Outliers

Posted by on Jul 5, 2011 in Blogger, Insight

As many of you may have already noticed, I am an avid fan of Malcolm Gladwell’s works. I have read all three of his books more than once. They are just so interesting. And, just when I think I’ve heard it all, he drops another bomb that blows my freaking mind! I have previously engrossed myself in The Tipping Point and Blink, two of his previous novels, but his most recent piece, Outliers was a shear winner–regardless of what interests you have. I had been meaning to read it for sometime. And, since finishing it, I have been meaning to write a post about it for even longer. Without further delay, here are some of my thoughts on the book…

The 10,000 Hour Rule

The piece of this book that caught my interest perhaps the most was the idea that full expertise is had at 10,000 hours. He uses both Bill Gates and the Beatles as examples of the 10,000 hour rule. It proves the previously stated truism that “that which we persist in doing becomes easier, not because the nature of the thing itself is changed, but because our ability to do is increased.” This is true of any worthwhile endeavor we undertake. It just so happens that those who are most successful in their fields all had approximately 10,000 hours of hard-core exposure to their niche before they “broke out” so to speak.

Incidentally, after being illuminated by 10,000 hours, thus becoming a true expert, I wondered to myself, “if I could pick one thing to be an expert at, what would it be? What would I devote 10,000 hours of my life to? What would be my passion that I could pursue for 3 hours a day for 10 years?” I suppose I could use “digital signage,” but does that mean we cannot become a 10,000 hour expert in more than one endeavor? Absolutely not.

Opportunity and the “Luck” of the Draw

Gladwell also argues that those who become true “outliers” have enormous, rare, and almost ridiculous opportunity given them in their family, schooling, and occupations that take them to the “next level” of success. He also talks about how time of birth has had more sway on some of the world’s richest individuals than any other factor. He not only cites stories of the robber barons of the 19th century, but also refers to Bill Gates and other chief executives of the software explosion as lucky benefactors of their particular generation. And, not just their generation, but a birth-span of within 3 or 4 years. It is really amazing when you start looking at it.

Bill Gates in particular was an especially rare anomaly. His opportunity to learn and progress himself in the computer field well prior to Microsoft was amazing. And, as a result he had his 10,000 hours by the time he was at Harvard. Moreover, his timing with Microsoft couldn’t have been better. Gladwell comments that success “is not exceptional or mysterious. It is grounded in a web of advantages and inheritances, some deserved, some not, some earned, some just plain lucky.”

Feeling Entitled?

As part of his argument, Gladwell writes that much of who we are is dependent on where we came from. It’s not so much the tree, but the forest that influences the tree’s progression. The author goes into immense detail about the different attitudes for raising children and how these attitudes cause children to grow into assertive adults, able to assume positions of authority and class not had by those who lack the assertive and entitlement attitude. Most of this type of assertive focus is had by those whose parents took active roles in implementing such attitudes into their behavior.

Mr. Gladwell himself, acknowledges the luck and opportunity in his own life as a descendant of West Indies’ slaves. At the close of the novel Gladwell states that “Outliers wasn’t intended as autobiography. But you could read it as an extended apology for my success.”

All told, the book is well worth the read.

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