Book Review: Outliers – The Story of Success

by Ron Haynes


There are several myths about success:
1. Hard working entrepreneur pulls himself up by his bootstraps, works hard at an original idea for a few years, and becomes a hugely successful businessman. But there are many hard working entrepreneurs who never make it.
2. Born into the right family with the right connections and a fancy college education, an heir or heiress parlays their grandfather’s business into a huge multi-billion dollar company. But there are many people born into money that lose or squander it all.
3. Lucky all her life, she got all the right breaks, and always seemed to be in the right place at the right time. But not everyone is lucky 100 percent of the time.

What if none of these were true? What if all of them were true? What if success was a unique combination of luck, skill, talent, common sense, family connections, family history, determination, perseverance, and more? What if there was no one single factor?

OutliersIn Outliers: The Story of Success one of the most delightful books I’ve read in a long, long time, author Malcolm Gladwell outlines the way people from The Beatles to the Hatfields and the McCoys to a struggling family in Jamaica become successful, or don’t become successful (in the case of the feud). More importantly, he argues that the complete story of success, the real underlying story, is much more complex and surprising than anyone wants to believe.

Bills in the computer lab

For example, Bill Gates might have just been another successful banker in Seattle if it hadn’t been for how close he lived to The University of Washington. In the University’s computer lab, young Bill Gates was able to spend thousands of hours on one of the most advanced computers in the country and was tutored by someone Gates describes as “knowing more about programming than anyone he’d ever met.”

Another Bill, Bill Joy (the TRUE father of the Internet) had a similar experience hundreds of miles away in Michigan. He was able, through a programming error, to spend thousands of hours on the University of Michigan’s computer system (the same type Gates learned on). Presented with the opportunity to learn everything he could, Joy gave up football, girls, cars, and the typical high school life to learn how computers worked and how to network them. Later he went on to write the architecture language for what would become the World Wide Web, write code Macintosh computers, and found Sun Microsystems. There, he wrote another computer language that you’re using today – Java. Bill Joy is called “the Edison of the Internet.”

These two people share something in common with another legend — The Beatles. Seven years before their explosion on the American stage, John Lennon and Paul McCartney had been playing together in clubs in London and Hamburg, Germany. It was in Hamburg in particular where the former high school rock band really came together. According to John Lennon, they had never really played together for more than an hour or so, but in Hamburg, they would play for 8 hours straight! They played 7 days a week (maybe it was 8 days a week) until 12:30 in the morning, pushing themselves to ever dizzying heights of musical competence, even perfection.

10,000 hours

Can you guess what these three examples have in common? Self discipline. Commitment. Practice. Lots and lots of practice. TONS of practice. Malcolm Gladwell theorizes that the magic number at which someone really STARTS becoming proficient, even and expert is … ten thousand hours. That’s a one with four zeros after it. Ironically, Gates, Joy, and the Beatles, in subsequent interviews talking about how much time they spent on their passion, the number 10,000 hours of practice keeps coming up. Bill Joy has used that exact number in interviews when he discusses how much time he spent programming by his sophomore year at Berkley.

Yeah, yeah, I know, I know. Practice makes perfect. No. Not necessarily. In one of the more unusual twists in the story of success, Gladwell examines when programming geniuses were born and finds that there was a bit of luck involved. Had Gates or Joy been born just 5 years later, they would have been too late on the scene to succeed in the computer revolution. Had they been born just five years sooner, they would probably have been too busy with a wife, kids, a job, and life in general to have spent those kinds of hours on computers. Success has more than just one factor.

And that’s how Gladwell draws the reader in. The factors of success are so varied, at one time infinitesimally minute, yet so incredibly important, that there isn’t just one set rule for success.

Gladwell pulls back the covers on the real life story of a genius and shows why being the smartest person in the room isn’t always the path to success. Perhaps “practical” knowledge DOES beat book smarts and he demonstrates why. In later chapters, he examines “the ethnic theory of plane crashes,” and discovers that where you were born could determine your propensity to be involved in a commercial jetliner crash. Where you’re born, indeed, where your grandparents were born, could have an influence on whether or not you become involved in a fatal family feud. And how does the cultivation of a rice paddy help Asian students develop the self discipline to get better math grades? Could it really be that the best hockey players are born between January and March?

I could go on and on singing the praises of this book. Well written, engaging, and intriguing, Gladwell gives us hope because success isn’t out of our reach because of our IQ or our family connections, or our personal history. The lives of the “outliers,” those whose measure of success is way beyond the norm, have been influenced by more than just who they were. Where they lived, where they were from, and what they had been up to had a huge influence on their success as well. The biggest component of success is the willingness to seize an opportunity when it presents itself and  put in the time and effort to immerse yourself in it.

Buy or Don’t Buy?

I give this book an unqualified BUY. This is one that I don’t plan to give away! If you cannot afford to purchase one, check with your local library to see if they would be willing to buy one or get one from another library through an inter-library loan

About the author

Ron Haynes has written 1001 articles on The Wisdom Journal.


