If you want to become successful study successful people, if you want to become extremely successful then study extremely successful people. This is the basis I got from the book Outliers by Malcom Gladwell. In the beginning of the book Malcolm Gladwell starts off with the story of a small town named Roseto in Pennsylvania and it tells the story of how these people moved to America from a small town in Italy on the verge of the booming American freedom and prosperity movement. The town of Roseto gained attention by its lack of health issues within the community. Scientists start to take note of this and begin to study the town to figure out how this small community has escaped issues of the outside world. Every study they conduct shows negative results in conditions and symptoms or possible reasoning’s in why the town is so healthy. The conclusion is the importance of community and the dedication of the people to stay on the same path of traditions and lifestyle. They put in their 10,000 hours of dedication to each other.
As we all know Bill Gates and Steve Jobs were born in at the perfect time and in exactly the right places to be at the forefront of the personal computer movement which made them some of the richest and most influential men in the world. I never thought that much about what to do with those two ideas other than to work hard towards the 10000 hour rule and I also hadn’t thought about the fact that it seemingly conflicts with how many people work really hard because hard work is the only thing that matters or does none of that matter, because what’s more important is that you’re born at the right place and time. You cannot control this, to ensure that let me go back to the main point of the book which is that nobody is self-made and no one can take 100% credit for their own success.
Though we love these narratives especially I think in the United States that people are either innately talented or worked incredibly hard to overcome of their circumstances. When you look really closely at the stories you see that everybody had help and the outliers of people are who really stand outside what is normal levels of success usually have unique opportunities to work hard. That is they had the opportunities and they worked hard. There are very hard working people who didn’t have opportunities and never achieve the same level of success. There’s also a lot of people with really great opportunities who never put in the hard work, even the 10000 hour rule according to Malcolm Gladwell often depend on having these unique opportunities to put in that work.
For instance major league ball players usually reach the 10,000 hour rule when they’re still quite young but only with the help of a facility and trainers and a family who can support that lifestyle. Outliers then are these people who have these unique opportunities, usually many opportunities and they work really hard. Their success can never be attributed just too raw talent or hard work which is the story that we really liked to tell. There are even examples of people having been very honest about their experiences that these people help them get where they are and that they’ve been working towards this for 10 years. Their hard work doesn’t come from just last night and yet the story gets written about them exclude all of those people who help them get there. Malcolm Gladwell does not deny innate talent but he does point to its limits.
For instance there’s a point at which your IQ no longer helps to determine your level of success as long as you are smart enough then there are many other factors that will determine whether you’re successful or not. For instance one of them being how well you navigate the social world, that fact you’re really interesting especially regarding how you deal with authority figures depends a lot on your social economic status. For instance poorer people tend to defer to authority figures whereas middle class and wealthy people have a stronger sense of entitlement and will negotiate to get what they want.
The first part of the book is all about these opportunities that people get and the second part is about legacy and he argues that you have to go back much further. Just looking at the example of one person and the unique opportunities that were presented to her you have to look at where she comes from, her culture, her class, all of these different factors and as he points out this can be really difficult because these are very touchy subjects that very easily fall into cultural stereotyping. He very seriously ask questions like “Why are people from Asian countries better at math?” and “Why are people from the American South more prone to violence?” and yet their overall crime rates show that violence among strangers is not nearly at the level as violence among people who know each other.
Good or bad these are not innate characteristics they are legacies of the cultures that we are born into and they heavily influence the way that we think. This is one of the most applicable parts of the book because you can work really hard, but you can never manufacture it the kind of unique experiences required to be an outlier. You can look closely at the legacies you have inherited and be aware of them and how they influence the way that you act in the world. The last chapter of outliers is all about Malcolm Gladwell’s own family and at first he tells a story of his mother as if she was the single author of her own success. He does throughout the book as he takes a closer look and we see aspects of how foreign cultures made her success possible.
There were other people in her life that really fought hard and sacrifice to make your success possible and also the lucky breaks that she got. None of it would have been possible without the many factors that contributed to her success. I never thought while reading outliers that it glorified the idea of success. It actually helps you to understand that success is not magic and cam not only be achieved by very special people, but near the end of the book he really works to complicate the idea of success and ask questions about whether it’s always worth the work that it requires. He looks especially at one young student who does have a unique opportunity to step outside of what would normally be possible for her but it requires so many sacrifices both for her and for her mother and she had to work incredibly hard which means giving up some normal aspect of life.
Outliers is a really interesting book and even if you have a pretty clear idea of the thesis I would say that it’s still worth reading because all the many examples Malcolm Gladwell uses are just so fascinating. The research he brings in the interviews and the many examples that he uses are always really engaging, and even in a brief summary of the book you can’t get into detail about the many different patterns of success that can better help us understand what it means to be an outlier.
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