The story of success ‘Outliers’ by Malcolm Gladwell

February 15, 2013 11:00 am

Outliers“I think you will find this quite interesting, read it.” My friend placed a mysterious white paperback into my hands. At first glance I thought he had given me some kind of self-help book.

“Promise me you will read it. That book completely changed my view of success” he continued.

I scanned the front page and struggled to pronounce the loud, red title “Out-lie-ers”.
Outliers: The story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell, number one international bestseller”

The Times described it simply as ‘revelatory’. The author, well known for his inquisitive works, started his career as a journalist, cultural commentator and an intellectual adventurer. After working as a reporter for the Washington Post, his mind became intrigued by subjects that were out of the ordinary.

‘Outliers’ essentially means just that – out of the ordinary. It is not so dissimilar to an anomaly found in a scientific investigation, a point on the graph that is different from the rest. In fact, you can make huge comparisons with the majority of the remaining data that has normal qualities.

In this case Malcolm Gladwell looks at highly successful men and women. They are outliers to us and we cannot understand how they have become so rich and famous. Our understanding of success so far, is that it is dependent upon the individual, that only our personalities, characteristics and habits will determine how far we get in the world. We have assumed that out of the ordinary people have been born with special unique talents. But aren’t we all born with talent?

Firstly, we must be terribly cautious when we define success. Opinions tend to vary greatly. Some say success is when you accomplish a set goal. It is the wonderful feeling of joy that makes you want to crack open an expensive bottle of champagne. Others may argue that real success means fame, power and wealth.

The dictionary defines it as ‘the achievement of something desired, planned or attempted, gaining fame and prosperity’. Unfortunately in today’s world, accomplishment is usually measured in how many 0s make up your bank account, how many hits you can get on your social network and how many people you boss around. Ideally, we should not look to others to determine our victories.Malcolm Gladwell

“What truly distinguishes their histories is not their extraordinary talent but their extraordinary opportunities” Malcolm Gladwell writes about his findings. He has revealed another side of success to us after relentlessly collecting information from all over the globe.

He has found that outliers have hidden advantages and extraordinary opportunities. It is his view that the culture you are from, who your friends and family are and when you are born all lead to the chance of success. He urges us to look beyond the individual to understand their great achievements.

The non-fictional book guides us through a journey of hockey players, entrepreneurs, lawyers, software programmers and rock stars. It’s alive with diagrams, graphs and statistics to find an answer to this ultimate question- what has made them successful?

“Practice isn’t the thing you do once you are good. It’s the thing you do that makes you good”-Malcolm Gladwell

Practice: Ten thousand hours of practice is the magic number of greatness. Putting it into perspective, it can roughly translate to about one thousand hours of practice a year. Daniel Levitin writesin study after study of composers, basketball players, fiction writers, ice skaters, concert pianists, chess players, and master criminals… ten years is the magic number of greatness”.

The Beatles kicked off a revolutionary swinging sound in the 1960s. They played live twelve thousand times before their success in 1964. In 1960 they were invited to play at an all night gig in Hamburg. They were forced to play eight hours a night, seven days a week. They had performed their music over 270 nights in just a year and a half. The Beatles had been together seven years before they came to the United States. Incidentally, the time that elapsed between their founding and arguably their greatest achievement (Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club band) is ten years.

“If you don’t have a competitive advantage, don’t compete”- Jack Welch

Advantage: Imagine you are one of the few to be born in the 1930s. The country is in a state of depression and families cannot afford to have children. As a result, the generation born in this decade is a lot smaller than both the generation before and the one following. It is a demographic trough.

H. Scott Gordon wrote about the benefits of being born in a small generation. More than likely you would be born into a spacious hospital. At school there would be ample staff and opportunities for progression. The uncrowned universities would be easy to get into as the competition for placements are low. Employers would welcome you with open arms.

However, there are other types of advantages that could help you along your way. Consider what benefit the internet could be for us or the vast improvements in technology today.

Abraham Lincoln“Let no feeling of discouragement prey upon you and in the end you are sure to succeed”- Abraham Lincoln.

Persistence and Courage: We have rightly praised extraordinary opportunities but I believe that merit should also be placed with the individual. Many people rise from rags to riches; yes they have had fantastic luck, but they are also impressive, strong characters. They are talented and with their immovable strength, they did not give in to rejection or setbacks.

We must all remember that success should not reside in the bank account or live in the eyes of others. As Winston Churchill said “success is walking from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm”.

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