When it was released in 2008, Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers: The Story of Success shot to the top of the bestsellers lists. The book offers an intriguing objective analysis of the factors and specific scenarios that may contribute to success.
For instance, one particularly interesting observation Gladwell dissects is that a high number of Canadian elite hockey players have birthdays in the first few months of the year. Gladwell explains that this is not coincidence, but a direct result of circumstance. In Canada, youth hockey leagues are divided by age so that everyone born in the same calendar year plays in the same league. Naturally, those born in the beginning of the year are older and thus often bigger and have more experience playing. As a result, they tend to be the best players in their league and thus the players most likely to be selected for elite teams and for added coaching attention.
Moving on, Gladwell helps explain the factors that contributed to the success of Bill Gates. Although he is clearly smart, Gates had a huge advantage early in life by having access to a computer back in 1968 at the age of 13, well before computer access was commonplace. Without that, Gladwell posits that he probably never would have become the multibillionaire that he is today.
In addition to showing that genius and raw talent is not always the determining factor in an individual’s success, Gladwell frequently mentions how hard work factors in. He talks about the “10,000 hour rule,” which posits that it takes 10,000 hours of practice to achieve success. He notes that the 10,000 hour rule can be met with 20 hours of work per week over a 10-year period.
So what are the overall takeaways from this book? First, hard work and repeated practice is important. Second, even with hard work and talent, you can’t do it alone. The ability to succeed is partially contingent on opportunities and the help of other people. He writes, “No one—not rock stars, not professional athletes, not software billionaires, and not even geniuses—ever makes it alone.”