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“Outliers: The Story of Success” by Malcolm Gladwell is an illuminating book. It highlights several different factors that turn a person into a success story. The many lessons from “Outliers” are comforting. They allow readers to acknowledge the different keys (some accessible, some not) to a success story.
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What is an Outlier?
An outlier is defined “as a person or thing situated away or detached from the main body or system.”
This book is a very important read for deconstructing this concept. It is for anyone who strives to become or to understand what an “outlier” is. It is for those that are struck by the fact that no matter how hard they work; they do not become as successful as they want or expect to be.
This book explains the story of success from big names like The Beatles, Bill Gates, and Joseph Flom. In comparison to great intelligent minds such as Christopher Langan and J. Robert Oppenheimer that haven’t had the same opportunities to be successful.
In “Outliers,” Malcolm Gladwell illustrates that it is less about talent than it is about opportunity as well as cultural and familial legacy that makes an outlier. Consequently, the book is split in two parts: opportunity and legacy.
Opportunity #1 Month of Birth
Firstly, one key to success is your month of birth.
Gladwell talks about a discovery concerning Canadian hockey players in which most players are born primarily in January, then February and followed by March. The reason for this pattern is that the hockey league cutoff is set to January 1st. Therefore, the children born at the end of the year are at a whopping 12 month physical maturity disadvantaged. Consequently, these children don’t make the team. Gladwell illuminates the following:
“Think for a moment about what the story of hockey and early birthdays says about success. It tells us that our notion that it is the best and the brightest who effortlessly rise to the top is much too simplistic. Yes, the hockey players who make it to the professional level are more talented than you or me. But they also got a big head start, an opportunity that they neither deserved nor earned. And that opportunity played a critical role in their success.”
Furthermore, Gladwell demonstrates a similar pattern but with the birth date of Czech soccer players. But this pattern doesn’t end at sport athletes, this happens in many professional fields:
“Just as there is a perfect birth date for a nineteenth-century business tycoon, and a perfect birth date for a software tycoon, there is a perfect birth date for a New York Jewish lawyer as well.”
On the path towards success, every single opportunity counts, since, “success is the result of what sociologists like to call “accumulative advantage.””
Opportunity #2 Preparation
Talent vs. Preparation
The second key to success is your ability to develop your talent. Hence, to prepare.
According to the studies performed by psychologists, success is much less about talent than it is about preparation. And of course, having the time, tools, and skill set to prepare also qualifies as opportunities, since
“Achievement is talent plus preparation. The problem with this view is that the closer psychologists look at the careers of the gifted, the smaller the role innate talent seems to play and the bigger the role preparation seems to play.”
In simplified mathematical form, it looks like this:
Achievement = talent + preparation
But in order to prepare, one must need the opportunity to do so.
Here’s why: the 10 000 hours of practice rule.
The 10 000 hours of practice
Gladwell recounts that research points at a ten thousand hours rule for performing a complex task. These are the hours to fulfill true expertise. He cites a famously known neurologist Daniel Levitin:
“‘It seems that it takes the brain this long to assimilate all that it needs to know to achieve true mastery.’”
Thus, Gladwell concludes that it takes about roughly ten years to achieve those ten thousand hours of practice to be great at the complex task. Since “practice isn’t the thing you do once you’re good. It’s the thing you do that makes you good.”
However, Gladwell reminds his readers that in order to achieve those 10 000 hours, you would need a lot of support. It is this support that allows the opportunity to invest that much time and effort.
Say if you wanted to change career paths in your late 30s; it is possible. But, you would need a lot of financial and emotional support to spend the next ten years doing so. Since that is the length you need to master this new career or any new skill you want to develop. Once again, it is all about opportunity you get to harness and hone a talent you originally posses.
Therefore, the key to a success story is putting in at least 10 000 hours of practice.
Opportunity #3 Concerted Cultivation
The Problem with Geniuses
Furthermore, Gladwell explains that having a higher IQ as a child does not necessarily determine the level of success said child genius would have in adulthood.
Here, the key to a success story does not involve simply being a genius. There are simply too many factors at play, some that we have already seen. It’s about the opportunities and having a support system that could and does cultivate the child’s potential for success.
Exhibit A: Practical Intelligence
Consequently, a high IQ doesn’t account for “the particular skill that allows you to talk your way out of a murder rap, or convince your professor to move you from the morning to the afternoon section, is what the psychologist Robert Sternberg calls “practical intelligence.””
