Book: Outliers

Outliers: The Story of Success

by Malcolm Gladwell

Summary: An investigation into the conditions that lead to successful individuals and why traditional assumptions about intelligence, personality, and effort are only a part of the picture.

Intended Audience: Widely accessible book for those curious about why some are successful and some are not

Why You Should Read It: This book provides ten solid stories to describe how opportunity and legacy can greatly enhance the chance of someone becoming very successful. Traditional views of working hard, networking well, and using your natural intelligence can only get you part way on the path to significant achievements.  Other environmental and situational circumstances can play an even large role in separating the merely good from the insanely great, including:

  • when you are born in the year relative to category cutoffs
  • the amount of time you have to practice, coupled with an emerging opportunity in your area
  • cultural advantages that can open significant avenues to explore and develop at a young age
  • being fortunate enough to discover, be exposed to, participate, and grow meaningful work
  • your position in and the structure of the social organizations that you interact with
  • the structure of your language and how it influences or enhances your brain’s capabilities

As someone with the responsibility of raising two small kids, it is very interesting to see how some of these lessons can be applied in what I teach and how I lead to provide them with opportunities and circumstances that I wouldn’t have normally considered.

My Takeaways

  • The payoff of hard work and persistence may not be realized in the current generation.  Often the rewards only accrue to your children and your children’s children, and those rewards can be significant.
  • Never read a chapter about the cultural causes of plane crashes as the pilot attempts a tricky landing in a brisk crosswind in a small commuter plane.
  • To become truly elite at something takes upwards of 10,000 hours of practice, so get started early.  The very best spend much more time practicing than actually doing, so take time from your workday to find ways to sharpen and expand your skills in a error-tolerant environment.

Recommended?: Solid book with lots of great anecdotes; an enjoyable read