I have been reading Outliers: The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell for over two months, and it’s the first time I have ever taken so long to read a book that I actually enjoyed. I have read at least 20 other books during the two months, but I needed a lot of time to digest and process what I was reading in Outliers. When you hear about Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers, the first thing that often comes to mind is that it takes 10,000 to master a subject. However the book is so much more than that.
According to Gladwell, “This book is about outliers, about men and women who do things that are out of the ordinary….People don’t rise from nothing. We do owe something to parentage and patronage. The people who stand before kings may look like they did all themselves. But in fact they are invariably the beneficiaries of hidden advantages and extraordinary opportunities and cultural legacies that allow them to learn to work hard and make sense of the world in ways others don’t.”
Outliers: The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell demonstrates to readers why some people succeed, while others fail even though both may put in 10,000 hours. Other elements are critical for success, it’s simply not only about putting in the hours and working hard. When I just started reading Outliers, I wrote the post Do Big Breaks, Mentoring, and Hard Work Equal to Success? to explore the idea. Gladwell says that to be successful, on top of hard work, you also have to get opportunities. For instance, Bill Gates worked hard writing computer programs, but he also had access to a computer which most people didn’t, which gave him an advantage, and then he also had the opportunity to use those programming skills.
Ingredients of Success
- Hard Work
- Arbitrary Advantage
What’s this 10,000 hours that people are talking about?
Researchers have shown time and time again that to become excellent at mastering complex tasks requires 10,000 hours of hard practice. And the most successful people got the opportunity they needed to learn how to become an expert. For instance, The Beatles got numerous opportunities to play in clubs to accrue their 10,000 hours. They recognized the opportunities and accepted them.
In addition, there were many transformative moments in history that helped to make millionaires, and timing was everything. For example, the industrial era in the United States, which was pre and post the American Civil War in the 1860s and 1870s, people like John D. Rockerfeller, Andrew Carnegie and Marshall Field were able to capitalize on that. Another transformative era was the personal computer revolution, which people Bill Gates and Bill Joy capitalized on.
Given all that has been mentioned, to be successful, work has to be satisfying because you’ll likely put in the necessary hours to gain expertise. There are three elements for satisfying work – autonomy, complexity, and a connection between effort and reward.
One thing that I had never thought much about, which the book gave prominence to is that “it matters where you’re from, not just in terms of where you grew up or where your parent grew up, but in terms of where your great-grandparents grew up and great-great-grandparents grew up…” It’s interesting that I have always been able to accept ambiguity, and I learned in Outliers that’s because of my Jamaican heritage.
A big takeaway from Outliers: The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell is that, say for instance you are a surgeon, you have to understand what it really means to be a good surgeon, “when we understand how much culture and history and the world outside of the individual matter to professional success – then we don’t have to throw up our hands in despair…We have a way to make successes out of the unsuccessful.” And you can learn to remove cultural barriers that prevent you from being successful and living up to your true potential.
Five Great Ideas
- Success is the result of “accumulative advantages.”
- Success simple isn’t a function of individual merit, and the world in which we grew up in; and the rules we choose to write as a society does matter.
- Success is a function of persistence, doggedness and willingness.
- To become successful you have to master the art of standing up for yourself, and learn how to navigate systems and bureaucracies.
- Power distance, which is concerned with attitudes toward hierarchy, specifically with how much a particular culture values and respects authority, plays a role in professional success.
I recommend world Outliers: The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell. However, to get the most from the book, you have to allocate the time to reflect and contemplate on what you are reading. Please let me know your thoughts in the comments section below. Many readers read this blog from other sites, so why don’t you pop over to The Invisible Mentor and subscribe (top on the right hand side) by email or RSS Feed.
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