I just finished Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell and I have to say the book was not what I expected, but not in a negative way. I was expecting a book that would describe how and why successful people have become successful, which Gladwell did, however, he came at it from a completely new perspective than I was expecting. I suppose if I had taken the time to read the first sentence of the synopsis on the back a little more carefully I would have had a clue, “In understanding successful people, we have come to focus far too much on their intelligence and ambition and personality traits. Instead, Malcolm Gladwell argues in Outliers, we should look at the world that surrounds the successful…” I think this is true. I was expecting Gladwell to discuss intelligence, ambition, and personality as it relates to success but the stories and data he shared were very new and refreshing. I highly recommend reading this book. In fact, I have already begun to add some of Gladwell’s other books to my reading list.
Here are some of the main points & quotes that I took away:
- Success can be attributed to “accumulative advantage.” Any slight edge that someone has may lead to an opportunity which helps them get a little better than others. That additional edge leads to another opportunity, and the cycle continues.
- “Achievement is talent plus preparation.”
- It takes about 10 years which equates to 10,000 hours of hard practice to reach greatness at something. “Ten thousand hours is the magic number of greatness.”
- “Practice isn’t the thing you do once you’re good. It’s the thing you do that makes you good.”
- It is easy to believe success results from a person’s talent or skill alone; however, when you look at stories like those of the Beatles, Bill Joy, Bill Gates, and Steve Jobs, you see that their success had a lot to do with the world they grew up in. There were opportunities that were put in front of them and that they seized.
- Beyond a certain IQ, around 120, a higher IQ does not really equate to a legitimate advantage in the world.
- Satisfying work has to have 3 qualities: autonomy, complexity, and a connection between effort and reward.
- Behavioral & emotional patterns are passed down through social inheritance.
- “Success is a function of persistence and doggedness and the willingness to work hard…” Success comes to those who do not give up so quickly but try to make sense of things.
- “Outliers are those who have been given opportunities – and who have had the strength and presence of mind to seize them.”
- “We are so caught in the myths of the best and the brightest and the self-made that we think outliers spring naturally from the earth.”
One of the stories that Gladwell discusses in the book is how Joe Flom, who is the only living “named” partner of Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher and Flom law firm, became so successful. At the time Flom graduated university in the 1940’s and 1950’s the law firms acted like private clubs. Due to this if a lawyer had the right family connections, the right experience, or the right personality he could get a good job. Since Joe Flom had a Jewish heritage and was “short and ungainly” he was not able to land a job at a major law firm. Instead he and some friends started their own law firm and took in the least desirable work at the time which was doing litigations and take overs. However, between the 1970s to the 1980s, lots of money was spent on mergers and acquisitions. Now suddenly the type of work Flom and his colleagues had been specializing in for around 20 years was very lucrative. Flom’s law firm had a head start, a competitive advantage, and was able to become very successful. Flom is an outlier because he was born at the right time and had the right ethnicity; he had the opportunity to begin practicing very early on the type of law which became very lucrative.
Another very interesting discussion in the book is about the “culture of honor” and family feuds that occurred in the south from the end of the Civil War to the beginning of the 20th century. Gladwell specifically recounts the Howard-Turner feud in Harlan, Kentucky. What I found particularly interesting is why this “culture of honor” exists. Gladwell reports that the consensus seems to be that cultures of honor occur in places where farming cannot be easily done. Instead the people turn to herding sheep or goats. Farmers need to cooperate with each other in the community to succeed. On the other hand, herdsmen spend most of their time alone. Herdsmen learn to be aggressive and willing to fight in order to protect their animals, whereas it is a lot harder for a farmer’s crop to be stolen. Due to these factors this type of culture has been cultivated in the south. The experiments that were of great interest to me were the ones that showed how, in general, the southerners in the experiments conducted tended to be much more volatile and likely to explode in anger than the northerners. This propensity seems to be passed down through the generations through social inheritance the same way accents are passed down.
The application of Gladwell’s content in my life has come in the form of being grateful for the opportunities I have had so far in my life. It is often easy for me to fall into the trap of believing that I am a self-made man. It is easy to believe the things I have accomplished are solely due to my own aptitude. I forget about all the sacrifices that have been made by my parents, grandparents, and great grandparents to allow me to be where I am today. I am standing in someone else’s sacrifice. I do not need to apologize for this but I need to recognize it. My parents have often told me growing up that they just wanted me to go further than they have. The sacrifices they have made for me and the training they have given to me has all been to help me go further. Isaac Newton is attributed with saying “If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of Giants.” I recognize that I have been given great opportunities in my life and I am determined to continue seeking success and being a positive influence on those around me by standing on sacrifices and principles that my parents have passed on to me.