Outliers is an interesting book that makes you stop and think about all the successful people you know and analyze the reasons behind their success. Traditionally, most autobiographies of successful people have their hero emerging out of modest circumstances , climbing his way to the top of the ladder, thanks to his talent. This book however shows us that just by being talented he could never have made it to the top. There are several other deciding factors that worked in in his favor and helped him reach there.
What are the other factors besides your IQ that could have made you successful? Factors like your age as compared to your peers, what kind of talent you had Versus what the economy needed at that point of time, the number of hours of practice that went into your work, what your parents did for a living, your degree of practical intelligence as against your general IQ. The author, Malcolm Gladwell provides us with examples from the lives of celebrities ranging from Sport Stars to Dressmakers, Ace Law Firms to Business Magnets who have become Outliers due to a cumulative set of advantages they have had over a period of time.
Gladwell has calculated a magic number for the number of hours of practice a person needs to achieve the highest level of skill. All successful people have had 10,000 hours of practice before they actually became successful or famous for their skill. To attain these hours of practice you also need the opportunity. Your family should have that much income that leaves you free to practice your line of interest, you should have the facilities like machines/ tools that you might need in order to practice, etc; The magic number holds good for several successful people such as Bill Gates, Mozart, Beatles and more.
We all know that upbringing of an individual plays a major role in his success, but how exactly? What children are taught in their growing years by their parents varies in different sections of society. Gladwell suggests that Children belonging to middle class families learn a sense of entitlement. They are groomed during summer vacation, sent away to courses besides what they are taught academically, encouraged to speak up to figures of authority (teachers, doctors, etc;) and even question them where necessary. However, children of poor homes were found to be characterized by a sense of distrust and constraint. Parents left education as the school’s responsibility and did not involve themselves actively in it. This translated into the child’s inability to fight for his rights and in turn made him lose opportunities that could have paved the path to his success.
Lets move one step above parenting and look at the culture of country as a whole. There are countries where a group of people belonging to the upper strata of society assume power and the lower levels give them this authority , respect and power. Citizens of these countries are unable to communicate with countries where this distance does not exist, again leading to failures. The author provides statistical data that indicates that maximum number of plane crashes took place from countries where this power distance index was high. Black boxes from plane remnants indicate that in most cases First officers were fully aware of the fatal mistake but were unable to clearly communicate this to the Captain or Air Traffic Control (Ground Station). They used Mitigated Speech , which is downplaying what you are trying to say, may be out of fear of speaking up to a higher authority. Again a recipe for disaster.
Gladwell also creates a link between a person’s traditional occupation and his being academically sound. If you want to know why Asians are good at Maths you will need to understand the painstaking procedure of growing rice first. Wondering what the relation between paddy fields and maths is? Meditate on it till you reach the closing chapter of the book. I’m sure you can join the dots by the time you reach there.
What can make you happy enough with your job to make you work endlessly? Gladwell refers to 3 things here : Firstly you should be autonomous, secondly the work should be complex and finally you should be able to clearly see the relation between effort and reward. This statement will make you think for a minute if there is something you do that fits the bill.
So when you meet a successful man next instead of asking who he is it will make more sense to ask where he is from. Its probably just a series of advantages that he has had over a period that has helped him reach there.
This book helped me view success from a different perspective. Only drawback is that at certain points I started feeling like we were reading too much into the statistical data provided by psychologists. That way probably we might end up seeing only what we are trying to see. That apart, this book is a must-read because although they are talking about top guns all along somewhere you can relate it to your daily life. A big thanks to the author for writing this book in simple English. I did not have to re-read sentences to make them meaningful.