Review of Outliers

Malcolm Gladwell continues his ability to churn out interesting, mind-expanding information that will make you think twice about what makes a person successful. If you think it’s the lone hero who works harder than everyone else, or is smarter than the competition, or even sheer ambition that drives someone higher than their peers –  you are more than likely wrong.

You should instead look to the periphery of a person’s life and surroundings to determine what influence they may have had on someone’s success. Rarely is a person just smart and motivated who achieves success all on their own.

Gladwell explains why some geniuses go on to spectacular success while others never seem to accomplish anything. Bill Gates did not create Microsoft in a vacuum. He just happened to go to a high school with a computer club that just happened to have a computer terminal. Then the mother of a fellow student just happened to offer their computer club unlimited programming time in exchange for testing out some software. Then Gates and friends hooked up with a company that offered free computer time in exchange for helping out with a payroll program. Gates happened to learn of a computer that was unused between three and six in the morning at the University of Washington which happened to be within walking distance. So he got up in the middle of the night to go and play on their computer. And on and on.

No doubt Gates was a genius, and dedicated, and hard working… but he also had a long series of lucky breaks that gave him the opportunity to practice.

Practice, or experience, is also a critical ingredient in the recipe of success. Studies have shown that, in discipline after discipline, there appears to be a set amount of time for the brain to master a technique. Whether it is playing violin, or becoming a chess grandmaster, or coding on a computer. The magic number appears to 10,000 hours. Even the success of the Beatles can be traced back to 10,000 hours of practice when they played eight-hour sets each night for several months at a time in the early sixties.

When you are born, your social status while growing up, even cultural background all can serve to influence how successful a given person will be. A Jewish lawyer that was scorned and looked down on at the best law firms learns to negotiate and fight for his clients to make a living. As times change, his skills become more favored and he then topples the firms that scorned him. You just never know where your opportunities will come from.

This is another of those books that is not exactly about management and business. But the insights gained from reading a book like this are priceless. Understanding what success means and how it is attained can change the way you approach your own work… and possibly make you one of the outliers.