and palatable text.
And the most amazing thing is, I don't think he's doing anything new--it's the way he presents it. Where most people could do similar research into his topics and write up their own findings and support already existing and accepted thought, Malcolm succeeds because he looks at it from outside the box. He's not doing much, but he does it so well--he turns things on their head, or reveals things that sit in plain view to us, because we mostly can't see the forest for the trees.
He puts this to high form again in his latest book, and the premise is as provocative and unconventional as his previous efforts, if not more so: he argues that a person's success has much to do with such things as luck (circumstance, fortuitous or unlikely events), culture, environment growing up, and of course, practice. The last point is not terribly groundbreaking, but the rest flies in the face of what we typically credit a successful individual for. Because let's be frank, in today's era, we all strive very hard for equality and to look past a person's background or upbringing (and don't get me wrong, I support that fully), emphasizing the fact that it doesn't matter who you are or where you came from, we can all achieve great things. Turning things on their head as he does, the author takes a step back and argues that these things DO matter.
Influential people today are sometimes paid extravagant sums to tour and speak of leadership, and we see them as charismatic, pioneering folks. Nothing wrong with that, but Mr. Gladwell digs deeper, and presents convincing cases where simply what happened to someone in their lives could almost be said to predispose them to success. Bill Gates is a fascinating example he explores--the world's richest man, he's a successful figure most will not attribute a great deal of charisma to, but he got there somehow. The how of it is eye-opening stuff.
It may please many fellow Canadians when I mention the part where he looks at an NHLer's success in the league; call me biased, but it was another favourite anecdote in a book full of insights. As a prime example of what I think he does so well--revealing what's staring at us in the face all along by looking at things another way--he attributes the great successes to something as simple as birth months. He found a disproportionally large number of elite players born in January, February, and March--why is that so? You'll have to read it to find out, and it elicits one of those reactions commonly encountered in all his books: a slapped forehead, an exclamation of, "Why didn't I think of that??", and then rushing off to tell the nearest person this newest, coolest tidbit of information.
And you'll do that with this book just like with his previous two. You'll read a section of it, and feel the urge and need to share it with others because of how honestly interesting it is. In Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell demonstrates again why he is one of today's most celebrated and influential voices in non-fiction; already, I eagerly await his next book!
Early advantages plus talent plus lots of practice plus a good social heritage plus a large opportunity help people succeed. That's this book in a nutshell as described in a series of New Yorker style articles. As told, the story is much more entertaining than that, but I want you to get the essence. Mr. Gladwell knows how to pick and spin a story to make it appealing and intriguing, and he has done well on those dimensions here.
The book will inspire people to want to help others accomplish more. Any parent, any teacher, any coach, or anyone interested in improving society will find something stimulating here.
Let me give you a quick overview:
1. Mr. Gladwell draws his inspiration for this book from the studies of Roseto, Pennsylvania by Dr. Stewart Wolf and sociologist John Bruhn that established how social factors can improve or harm health. Mr. Gladwell wants to similarly expand our vision of what affects success beyond the sense that "raw talent" and "privilege" help.
2. Mr. Gladwell uses the birth dates of athletes to establish that annual cutoff dates for teams benefit those born closer to the cutoff date. This principle also affects school children. As a result, the older children in a cohort do better and get more attention. Mr. Gladwell proposes having more anniversary dates so that more youngsters will get early access to help and attention.
3. Mr. Gladwell tells us the background of Bill Joy, one of the great computer programming geniuses of all time. In the story, he points out that mastery of most disciplines requires 10,000 hours of practice. Mr. Joy got that practice at a young age because he had access to time sharing on a mainframe when most programmers didn't. The practice point is buttressed by a study of violinists that correlates how much they practiced to their ultimate success. Then, Mr. Gladwell pulls in the Beatles and Bill Gates as examples to support his point. He also looks at the frequency of accumulating large wealth to notice it is concentrated in one time period in one country.
4. From there, he gives us the sad story of a genius who hasn't been able to use his life for very much other than to win on a television game show, Christopher Langan. Mr. Gladwell goes on to argue that you have to be talented enough to succeed, but that talent level falls far below the genius level.
5. Mr. Gladwell next points out that parenting matters. Mr. Langan had little help there, but many privileged youngsters get enormous assistance which provides direct help and makes them more assertive.
6. Joe Flom is profiled next to describe his background before becoming the head of a major New York Law firm, Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher and Flom. Great emphasis is placed on his being Jewish, so he couldn't work in the "white shoe" firms that didn't want to get their hands dirty with hostile takeovers; being born when takeover lawyers could do well; and being born into a family with a social heritage of prospering in the garment trade (a very exacting business that rewarded hard work and attention to detail).
7. Mr. Gladwell expands on the idea of a sociological legacy in part two, beginning with the apparent roots of Southern family feuds (think of the Hatfields and the McCoys). He next takes a look at how such social patterns appear to have affected airline safety (with a close look at Korean Air and an Avianca plane that crashed when it ran out of fuel). He then jumps across the globe to argue that the Chinese language's structure of words that involve numbers and the work involved in cultivating rice explain the advantages that many Southern Chinese students have in math over students in other parts of the world.
