“Outliers” found its way into my hands as a result of a book exchange with a friend. Now, this isn’t the type of book I’d normally choose by my own free will, but I’m always up for a literary challenge, and fall break provided me with plenty of time for outside-the-box exploration.
For all you ambitious idealists out there, this may be the text for you. It’s basically a how-to on success. But unlike the other how-tos I’ve encountered (which doesn’t amount to many, mind you), Gladwell approaches his instruction in a very calculated and research-grounded way. He takes real-life phenomena and examines some seemingly miraculous occurrences with an air of practicality. And it makes total sense.
For example, when you think of a successful band like the Beatles, it’s easy to attribute their fortune to sheer talent. Of course, the boys had quite a bit of that. But Gladwell proves it’s not only ability that rocketed John, Paul, Ringo and George to their places in the history books. Rather, it’s the combination of talent, great opportunity and hours upon hours of practice.
Seems somewhat do-able, right?
The concept of 10,000 hours is just one of the ideas introduced in this novel. Gladwell proposes that once a person has practiced his or her craft for 10,000 hours, they enter a threshold of genius through which fame and fortune become tangible possibilities. At that point, the person is talented enough or smart enough or capable enough to be truly successful. From there, it’s usually just a matter of happenstance.
This same concept rings true when Gladwell takes a look at Bill Gates.
When Bill Gates was a young child, he was “easily bored by his studies.” His parents—a wealthy lawyer and a prosperous banker—could afford to take him out of public school and put him into a private school that would challenge him. The elite families of this private school came up with the hefty sum of money it took to install a computer terminal into one of the classrooms.
So, as a mere eighth grader, Gates had unlimited access to computer programming, and of course, he accumulated his 10,000 hours with ease. In this case, it was privilege that allowed for him to practice his craft into the success threshold.
Gladwell’s theories move from case to case with seamless accuracy. The best hockey players are usually born within the first three months of the year—but not for the reasons you’d think. People of Asian ethnicity are exceptionally good at math—and there’s non-racist rationale behind this. John D. Rockefeller, J.P. Morgan and Andrew Carnegie are still among the top ten wealthiest people in the world—but that has hardly anything to do with who they are as individuals.
We often conceptualize success as a sheer twist of fate, but there’s so much more to it. You can be the smartest person on the planet, but if you aren’t in an opportune environment or you don’t have the skills to put yourself into one, you might not get the chance to make your knowledge known.
There’s a man named Chris Langan who has a higher IQ number than Albert Einstein’s. He never finished his first year of undergraduate study because, as a result of his upbringing in a broken home, he never learned how to speak up for himself.
During his first semester of college, when his mother simply forgot to sign the form that allotted him his full-ride scholarship, the dean of his school told him he couldn’t attend school anymore. So, Langan left.
From there, he experienced a series of missed opportunities that he accepted without question.
Today, Langan lives in rural Missouri with his wife. He farms and works on intellectual projects in his spare time, but he doesn’t pursue publishers because he believes no one will take him seriously without a college degree. Besides, he’s not interested in trying to find an agent anyways.
Maybe there is a bit of luck involved when it comes to success, but there’s also ability, opportunity, time, privilege and pure situational circumstance to consider.
“Outliers” was a nice little detour from the reading material I usually gravitate towards. It really has me thinking about the kinds of feats I am capable of. But man, if I just had a spare 10,000 hours …