Book Review: Outliers
We’ve been told (especially millennials) that we are in control of our lives – that we can achieve literally anything we desire as long as we put in the right effort. If we try hard enough, we are told, we can achieve anything.
First, I would like to point out that this is a very unusual thing to be taught in the grand scheme of human history. Throughout history, most people lived within maybe a few hundred miles from where they were born and had, for the most part, their career path (if you can really call it a career path) determined at birth. What you would do was determined simply by what your parents did. You were of your parents – you even introduced yourself based on your family lineage. The movement towards a more modern and a more affluent society in most nations after the Industrial Revolution brought many good things to the human condition, one of them being an ability to move around in the world and to move up in the world. You could throw off your past totally and become whoever you desired to be (at least that’s what we have generally been told in the last few decades).
Now, some people don’t agree with the almost idealistic idea that you can be anything, go anywhere, and achieve anything as long as you work hard enough. Some people, myself included, believe that the luck of the draw plays a big role – you’ve got to be smart and have some innate talents to be very successful. Many people believe that although you can learn facts and work hard, there is something we’re born with that we might not be able to alter (maybe you can call it IQ – but I’m not quite sure). Some of us are born with more innate abilities and some of us are born with less. Some people are very talented and smart and others are just average while others are below average and some are developmentally disabled with no chance to achieve anything truly great as defined by most people. This is just the nature of the world. It’s based on biology and the stochastic (random) way genes from parents are combined to create the genetic makeup of an offspring. This might sound unpleasant to some. I understand why it would sound unpleasant. We don’t want to think that things are out of our hands. Instead, we want to think that everything is under our control.
Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers takes it a step further. Not only does Gladwell not believe that absolutely everything is under your control, he also argues that even innate talents and skills cannot explain everything – they cannot explain why some people become incredibly successful, why some people become outliers. So, even if you have innate abilities and talents, even if you were lucky enough to be born a genius in math or have world-class music abilities or possess tons of any other useful skill or talent, you aren’t guaranteed extreme success no matter how hard you work. To become extremely successful, to become an outlier, Gladwell argues that luck plays a role.
Gladwell discusses what is called the “10,000 Hour Rule” which states that you must do something for 10,000 hours to become a master at it. To be an outlier, you’ve got to put in your 10,000 hours. Even an absolute genius has to put in their 10,000 hours to realize his or her full potential according to Gladwell. The book is filled with very interesting examples that help to demonstrate Gladwell’s theory that circumstances and luck play an enormous role in where you ultimately end up. If you’ve got to practice for 10,000 hours, won’t those individuals who were lucky enough to get that practice early on have an enormous advantage? Additionally, random things can happen that will either put you on the path to becoming an outlier or derail you from that path. Gladwell’s Outliers is filled with many real-world examples.
This is a truly remarkable book written by a man with an ability to think outside the box. What makes it great is that Gladwell is an excellent writer in addition to being an excellent thinker, so he is able to convey things clearly and without too much excess dialogue. I highly recommend this book. It was in vogue a few years ago, but it has timeless aspects to it. The book will not only open your eyes by showing you that you might have relatively naive and childish views about what brings on success in our world, but it will teach you to think in a more cause-and-effect fashion.