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 ...
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 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 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 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 April 30, 2013
Gladwell writes a work of non-fiction that is full of interesting stories. They take the reader around the world and touch on topics such as hockey in Canada or growing rice in China. These stories illustrate his thesis that social environments help to make successful people.
One of his points is birthdates. A child born in the early months of a year will be mistaken as talented instead of slightly more mature than children born in later months. Hence they will get more support in their efforts in their preadolescent years.
Children of middle class parents who engage their kids in structured activities and in personal dialogue and who take a personal interest and involvement in their kids' lives will influence them for the better. As opposed to poorer parents who let their kids play on their own and who don't challenge the decrees of teachers and others who influence their kids.
Hard work is a way to be successful in both a hard working culture, such as rice growers, and Gladwell has observed that geniuses put in about 10,000 hours before they create their master pieces. The former is a cultural legacy and in the latter is a personal choice.
The book is a good read because of all the stories, but it lacks a summary chapter to put all the pieces together. I found that the title Outlier was awkward because it means something situated away or of a different value. Gladwell seemed to be making the point that the social and cultural values that a person is in, makes all the difference for a talented person to succeed. So it is what a genius is in, not what they are out of, that makes the difference. But I did like the egalitarian point that hard work can make for excellence. Also, the book didn't address seeking out talents in children. Never the less, a good read.
on December 10, 2012
This is a fascinating look at the factors of success. It arrives at some pretty simple answers that somehow manage to elude most people's consideration. "Successful people don't do it alone" is his basic thesis. And, while I disagree with some of his inferences downstream, this is a thesis that I can agree with wholeheartedly.
Gladwell looks at questions such as: Why is there a disproportional amount of professional hockey players born January, February, and March? Why have an amazingly high proportion of the richest people in the world come from a small time period? Why have the most profilic computer entrepreneurs come from a narrow range of birth years?
He gives a thrilling ride through amazing "accidents" of a persons environment that predict success better than almost any other factor. Or are they "accidents"? He concludes that they aren't accidents. "The outliers always have help along the way".
So, this is a glowing review so far. I do, however, substantially disagree with the prescriptive suggestions Mr. Gladwell would put forward to try to resolve these factors and make them more equitable. Especially some of the elaborations he's given in interviews in connection to this book.
I think Gladwell errs in underestimating the complexity of manipulating the factors of success. And he seems to blindly assume that through simple manipulations via government or community, the playing field can be leveled to a significant degree. He seems to ignore or downplay the self-organizing aspect of how outliers come to be. He seems to dream that if you take the advantages the current outliers have and distribute them widely, outliers along other aspects would not quickly appear. Would he seriously maintain, to take the hockey example, that if you were able to take all the advantages players born in January thru March, and spread them equitably to all players, the situation would be more equitable? I think he maintains just that. And yet, in light of what we know about social organization, it seems to be an absurd conclusion.
Outliers are, by definition, rare. Gladwell rightly observes, they are not, in the truest sense, self-made men. But even though they are not self-made men, they are scarce men. I believe Gladwell's prescriptions suffer from a downplaying of or ignoring the element of scarcity in the concept of an "outlier". The existence of outliers presupposes scarcity. Not a zero sum game, but some element of
If you try to organize a society in a way that takes the advantages that the outliers have and attempt to distribute them more equitably, you end up reducing the value, significance, and incentives of being an outlier in the first place. If you take the conditions that create "outliers" and give them to everyone, those conditions will cease being a contributing factor to success and the "outliers" will begin to thrive on the distinctions given to them via different source.
So, my assessment is that this is an excellent book. With great research presented in a compelling way. Just don't necessarily follow advice the author would give based on his research. Enjoy his presentation, but know that everything that comes afterwards doesn't necessarily follow. This is not the death blow to "rugged individualism" that Mr. Gladwell seems to claim it is.
on August 23, 2010
In another extraordinary book by Malcolm Gladwell, he examines what makes extremely successful people so successful. As his title alludes, Outliers: The Story of Success are those top 1% of people that excel in a given area. They are the difference between making it to the Olympics and winning a gold medal. They are the difference between a medical graduate and an award-winning Harvard Medical Graduate.
