Sunday, September 25, 2011


by Malcolm Gladwell


In my eyes, there is one reason for reading: Entertainment.  My job requires the reading of various tax documentation.  Unless you've spent some time reading tax specs from various departments of revenue, you cannot imagine the amount of tedium that comes when reading this kind of stuff.  If, however, you would like to imagine large amounts of tedium, try this publication for starts.  It's a tedious gas.

When I read, it's gotta be entertaining.  This includes non-fiction and researchish publications.  Outliers, a book that could be categorized as non-fiction and researchish, was ridiculously entertaining.  What I found most enjoyable, were the stories.  Gladwell includes stories about various high-achievers, Korean pilots, geniuses (both successful and not-so,) and Jewish immigrants.  He researched Canadian Hockey, law firms, and the Beatles.  He also researched the founders of some computer hardware/software giants, as well as the subject of math, and how certain areas of the world are better at math than others.

Gladwell's conclusion of all this research, thrown together with my rabid interpretation?  Success is all about the rule of 10,000 hours. It takes roughly 10,000 to be successful at something.  And what separates the super-successful from the not-so-successfull is opportunity.  The super-successful have been given extreme opportunities and taken full of advantage of these extreme opportunities.  Gladwell says (page 267):
"Outliers are those who have been given opportunities – and who have had the strength and presence of mind to seize them.  For hockey and soccer players born in January, it's a better shot at making the all-star team.  For the Beatles, it was Hamburg.  For Bill Gates, the lucky break was being born at the right time and getting the gift of a computer terminal in junior high.  Joe Flom and the founders of Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen and Katz got multiple breaks.  They were born at the right time with the right parents and the right ethnicity, which allowed them to practice takeover law for twenty years before the rest of the legal world caught on.  And what Korean Air did, when it finally turned its operations around, was give its pilots the opportunity to escape the constraints of their cultural legacy."
Is Gladwell saying that success only comes from opportunity?  I don't think so.  When acquiring a skill, those 10,000 hours do not come without hard work.  The opportunities to get these hours, however, is what sets the hard-working successful from the hard-working not-so successful.

In addition to the 10,000-hour rule, I found that gratitude was an underlying theme.  I believe that gratitude is the most attractive of all actions and traits.  We need to be grateful for all – even though it isn't so easy at times.  Outliers reinforced my belief of this.  All of our successes, all of what we have learned and enjoy, comes as a result of opportunity.  He says (page 285):
"It is impossible [for various Outliers] to look down from their lofty perch and say with truthfulness, 'I did this, all by myself.'  Superstar lawyers and math whizzes and software entrepreneurs appear at first blush to lie outside ordinary experience.  But they don't.  They are products of history and community, of opportunity and legacy.  Their success is not exceptional or mysterious.  It is grounded in a web of advantages and inheritances, some deserved, some not, some earned, some just plain lucky – but all critical to making them who they are.  The outlier, in the end, is not an outlier at all."
I think we are all successful at something.  We have some talent and some strengths.  If anything, this book has made me reflect on certain advantages, and maybe even certain periods of holy-crap-when-will-it-end? that have made me who I am.

For the good and the bad, I am grateful.  Here's to all of us as Outliers.

1 comment:

megan said...

You and my husband should start a book club. You read the same books :) I just have him tell me about them...