Outliers is one of those books that is hard to put down. I found myself turning the pages constantly with a minimal desire to put the book down.
The book looks at how many successful people reached their goals. It’s the book that gave rise to the 10,000-hour rule, which states you need 10,000 hours of practice to master anything.
It’s debatable whether this is correct or not, but there’s no doubt that more practice increases your chance of being a success in whatever field you choose.
Outliers also looks at how people become successful due to factors that they had no control. The month they were born, where they were born, these all factor into how we can become successful in one field and not in others.
If you think success is a rags to riches story then you’re mistaken. Opportunity, timing and chance play a large part in determining whether you will be successful or not.
Malcolm Gladwell’s book is an interesting read and one I recommend if you want to learn about how to be successful and the counter-intuitive ways that it often happens.
Takeaway 1 – Opportunity plays a large part in success
As much as we like success to be a story of rags to riches, which is often what Hollywood shoves down our throats, the reality is a little different.
It’s an opportunity that leads to success more often than not. Yes, you need luck, but if you don’t have the opportunity in the first place then you’re not going to make it.
The story of Bill Gates is a fantastic example of this.
He is a brilliant entrepreneur and one of the most successful men of recent times but was incredibly fortunate to be born when and where he was.
His father was a wealthy banker in Seattle and his mother was the daughter of a banker. He went to a private school and midway through his time there, the school started a computer club.
Right away the conditions are perfect for him to become a success in the future. Most of us do not have these opportunities.
He ended up using the computers in the University of Washington in exchange for helping them automate their payrolls.
This enabled him to gain a wealth of experience in programming long before he turned 18. Such was the length of time Gates and his friends spent on the computers, during one seven month period, they spent 1,575 hours on the computers at the university.
That’s eight hours a day, seven days a week.
When you look at it this way, it’s no wonder he became as successful as he did. He had a huge advantage thanks to the opportunities he was afforded when he was growing up.
Sometimes, it’s just a case of being int he right place at the right time and capitalising on it.
Takeaway 2 – Timing may be a bigger factor in being successful than you thought
Following on from Bill Gates and his precocious luck to be presented with the opportunities that he was, we move on to timing.
Gates was not just lucky to be born where he was, he was also lucky to be born when he was.
He was born in 1955 and was growing up as computers started to become more widely available. If you look at many of the top IT entrepreneurs, they were born between 1953 and 1955.
Likewise, fourteen of the seventy-five richest Americans were born in the 1860s and 1870s when the industrial revolution was picking up pace.
The inverse is also true for those less fortunate. If you were born in the 1890s and the 1910s and 20s, you were more likely to die in either the First of Second World War.
Another point that Gladwell makes is the month you are born matters too. He found that most Canadian professional Ice Hockey players were born in the first half of the year.
There are twice as many birthdays in the first quarter of the year than those in the last.
This is because those kids born in December have to compete with kids born in January who are almost a year older than them.
When you’re young these things matter as age is more relative than it is when you’re older.
This is also true with grades. In the UK, the school year runs from September to July. Those born in the first months of that period have a huge advantage to those born in the latter as they have had more time to learn.
Studies have backed this up. It seems when you’re born is just as important as where you’re born.
Takeaway 3 – Meaningful work
One aspect of Outliers that I found interesting was the concept of meaningful work.
The sociologist Louise Farkas studied the family trees several immigrant families and found that a large proportion of their offspring became professionals.
What she discovered was that these offspring did not become professionals in spite of their origins, it was because of their origins that they became professionals.
The takeaway is that immigrant families are more likely to value hard work because of their background in their home country and the fact they want to work hard in their country.
This is then instilled into their offspring who work hard themselves and become professionals.
A lot of this is because their families valued meaningful work and this was handed down to their children.
These children watched their parents work hard and make something of their lives. This is a powerful lesson to learn when you are young. It instils a belief in meaningful work and a belief that you can shape the world to your desires.
While it may help to be the children of hard-working immigrants not everyone finds themselves in this position.
Committing to meaningful work and assert yourself is key to becoming a success and it’s a lesson we can all take from these success stories.
I was gripped by this book and read it in a couple of days. The ideas in it are fascinating, particularly the one about 10,000 hours of practice to master something.
While books such as The Sports Gene have questioned how accurate this claim is, Gladwell’s premise is correct. To master something, you need to practice for a long time.
What was most interesting to me was the section on entrepreneurs such as Bill Gates. A myth is that people like him lucked into becoming the success they are today.
The reality is much different. Environment is a huge factor in success. Would Gates have become who he is today without wealthy parents or access to a computer lab at university?
It’s hard to argue he would. This is an aspect we miss in society. It’s true that anyone can be successful and rich, but not everyone can.
Factor such as your upbringing and environment are some of the biggest reasons for outliers in life.
Who should read Outliers?
Most people will enjoy this book. If you’re interested in how people become successful you’ll find it an interesting read.
If you’re looking to develop strategies for how you can become better in your own pursuits you’ll find a lot of value in Outliers too!