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  • Writer's pictureAnderson Petergeorge

Outliers: The Story of Success - Malcolm Gladwell


Malcolm Gladwell takes us on an intellectual journey through the world of "outliers"--the best and the brightest, the most famous and the most successful. He asks the question: what makes high-achievers different?

The 10,000 Hour Rule

  • For years psychologists have believed "achievement is talent plus preparation." However, the more they study achievement, the more they realize how small a role talent plays. Preparation, or practice, is much more important.

  • In the early 1990s Swedish psychologist K. Anders Ericsson led a study about the role practice plays in developing musical talent. He learned the best violinists had 10,000 hours of practice under their belts by age 20. Students in the next-best group, who were classified as "good" violinists, had about 8,000 hours of practice by age 20. Those who intended to teach instead of play professionally had only about 4,000 hours of practice. Ericsson's research suggests the difference is not someone's ability, but how hard someone works.

  • This and other studies point to what is now known as the 10,000-Hour Rule: to master a complex task, someone must practice for 10,000 hours

  • Modern pedagogy discourages this by spreading children's studies thinly across many subjects, which prevents the emergence of mastery

Nurture vs Nature (high IQ vs hard work)

  • Gladwell says the "relationship between success and IQ works only up to a point." IQ does make a difference when looking at a wide span of scores, such as comparing someone with an IQ of 70 to someone with an IQ of 170. However, two people with "relatively high" IQs aren't all that different. Someone with an IQ of 130 is just "as likely to win a Nobel Prize" as someone with an IQ of 180.

  • Practical Intelligence is more important than having a high IQ to be successful. Knowing what to say to whom, knowing when to say it and knowing how to say it for maximum effect is critical for success.

    • This is why IQ are not correlated to success (results from the IQ experiment conducted in the book)

    • This is also why Chris Langen, the person with the highest IQ in the world, is far from being the most successful person in the world

Do not care about your "honor"

  • There are more "family feuds," or disputes between generations of families, in the South, particularly in the Appalachian region, than anywhere else in the United States. Sociologists believe these feuds, which nearly always result in multiple deaths, are caused by the region's "culture of honor." These deaths ended up being the demise to many promising family lines.

  • This "culture of honor" (ideology of always standing up for views and holdings your ground) can be attributed to one of the reasons why the north progressed much quicker than the south. In experiments individuals in the South would get into arguments when called names, however, individuals from the North were seen to shrug things off. This resulted in lower stress levels and confrontations.

Why Asians are good at math

  • Western children are taught math by rote memory, but Asian students are taught the patterns of math, which are often in the number's description. Considering fractions, Westerners say "three-fifths," while Chinese students learn it as "out of five parts, take three." The name of the number ("Two Ones" vs. "Eleven") also describes the concept, which makes math much less intimidating for people learning how it works.

    • The name of these numbers in various Asian languages also have less syllables than Western languages, allowing children to thinking through concepts much quicker

  • Gladwell mentions another reason Asians are good at math is because of their upbringing and history of focusing on hard work. This stems from a majority of Asians coming from a "farming" background especially in rice paddies (one of the hardest and detailed form of farming)

  • Asian culture also has many proverbs on how hard work is the route of success vs. typical European proverbs on how God is the route to success - this creates a different shift in mindset and work ethic

  • This ideology around working hard that is ingrained in Asians through their upbringing results in them spending more effort and time in figuring out math problems without giving up

  • A study showed that how "hardworking" a country is measured by average hours spent working in a day matches identically to how well people from that country score on standardized tests

Why private school children thrive over public school

  • Story of a child born in a lower income neighbourhood but receives access to a private school typically for children from high-income families: Gladwell describes the typical day of Marita, a 12-year-old private school student. She gets up at 5:45 a.m., takes the bus to school, comes home at 5:30 p.m., and then does her homework until bedtime at 11 p.m. There's little time for friends or family, and those outside of that private school don't understand why she's pushing herself so hard. However, Marita understands this school is her "chance to get out." Most of the graduates get scholarships to private or religious high schools, which give them a better chance of getting into college.

    • Martia's success is not because she goes to a private school but the fact that her whole day is consumed with activities that keep engaging her. The school provides her with so much homework and activities that she develops a strong work etiquette - which becomes to route to her success.

  • When testing children that spent a semester in a private school and a semester in public school the test results were quite similar. However, after a summer away, the private school children ended up scoring much higher on tests than the public school kids. When looked in further, the private school kids were still engaged in stimulating activities on their summer off (ie. Camps, more classes, music) while the public school children whose parents couldn’t afford extra-curriculars spent the summer not engaged.

    • It is activities and opportunities outside of school that is important to the development of a child

  • Immigrant parents teach children to be more submissive to authority (similar to themselves) which is why many minorities are less vocal in the work environment. Educated and wealthier parents force their children to speak their views early (ie. Talking to a doctor directly) and this allows them to speak up and voice their opinions as adults (ie. Asking for promotions or voicing discomfort)

When you were born has an impact on how successful you may be in something

  • It is not a coincidence why the majority of professional hockey players are born in the months January - March.

  • Children born early in the year are more physically developed as opposed to children born at the end of the year. This allows them to excel in hockey (a very physical dependent activity) against their peers. This initial success compared to their peers puts them in a position to continue to succeed going forward in the field

    • This initial success early in their hockey careers (age 9/10) allows children born in Jan-Mar to be placed on special All-Star teams, providing them with exposure to a higher level of play and most importantly more practice vs children who were born later in the year

    • Opportunity is exponential - this initial opportunity exponentially leads to more opportunities and ultimately helps create outliers in the field

  • Ten thousand hours is a lot of time, roughly the equivalent of 416 24-hour days. Practicing that much requires encouragement and financial support. Gladwell says most people can achieve 10,000 hours only if they are in a special program, like an elite hockey team, or if they get a "special opportunity." - therefore in hockey having this advantage of being physically more developed than your peers allows you to get "special opportunities" early and further escalates the gap in skill from peers born in the same year

  • This phenomenon also happens in education. Arbitrary age cutoff dates for entrance into elementary school causes a disparity in classroom experience. Children whose birthdays are at the beginning of the school year test better and are often judged as being smarter or more gifted than their peers with birthdays at the end of the school year. "Teachers are confusing maturity with ability" when putting students into leveled reading and math groups. Those who are more mature are taught better skills than those playing catchup with their peers.

  • One way to combat this problem is to create several different hockey leagues—one for children born between January and March, one for children born between April and June, and so on. Allow them to mature at their own rates, and then select the elite squads when they are older and closer to full physical maturity. The same action could be taken in schools by dividing class rosters by birth date.

  • The era you were born in could have a huge role to being successful in a certain field. All the top computer/internet related entrepreneurs were born in a set era (1950s). This is because they were at prime decision making years when the internet and personal computers were becoming mainstream.

    • Take a step back to understand what the big trends are in your era in order to make sure you benefit from certain macro trends that are currently going around you

  • Circumstances of birth have a major influence on the development of mastery. Children that have unusual opportunities to master an important skill will enjoy incredible advantages later in life.

  • (Ex. from book: Bill Gates had access to a powerful computer in his early teens. He developed mastery long before many others and deployed that when he founded Microsoft).

TL:DR Summary is anyone can be successful provided that you can:

  • Put in hard work it matters more than how smart you are

  • Recognize and take advantage of good opportunities around you

  • Being around motivating groups/environments increase the opportunities for success and are absolutely critical to this concept of becoming an outlier

  • Success = luck, timing, context/culture, & persistence over time (grit & resilience)


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