The founder and editor of The Wisdom Journal in 2007, Ron has worked in banking, distribution, retail, and upper management for companies ranging in size from small startups to multi-billion dollar corporations. He graduated Suma Cum Laude from a top MBA program and currently is a Human Resources and Management consultant, helping companies know how employees will behave in varying situations and what motivates them to action, assisting firms in identifying top talent, and coaching managers and employees on how to better communicate and make the workplace MUCH more enjoyable. If you'd like help in these areas, contact Ron using the contact form at the top of this page or at 870-761-7881.


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{ 29 comments }

plonkee

I’ll stick up for Sir Tim Berners-Lee (gotta love a Brit :mrgreen: ) and say that Bill Joy worked extensively on the architecture protocol (tcp/ip) for the internet, which the web uses. This happened well before the invention of http and html etc late 80s/early 90s @ CERN, which I don’t think he was directly involved in. Of course tcp/ip is probably more important.

Jeff@MySuperChargedLife

I’ve been waiting in line (virtually speaking) at the library for weeks now for a copy of Outliers. I love reading Gladwell’s books. This just made me more impatient to get it. Great review!

Cathy Quik

Malcolm Gladwell rocks my world :)

I think success can happen to anyone, you just have to be on your toes and see opportunity when it comes. Your review makes me realize how much I really need to read Outliers.

Thanks for the overview!

Brianne

I LOVE Malcolm Gladwell! I have two of his best-seller’s “Blink” and “The Tipping Point,” both of which are must-reads for anyone working in the marketing field. As a senior Marketing major at the University of Maryland, I found that Gladwell’s books offered insight about topics that are not discussed in any textbook I’ve read. I look forward to reading “Outliers” regardless whether I win the free copy or not! :-)

Great blog, by the way!

Jfunk

Nice review. I love hearing the “behind the scenes” stories of those who have changed culture and history. I’ll have to add this book to my list.

- J

deepikaur

I’ve been wanting to read this book since I saw it over at the bookstore, but had to spend quite a bit on purchasing test-prep books instead. Anyway, great review!

Laura K

A family member also gave Outliers a great review and I’m dying to read it!

Dan Massicotte

Hey Ron, sounds like a great book to encourage us to “stay with it” and keeping working on our project in a highly focused way, instead of just dumping hours and hours into work.

rtc

Thanks for the informative review.

Valerie

Hi Ron, “Outliers” was on my Christmas wish list (along with other great reads), but it did not show up in my stocking this year.

Enjoying your blog!

Valerie

Carla

Thats the next book on my list to read! Thanks for this wonderful review.

Andy

I’m in the middle of reading The Tipping Point right now. Blink and Outliers will be soon to follow. Thanks for the review!

Daphne

Both The Tipping Point and Blink kept me glued to the pages. Malcolm Gladwell probably spent 10,000 hours researching those books to make them the masterpieces they are. Outliers is on my reading list!

jumperjah

Seems like a definite read. Time to add it to my list of books for the year (Makes it a lot easier to get to my resolution of 26 books for the year!)

Andy Wood

I just picked up The Tipping Point, and am totally impressed with Gladwell.

The whole 10,000 hours thing you deal with in your review is a theme I’m seeing resurface in a variety of sources. It’s the difference between “good” and “great.” Reminds me of your post about V.J. Singh:

http://www.thewisdomjournal.com/Blog/the-unfair-advantage/

Robert

I love Gladwell’s books and TED talks, he provides amazing insight into human behavior. I would love to read this book, I am 177 on the hold list at my library :(

Frank White

I want to win!!

bill

This book sounds great, put me in for a chance to win it.

YJ

great review– as i read it i was thinking my husband would love this book, and then i got to the part about the 10,000 hours and i realized he already told me about this book from another site he reads! we’ve been peppering the ’10,000 hour’ factor into our daily conversation and enjoying the inspiration provided by the examples from this book as well as loved ones in our lives.

the weakonomist

I’m reading Blink right now. It’s a great book, but I’m having trouble maintaining interest. Other authors entertain me more when talking about the same subject. But I will read Gladwell’s other books because the guy is smart, and I’m learning nifty things about how the mind works.

Sara

Thanks for the insightful review. Too bad there aren’t any on paperbackswap. Guess I’ll have to hope that my name gets picked out of the hat for one of the five freebies. :lol:

CE

This is one of the quintessential books of our time, you must read it to understand the concept of how our dreams of success have or have not come to pass.

Patrick

This book caught my attention a few weeks ago when I read a write up about it on a national news site. I think I’ll borrow a copy from the library. This seems like a very good read. :)

Bill

free book drawing

Theresa

Please enter me in the contest.

Sarah

I’ve been wanting to read this book since it was mentioned on NPR!

Barak

Thanks so much for the book recommendations. I’ve reserved this one from my library and look forward to reading it.

Kris

My sister just showed me one of Gladwell’s TED talks today and, after a little more research, I was ready to queue up at my library’s website to read “Outliers.” Hopefully, this opportunity will allow me to skip the wait.

Toby

Sounds like an excellent read. His other books have been fascinating!

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