We all know the stories of success: the stories of the lone-wolf, the self-made man who, despite everything, overcame his obstacles and climbed the ladder of success on his own. But is it really how it happens? In Outliers: The Story of Success, Malcolm Gladwell suggests a different narrative. For him, we give too much attention to what successful people are like when we should really focus on where they are from.
I was rather inspired by reading the book this month and in this post, you’ll find my key takeaways and opinion. You’re in a rush? Then spoiler alert: I recommend.
Summary • What is the book about?
Outliers: The story of success is about men and women who have achieved success. People who, in their daily lives as well as their greatest achievements accomplish more than the average worker or individual. But much more than the innate talent that got them to achieve so much, in this book, Malcolm Gladwell argues that it’s the circumstances and the environment and mostly the context that made them who they are. Buy Outliers.
As the author cleverly says,
"Successful people don’t do it alone. Where they come from matters. They’re products of particular places and environments.".
Ready to learn more? Let’s dive in.
Key Lessons from Outliers
1. Knowing how to seize opportunities
Ask Bill Gates how he rose to success and became one of the richest men in the world and he will tell you that he just got lucky. Born at the dawn of the digital revolution he had the opportunity to help shape it. Why not everyone else? Contrary to most people at this time, Bill Gates was lucky enough to have almost free and unlimited computer time in his Lakeside School. He had a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to practice and develop a skill that few people had and... he seized it.
"These are stories, instead, about people who were given a special opportunity to work really hard and seized it, and who happened to come of age at a time when that extraordinary effort was rewarded by the rest of society. Their success was not just of their own making. It was a product of the world in which they grew up." — Malcolm Gladwell
We like to tell stories of self-made men who defied everything and made it on their own, but as Malcolm Gladwell himself puts it, no one ever makes it alone. Instead, the most successful men and women, were only the products of their environment, their education, their opportunities.
2. The 10'000 hours rule
Although they are known today as the greatest and most famous band of all time, the Beatles didn’t start on a pedestal. In fact, they weren't even that great. Instead, they benefited from a huge opportunity: after meeting in England, the band was discovered by a promoter who sent them to perform days in and days out (more than eight hours a day) in a… strip club in Hamburg for two years.
And just like you would expect a muscle to grow by going to the gym every day, The Beatles developed their ability to perform, to interpret songs both from their inventory and from others'. They could get instant feedback on their new singles by performing them in front of the crowd, allowing them to make corrections and know what works and what doesn't, right away.
"Achievement is talent plus preparation. The problem with this view is that the closer psychologists look at the careers of the gifted, the smaller the role innate talent seems to play, and the bigger the role preparation seems to play."
— Malcolm Gladwell
All of these opportunities made the band ready to face the world. When most artists barely have a few hundred hours of performance if they are lucky, by the end of this journey, The Beatles had 10 000 hours of practice under their belt, the perfect time to become master in a given area. Galvanized by this journey, they were finally ready to embark on their real adventure: changing the world with their music.
3. Valuing Hard-Work
Nature counts and it is true that they are indeed geniuses in nature. Men, or women who are so much brighter or more capable than others at a very young age. Yet, what really differentiates them from everyone around them is their ability to seize opportunities and to work hard.
There is a Chinese proverb that says :
“No one who can rise before dawn three hundred sixty days a year fails to make his family rich.” — Chinese Proverb
For the author, the traditional culture of the Rice Paddies explains why Asian students are so much better at Maths than students from the West. Being rather arduous but very rewarding, the culture of growing rice ingrained into the mind of the farmers the value of hard work. Of waking up before the sun and giving their best every day of the year.Valuing hard work.
This book shows why some people succeed so much more than others. As experience has shown, it's not that much because they are inherently better or smarter or that they work so much harder (although they do). It's rather because they grew up in a society or at a time that created opportunities for them to get to where they got.
While reading, the book often reminded me of this quote by Angela Duckworth in Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance.
“Do the precociously talented learn that lesson? Do they discover that the capacity to do something over and over again, to struggle, to have patience, can be mastered—but not overnight?”
— Angela Duckworth
— Should you read "Outliers"? Yes. —
I started reading Outliers: The Story of Success without knowing much of what to expect, yet I closed the last page of the book with a feeling of pride and great inspiration. In under 300 pages, this book changed my view of success and talent.
"Practice isn’t the thing you do once you’re good. It’s the thing you do that makes you good." — Malcolm Gladwell
It's undeniable that some people are naturally talented in some fields. Mozart is Mozart and many consider him as a musical genius but despite having composed his first symphony at the age of 8 years, it's only more than a decade later that he published his most renowned works... after having practiced for 10 more than 10'000 hours. Born in a family of good standing and with a musician father, he had everything needed to nurture his already genius mind.
What Malcolm Gladwell tries to show us is that those we see as overnight success were a product of three things: opportunities, hard work, and their environment.
If you are interested in learning more, I highly recommend you read the book. 📖
Have you ever read Outliers?
What are your views on success and hard work?