I frequent the bookstore a few times every month. Never did I felt any urge to pick up this Malcolm Gladwell classic. Despite raving reviews and friend recommendations, I just did not want to pick it up. I think it was the name itself, Outliers, that generated negative vibes in my mind. As humans, we do judge books by their cover, and it wasn’t until I bumped into its audiobook, did I decide to give it a go.
It talks about many factors which influence success. The most prominent for me was the 10,000 hour rule. It mapped the lives of IT giants like Bill Gates and Bill Joy, physicist Robert Oppenheimer, and The Beatles among others. The rule simply underscores the value in honing a talent for several thousands of hour. It provides an intrinsic explanation of people who have broken through the barrier of failure and dejection that it is easy to overlook it. However, when you look at most of the success stories in all walks of life, it boils down to how long you’ve been married to your skill and the time he have spent polishing it.
It didn’t just talk about hard work, a great deal of time was also devoted to “timing” or simply being lucky. The cut-off dates for junior football leagues, school year eligibility, etc. were examples of some incidental aspects that one has not control over, but which play could potentially be decisive in defining your success.
The fact that Bill Gates, Bill Joy and Steve Jobs were all born within close vicinity allowed them to explore their passion for computers. The technology was first introduced academically when they were teenagers, an age that would prove to be ripe for such free-wheeling exploration and spending thousands of hours on. Of course, timing wasn’t everything. They also benefited from social generosity. Both Gates and Joy were recipients of several lab hours granted by a university or school either willingly or otherwise! That brings The Outliers to its next defining factor, how others help shape one’s success.
It smacks down the notion of a “self-made” man. Gladwell argues there are people who help in immeasurable ways and in most cases make the difference between success and failure.
He also talks about practical intelligence, cultural practices, upbringing, etc. He ends with a last delightful story, of himself, and his grandmother as an outlier. He is entirely courageous in informing his viewers how his background shaped who his success – his life in rural Ontario and his family tracing back to a demeaning wedlock between an African slave and a British slave-master.