Growth5 Blog

Friday, March 6, 2009

Malcolm Gladwell's Outliers

I just finished reading Malcolm Gladwell's Outliers: The Story of Success.

Gladwell offers that "self made men" don't exist. People aren't successful based on genius and talent alone, "they are invariably the beneficiaries of hidden advantages and extraordinary opportunities and cultural legacies that allow them to learn and work hard and make sense of the world in ways others cannot."

Some interesting tidbits:

1. If you aspire to play in the NHL, you need to have been born in January, February or March. These three months have the highest percentage of players as most youth leagues have a January 1st cut off for age classification. A player with a January birth date is 11 months older than someone in their division that was born in December. In their youth, the Jan/Feb/Mar -born players are often bigger/stronger than the later-month born players and thus end up making the travel teams year after year; get better coaching, more ice time, etc...

2. Genius and talent can only take you so far. It takes 10,000 hours to be an expert at something. Which is why I'm surprised I am not much better at sleeping. As to this blog, please be patient with me as I struggle through my next 9,975 practice posts.

3. If you were born in the 1830's you are really old, furthermore, you have a much better chance of being one of the wealthiest historical figures adjusted to current dollars.

A good portion of the leaders in technology were born in the mid 1950's. Timing is important.

4. Bill Gates was believed to be the only 13-year old with unlimited access to a time-sharing computer terminal in 1968 and therefore his talent flourished... what if a million other young people had the same opportunity.

5. Circumstances/opportunity are very important, maybe more important than we thought, but you still have to put in the time. Entrepreneurs have always known this.

Summary: I think Gladwell was a bit one-sided with the opportunity/circumstance argument. There are plenty of successful people who have overcome their circumstances and in doing so created opportunities for themselves.

I do agree that regardless of one's circumstances - after 10,000 hours of hard work - a "talented genius" is more likely to emerge.

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