8. The story moves into its prescriptive stage in describing the results of an experimental public school in the South Bronx that helped youngsters get the structure and discipline they need to succeed . . . with very good results.
9. The book concludes with a look at Mr. Gladwell's Jamaican roots and how those contributed to his success.
Mr. Gladwell is such a provocative and intriguing writer that it seems rude to make any suggestions for possible improvement. However, I will be so bold as to comment on the ideas and the evidence.
1. Mr. Gladwell doesn't seem to take liking the task into account as a success factor. Most of us could eat chocolate candy until 10,000 hours had occurred. But how many of us like any other task that much that can be turned into a valuable form of human achievement? Without such liking, I suspect that much success won't occur. Self-discipline in the absence of liking will just lead to early burnout.
2. Mr. Gladwell seems a little confused about the contribution Bill Gates has made to software. Mr. Gladwell tells the Gates story as though Gates is another Bill Joy. Gates is more of a corporate strategist than a programming success. The famous programs on which Microsoft's success was based were drawn primarily from the work of programmers who weren't even at Microsoft.
3. In the airline crash examples, there is also a lot of research about how crews in all countries defer too much to the captains. Although that research is mentioned in passing, I felt like Mr. Gladwell was overstating his point. The issue in the Avianca crash was strongly related to not speaking American-style English with comfort. I think the book would have been stronger without the airline crash examples.
4. When you are writing about success (even as "outliers"), it makes sense to spend a little more time thinking about what you want to focus on. This book jumps from looking at geniuses who do things that benefit everyone (like Bill Joy) to people who just happen to make a lot of money (Joe Flom). If Mr. Gladwell had stuck with Bill Joy-type examples, I think this book would have been a lot more helpful.
5. If these points are so important, wouldn't it make sense to have the bulk of the book prescribe what to do differently? Mr. Gladwell doesn't take that part very seriously. As a result, the book is more entertainment than call to action.
6. By stringing together a series of article-style chapters, the book ends up being a bit choppy to read and follow.
I do recommend you read the book, and I hope that Mr. Gladwell will write a follow-up book that is prescriptive.
Thank you for much food for thought, Mr. Gladwell!
on September 28, 2011
Outliers is not a story of the "self-made" man. It is, however, the story of success. A thing that, Gladwell convincingly argues, as much happens to you as you happen to it. We are a product of our time, our heritage, our environment, and many other intricate factors which, coupled with motivation, practice, and intelligence, drive one on to become "a success".
Malcolm Gladwell does an excellent job laying out the findings of his research (and that of many others) in an accessible and engaging manner. I continually found myself thinking "this is really fascinating" as I read his various stories, facts, and oddities, all of which pointed to his final conclusion that success is indeed something which invariably passes to us through a series of "advantages" which the successful person notices and takes advantage of.
Gladwell does a good job reminder the reader that the onus is still on the individual to succeed, we must take advantage of the "advantages" that we're given. But without those "advantages" we really have little hope of success. (There is also little hope of success without first undoing inherent "disadvantages".)
If nothing else, this book is an enjoyable read and it will cause you to reconsider just how you got to where you are today. Surely it's a combination of more than just your grit and determination? Surely you've been helped in innumerable ways along the journey?
on August 25, 2011
'I'm a very lucky guy'
William H. Gates Jr., Philanthropist
Recently, I had drinks with a former colleague, who was bemoaning the pressure her parents were putting on her to get married. It was a common theme around Shanghai, young people under untold amounts of pressure to live up to some impossible standard; whether it was money, relationships, work, manners, education'parents just want what's best for their kids, and believe that pressure is a good way to do it. They care about their retirement, and know that investing energy in their kids can, almost always, lead to a more financially stable and comfortable retirement (not to mention, more grandkids).
But if you examine the richest, most successful people in the world, they seemed to get there by doing something crazy, regardless of the financial upshots. Actually, when the 'lucky' Bill Gates started poking around with computers, there was no software industry to speak of. His parents were lawyers, and expected him to go on and be one too. The entire Silicon Valley phenomenon arose out of Southern California University labrats tinkering with new designs, and ultimately founding their own companies (famously Hewlett Packard; most recently, Google).
To have pressured Bill Gates at the age of 13 to get into Computers would have quite literally required knowledge of the future of business, the internet, and the multibillion dollar computer industry itself. No one could have known (even if Bill's parents were so inclined'they weren't). No one could have possibly known, and no one could have possibly 'forced' Bill into loving those drab black and green screens (which very likely decimated any chance at a social/love life for the following 10 years). The one thing he did have, however, was passion. And passions a funny thing. If you're passionate about fashion, or technology, or sports, or even law, you can burn hours and hours studying and practicing it, without getting tired, or exhausted. And it turns out, it's exactly this kind of energy you need to get to 10,000 hours.
