Book Report of “Outliers: The Story of Success”

Throughout Outliers: The Story of Success, Malcolm Gladwell insists that success isn’t just based on spectacular talent, or innate abilities alone. Instead, Malcolm introduces that success is based on opportunity, timing, dedication, and just a twinge of luck. Throughout his studies, Malcolm introduces the idea of a paradigm. A paradigm is known as an outline containing the basic ways of thinking that are commonly accepted by a group of people. To change the basic assumptions, such as the belief that only talent and hard work produce success, the author challenges these ideas in many case studies that prove his ideas valid. Just how do you obtain success, and what steps along the way help you to achieve success?

Malcolm’s first step to success includes opportunity and luck. The very first case study he introduced was a detailed summary of the extraordinary way the best hockey players arise. Malcolm first introduces a paradigm of a hockey player’s rise to the top of the sport. A young player has immense talent, is then scouted by a professional team, and then continues to work hard to reach the top. That this player’s individual hard work is the reason for his success. That the reason a player succeeds in their own sport is simply because they’re exceptionally talented, and that nothing else plays into it.

But Malcolm begins challenges this way of thinking. In Outliers, Malcolm argues that extraordinary success requires hard work, talent, dedication, and being born at the right time. Malcolm noticed after studying the patterns of big league hockey players, that almost all of them were born in the first few months of each year. This is because the eligibility cutoff date is January 1st. A player that turns ten on January 2nd could be playing against someone that doesn’t turn ten until the end of the year. In this case, the player that is older gets many advantages from just simply being more physically mature, to getting more coaching and practice time. This idea is called the “Matthew Effect”.

The Matthew Effect basically summarizes up as the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. Those people that have those accumulative advantages will continue to get advantages all the way until they are the best of the best. Most outliers that Malcolm introduces in his book are subject to this. They had been given a big opportunity, continued to seize those advantages, and soon enough they became the greatest people on earth.

As Malcolm continues in his book, he introduces the effects of timing. Timing plays a big role throughout the book from when hockey players were born to coming of age at the perfect time to be in the front lines of a computer era.

A great example of this luck of timing would be Bill Gates. In Malcolm’s book, he explains that because Bill Gates was born in the 1950s, he had the perfect opportunity to become immersed in the booming computer era in the 1970s. Bill Gates did not only have a knack for creating software, but he also had perfect timing to access to a mainframe computer that the parent’s association of his local school invested in, in 1968. He got to it in middle school before just about anyone else in the world. Without this precise timing, luck, and overall opportunity Bill Gates wouldn’t have become the richest man on Earth at the age of 39-years, he wouldn’t have created the most used codes and software that are still in use to this day. He wouldn’t have created the most successful computer company, Microsoft without this.

All of this is very true, but Bill Gates’ hard work wasn’t solely because he was born in the right era. It’s because he seized the opportunity to become so immersed in the computer industry. In Outliers, Malcolm goes into detail the amount of work Bill Gates put into his technology. Bill Gates had the opportunity to work on the computers at his school, and then had the opportunity to do so in college, and even found a code that would give him limitless computer and internet usage. All of this contributed to his many hours in his work. This is where Malcolm’s next success achieving step comes into place. Malcolm calls this the 10,000-hour rule.

The 10,000-hour rule is the time it typically takes to master something. Some people with the opportunity have the chance to do the 10,000 hours, others don’t. The opportunity for someone to achieve those 10,000 hours is what makes an outlier stand out. Malcolm explains this in his book “The idea that excellence at performing a complex task requires a certain minimum level of practice surfaces again and again in studies of expertise. In fact, researchers have settled on what they believe is the magic number for true expertise: ten thousand hours.” (Outliers pg. 39) This rule perfectly corresponds with many outliers, such as Bill Gates himself. With all of those late nights staying up to work on the computers, he has stacked up 10,000 hours of time, maybe even more. This same example can be applied to The Beatles. The Beatles were considered the most influential band in history. They are still very popular to this day.

Now, The Beatles’ fame didn’t just come by luck. Although they were lucky to score playing on stage in strip clubs in Hamburg, the real work was put into the many hours they performed. In Outliers, Malcolm explains that the group of musicians toured to Hamburg, on the first trip they played 106 nights of five or more hours each night. This already is an astounding number, but they continued and by the time they had their first real burst of success, the group had performed live an estimated 1,200 times, most bands don’t perform 1,200 times in their entire career. There is no doubt that the hours this band put in contributed to their immense success to become an outlier. The many hours of playing conditioned the band to play every song perfectly, it helped them to learn stage presentation as well as engage the crowd. There is no doubt that the hours this band put in contributed to their immense success to become an outlier. The many hours of playing conditioned the band to play every song perfectly, it helped them to learn stage presentation as well as engage the crowd. This goes for so many other musicians, athletes, actors, etc.

In all of Malcolm Gladwell’s research and findings, he has found the same underlying factors. Each outlier has been given a special opportunity and seized that opportunity and dedicated their entire lives to creating such an outstanding success for themselves. Each outlier dedicated the magic number of 10,000 hours of practice and succeeded in their hard earned works. In every outlier Malcolm introduces, every person came of age that fit the current paradigm perfectly. These people didn’t fit into the normal understanding of achievement, they were exceptional people, especially those who are smart, rich, successful, and those who operate at the extreme edge of what is statistically plausible, those people are truly what we call the outliers. “If you work hard enough and assert yourself, and use your mind and imagination, you can shape the world to your desires.” (Outliers pg. 151)