Gladwell interprets and analyses common everyday scenarios in our society to uncover the situations in which Outliers may be born. The results may amaze you (or anger you if you have a late birthday!). The moral of his story though, is that you can create a life for your children that will increase the probability of excelling if you take heed of some of Gladwell's findings.
The research in the Outliers: The Story of Success identifies several simple factors that lead to extraordinary greatness for any individual:
1. Be Born Between January ' April
2. Practice Your Craft for 10,000 Hours
3. Access Unique Opportunities
4. Time Your Moves Strategically
While Gladwell's findings are certainly intriguing, I must admit that reading the book was a little bit like a chore at times. Since he is examining and interpreting various statistics there are parts of the writing that are a bit slow and cumbersome, but he certainly tries to make up for that with the insertion of interesting stories and examples. Overall it is definitely a book you need to read if you want to go from good to great or have aspirations for your children's lives to be more successful than yours.
The most intriguing part of Outliers: The Story of Success for me was the factor that you need to spend more than 10,000 hours practicing your craft to become a world-class expert or leader. Gladwell points out several examples including Bill Joy of Sun Microsystems, Mozart, The Beatles, Bill Gates and more by describing their history and path to greatness. In each case, these individuals had an opportunity to gain more than 10,000 hours practicing in their field at a young age. Prior to those crucial hours they were all relatively unknown and it was until they crossed over that peak that their fame started to hit.
You are probably wondering the same thing I was when I learned about this factor ' how long does it take to reach 10,000 hours? Unfortunately that is equivalent to approximately 10 years in one's life. So, if you're mid to late career you may want to start adding a few practice hours to the beginning or end of your day if you're not there yet!
'Practice isn't the thing you do once you're good. It's the thing you do that makes you good.' (page 42)
There are so many great examples and tidbits of knowledge in this book that is a worthwhile read for anyone looking to advance their own career or the success of their family. I have left out many of the stories discussed in the book so I don't ruin it for you! But I have to leave this one little teaser ' if you travel a lot you have to read the section where Gladwell explains plane crashes! I highly recommend Outliers: The Story of Success for those of you who enjoy understanding the world through the statistics. If you prefer a light story-like read, this book might not be for you.
I've looked at clouds from both sides now
Malcolm Gladwell points out the obvious. Or what should have been the obvious. Using statistics and a type of insight, he finds that to be successful there is a minimum of natural ability and downright luck. Even them it does not guarantee want Malcolm supposed success is.
This book is a fun and easy to read book. But do not let it fool you into thinking that this is light reading or just the popular science of the day. There is a dead serious theory that appears to really apply (split infinitives allowed here.) Knowing this theory will help you to make the requirements for success instead of just guessing at them.
At least I came away with a different paradigm, and now see everything in the world differently.
It has been suggested that regardless of the factors in this book that one may be content with a job that fits his/her value-system.
I must have been schizophrenic in a job sense. In the U.S. Army and Reserves, I well enjoyed being a mechanic and power systems maintenance sergeant. While at the same time, I was a business/engineering systems analyst in the civilian world. So this book helps me look back to see how I found myself in the situation.
With a little bit of blooming luck.
How to Lie with Statistics
on October 4, 2011
Malcolm Gladwell gives us a different lens to view success. His book takes us through several stories he uses as examples to demonstrate how opportunity and circumstances beyond our control can play a major role in the success of our lives.
The examples are very enjoyable to read, although at times I found myself thinking "get on with it". The true benefit to this book is in the engaging writing style and the message he leaves us with that I know you will never lose or forget. You will have a new perspective.
I love the feeling when I read a book and walk away from it with a new tool, armed for better interpretation of situations or facts. Knowing there is more to consider than self-dicipline or ambition in a man or woman's success in life is re-assuring and Malcolm Gladwell communicates that message clearly.
The book is a very quick read, and it is well worth the time invested. You will enjoy the facts he presents and the inspiration you are left with.