Malcolm Gladwell famously noted that in every child prodigy, young genius, or early Millionaire story, there was a race to hit 10,000 hours of experience. Whether it's dancing, playing an instrument, cold calling sales, playing basketball, there seems to be a very clear distinction between those who've hit the 10,000 hour mark, and those who don't. And the key, is to hit it very early, so you can be the most talented guy/girl in your age group, and rake in all the glory. The only way to do that, is to have an edge. For Bill Gates, it was his Private High school's computer lab. For the Beatles, it was playing bars in Germany for 8-12 hours a day.
And here's the rub. If you work really hard, you'll still need about 10 years to hit that experience level (to be considered an expert). If you want to learn something just for the money, you probably won't get there, but even if you do, you might not even get rich, because you need to begin your 'studies' 10 years in advance. Steve Jobs didn't do it for the money. How could he? Circuit boards attached to wooden panels? How could anyone think that that was a multibillion dollar idea. Found Apple Computer over a Harvard MBA? No way.
And so when it comes to financial success, there is an element of luck involved. You can be great, and you can get a college degree, even a Master's degree, but if your parents insist upon a certain level of financial success, they just might be pushing you in the wrong direction. Bill Gates was.. well, lucky that Software turned out to be a big deal (in fact when he first started, no one was paying for it. He had to convince people to actually pay for Software).
So what constitues luck. First you have to have some opportunities, and a bit of luck, maybe you're born in the right year, the right gender, with the rig parents, with the right connections. More than anything, you have to truly love doing something that only 10-15 years later turns out to be a goldmine. If you start something with purely financial motivations, you'll drop it, or go on to have a mediocre career.
And it's not good enough to be smart. You have to have social skills too. It's not about your SAT scores, its about what people say about you when you're not around. It's about your ability to pitch and persuade. It's about your background, your family. If any of these things is missing, you won't get there. And being born into a great loving family, may just be the luckiest thing of all.
More reviews like this on 21tiger
on May 12, 2014
I found it to be a very enlightening read as it was reinforced that success is earned, not given. Circumstances do play a part but not entirely. I recommend this book to everyone.
on May 9, 2009
I read "Outliers" first and enjoyed it so much that I ordered Gladwell's previous books, "Blink" and "Tipping Point," and devoured them right away.
A whirlwind ride or facts, stats, psychology and history about the origins or success, Outliers confirmed what I'd suspected for years about super-achievers.
I'm no genius, but I come from a blue collar family where little or no "concerted cultivation" occured. Where an unlikely combination of: absent positive parental and peer influence, limited socio-economic advantage and non existant sheer, fortuitous opportunity, clearly contributed to my early stagnation, despite above average intelligence and good health. I didn't begin to realize my potential until I entered addiction recovery and came out of the closet at the age of 23(So being Gay and prone to chemical abuse got in the way as well). Certainly, Gladwell's premise that even genius requires oportunity and nurturing is valid. No one is born with ability, opportunity, confidence and motivation. I'm sure there are more than a few children of above average intelligence picking through garbage dumps in South America, who would thrive given the chance. Anyway, whether the book stands the test of time aside, it certainly was an enjoyable read and I would recommend it to anyone who wonders about the subject and enjoys non-fiction, pop-cultural studies.
on August 22, 2009
After "Blink" (his past book) I never thought he could improve that! Leave aside the fascinating stories about famous people and the correspondant explanations of their success, brilliantly described in this masterpiece (Bill Gates, The Beatles, Hockey players, etc.)... or the wonderful description of why high IQ's mean little more than nothing in predicting anyone's success... or the delicious interpretation of why Asian students stand out in math at school... Mr. Gladwell, IMHO, really becomes one of my top 5 favorite contemporary writters by giving us the formula (yes, a kind of a method!) to become "experts" in any given filed of our choice... the "10,000 hours" element...
Want to find out what it means? don't think twice... make yourself a favor (and to your children!) and buy this book. Guaranteed.
on February 15, 2009
Interesting Book as whole but a little bit on the simplistic side in its conclusion how people become sucessful. Being at the right time at the right place with the right backgroung is an important step in the direction of success but it still depends on the genic make-up of that person to take advantage of the circumstances.
on January 1, 2009
I became a fan of Gladwell with Tipping Point, and this was re-enforced with Blink, and now with Outliers he has again hit a home run. His rock solid research teamed with his effective story-telling style take the reader on a fascinating journey into the why's of successful people. I don't know to what extent his research is leading-edge; I only know that it was new to me, and I found it absolutely fascinating. I found myself reading passages then trying to relate my reality to the research he was presenting.
We all know that the over achievers tend to have arrived where they got to by paying their dues - by working hard, in most cases harder than the rest of us. Gladwell doesn't dismiss this, but he does put it in context and by so doing busts a myth that I believe most of us hold - that while this is true in most cases there are the exceptions - those born with a talent or natural ability that allows them to achieve great success without trying. As he points out, there are no such people, but at the same time, he convincingly makes the case that great success certainly comprises more than just effort and desire.
As I read this review it strikes me I do not do the book justice. Better you simply take the advice of a Gladwell fan - and go get it.