Gladwell continues to explain that, “To Sternberg, practical intelligence includes things like “knowing what to say to whom, knowing when to say it, and knowing how to say it for maximum effect.””
It is therefore the skill in which you can “read situations correctly and get what you want.”
Having said that, being equipped with analytical intelligence (such as having a high IQ) does not automatically equate to possessing practical intelligence. Gladwell says that they are “‘orthogonal’ the presence of one doesn’t imply the presence of the other.”
The Confidence to be Assertive
Furthermore, Gladwell explains that cultural advantage is the key element that comes into play when children learn such skills as being treated with respect while interacting with adults in order to assert themselves as equals. It is not a skill from genetics nor is it a racial ideal Gladwell notes. He references a study following different students from different economic classes to illustrate this point.
By contrast, he explains that lower-class children are quieter and more submissive.
The difference between lower class and higher class students is “the strategy of concerted cultivation.” In which, higher socioeconomic class parents instruct their children the ways to negotiate and navigate the world as an equal.
SEE ALSO: 10 Girlboss Tips for a Successful Business and Life from Sophia Amoruso’s book “#GIRLBOSS”
Opportunity #4 Cultural Legacy
It is shown that family background matters in the grooming of a child’s success story, since,
“Cultural legacies are powerful forces. They have deep roots and long lives. They persist, generation after generation, virtually intact, even as the economic and social and demographic conditions that spawned them have vanished, and they play such a role in directing attitudes and behavior that we cannot make sense of our world without them.”
Gladwell presents Lewis Terman’s fieldwork in which the differences between A students and C students are apparent. The fieldwork shows that the A students are raised with concerted cultivation while the C students were raised by natural growth. Gladwell note that “the difference between those schooled by their families to present their best face to the world, and those denied that experience.”
Hence, these C students were highly gifted students, true outliers and geniuses, but were denied the opportunities of the A students.
Gladwell explains that “they lacked something that could have been given to them if we’d only known they needed it: a community around them that prepared them properly for the world.”
In that matter, “what your parents do for a living, and the assumptions that accompany the class your parents belong to, matter.”
Of course, this does not mean lower-class children do not become outliers. As we have seen, there are numerous factors and opportunities that can contribute to their success irregardless.
“The sense of possibility so necessary for success comes not just from inside us or from our parents. It comes from our time: from the particular opportunities that our particular place in history presents us with. For a young would-be lawyer, being born in the early 1930s was a magic time, just as being born in 1955 was for a software programmer, or being born in 1835 was for an entrepreneur.”
To summarize, “Successful people don’t do it alone. Where they come from matters. They’re products of particular places and environments.”
So, What is an Outlier?
Gladwell defines outliers as “those who have been given opportunities—and who have had the strength and presence of mind to seize them.”
In conclusion, Gladwell’s book demonstrates that outliers don’t do anything on their own. He reiterates that “Superstar lawyers and math whizzes and software entrepreneurs appear at first blush to lie outside ordinary experience. But they don’t.”
“They are products of history and community, of opportunity and legacy. Their 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—but all critical to making them who they are.”
All this to say, that, “The outlier, in the end, is not an outlier at all.”
The next time you feel bad for not being a true outlier, just remember that there are many key factors at play.
Instead, we should focus on the opportunities we do have and the choices we can make to have our own successful lives. There is a true value to hard work. Gladwell reminds his readership that hard work has true value when it combines: “complexity, autonomy, and a relationship between effort and reward.”
Money is not all that there is to success and to hard work.
Consequently, “Hard work is a prison sentence only if it does not have meaning.”
Therefore, we have the choice to be outliers by creating meaning in the work we do. As well by grasping the different opportunities that come our way. And, by being truly successful in the means of happiness and self-fulfillment.
I hope you enjoyed my little takeaways from Malcolm Gladwell’s “Outliers: The Story of Success.” Let me know if you have read this book any of his other business-psychology books!
- 10 Girlboss Tips for a Successful Business and Life from Sophia Amoruso’s book “#GIRLBOSS”
- The Keys to a Success Story – Lessons from “Outliers”
- 10 Crucial Life Lessons from Jon Krakauer’s Book “Into the Wild”
- How to Focus in the Present and be Happier
- 10 Crucial Lessons About True Love Through Literature
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