Mark’s #24 – Outliers: The Story of Success by Malcom Gladwell

Malcom Gladwell set out to answer the question, “Why do some people really succeed, while others don’t?”  In particular, why do the best of the best succeed? For example, in this book, what was it about Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, The Beattles, professional hockey players, top lawyers like Joe Flam, and Asian students who excel in math?

As Americans, we love the “pulled up from their own bootstraps” “rags to riches” success stories.  Parents often tell their kids, “you can be anything you want to be when you grow up.”  But is that true?  Is it all just a matter of hard work and perseverance, or are their other factors in play?  Is it just natural talent?  Is that what made Mozart – Mozart?

In this book, Gladwell argues (convincingly) that there are other factors.  To be sure, extremely hard work and intelligence are necessary conditions for the successful (sorry, no shortcuts to success), but there almost always is one very key element to a person’s meteoric rise to the top; opportunity.

Opportunity is the reason Bill Gates became the richest man in the world.  Two key factors for Bill: First, he was born in 1955 – which turns out to be the exact right time to be born to be a pioneer in the world of computers (by the way Steve Jobs was also born in 1955).  Second, as a teenager, when access to a computer terminal was very limited and very expensive, Bill Gates was given the opportunity to have unhindered access to just such a computer at the nearby University of Washington.

Opportunity is what set the Beatles up for their unprecedented success. They were given the opportunity as a young band to play for eight hours a day, every day in the clubs of Hamburg Germany. After about 10,000 hours (the number of hours one needs to become an expert in any field – including Bill Gates time as a teenager on a computer), when the band returned to play in England, they were much better when they left, and much better than anyone else at the time.

Those are just two brief insights and examples from this book.  In Part two of the book, Gladwell goes on to demonstrate just how profoundly our heritage and the legacies we inherit shape us in both positive and negative ways.

This was a thoroughly enjoyable book to read.  I also have a renewed gratitude for all of the opportunities I have been given.


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