Outliers: The Story of Success ~ Malcolm Gladwell
Pointers from one of the intriguing book of these century.
The story of success is more complex and a lot more interesting than it initially appears. Outliers will transform the way we understand success.
1: Something that is situated away from or classed differently from a main or related body.
2: A statistical observation that is markedly different in value from the others of the sample.
Example 1: Wolf and Bruhn had to convince the medical establishment to think about health and heart attacks in an entirely new way: they had to get them to realize that they wouldn't be able to understand why someone was healthy if all they did was think about an individual's personal choices or actions in isolation. They had to look beyond the individual. They had to understand the culture he or she was a part of, and who their friends and families were, and what town their families came from. They had to appreciate the idea that the values of the world we inhabit and the people we surround ourselves with have a profound effect on who we are.
In Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell wants to do for our understanding of success what Stewart Wolf did for our understanding of health. Malcolm Gladwell will argue that there is something profoundly wrong with the way we make sense of success.
What is the question we always ask about the successful? We want to know what they're like what kind of personalities they have, or how intelligent they are, or what kind of lifestyles they have, or what special talents they might have been born with. And we assume that it is those personal qualities that explain how that individual reached the top.
It makes a difference where and when we grew up. The culture we belong to and the legacies passed down by our forebears shape the patterns of our achievement in ways we cannot begin to imagine. It's not enough to ask what successful people are like, in other words. It is only by asking where they are from that we can unravel the logic behind who succeeds and who doesn't.
It is those who are successful, in other words, who are most likely to be given the kinds of special opportunities that lead to further success. It's the rich who get the biggest tax breaks. It's the best students who get the best teaching and most attention. And it's the biggest nine- and ten-year old’s who get the most coaching and practice. Success is the result of what sociologists like to call "accumulative advantage." The ingredients of success at the highest level: passion, talent, and hard work. But there was another element. A story of how the outliers in a field reached their lofty status through a combination of ability, opportunity, and utterly arbitrary advantage. Achievement is talent plus preparation. The problem with this view is that the closer psychologists look at the careers of the gifted, the smaller the role innate talent seems to play and the bigger the role preparation seems to play.
The people at the very top don't work just harder or even much harder than everyone else. They work much, much harder. The idea that excellence at performing a complex task requires a critical minimum level of practice surfaces again and again in studies of expertise. In fact, researchers have settled on what they believe is the magic number for true expertise: ten thousand hours. "The emerging picture from such studies is that ten thousand hours of practice is required to achieve the level of mastery associated with being a world-class expert in anything," writes the neurologist Daniel Levitin. "In study after study, of composers, basketball players, fiction, writers, ice skaters, concert pianists, chess players, master, criminals, and what have you, this number comes up again and again. Of course, this doesn't address why some people get more out of their practice sessions than others do. But no one has yet found a case in which true world class expertise was accomplished in less time. It seems that it takes the brain this long to assimilate all that it needs to know to achieve true mastery. Ten thousand hours is the magic number of greatness. Practice isn't the thing you do once you're good. It's the thing you do that makes you good.
Example 2: Beatles performed for 270 nights in just over a year and a half. By the time they had their first burst of success in 1964, in fact, they had performed live an estimated twelve hundred times. Do you know how extraordinary that is? Most bands today don't perform twelve hundred times in their entire careers. The Hamburg crucible is one of the things that set the Beatles apart.
Example 3: Bill Gates:
Opportunity number one was that Gates got sent to Lakeside. How many high schools in the world had access to a time-sharing terminal in 1968? Opportunity number two was that the mothers of Lakeside had enough money to pay for the school's computer fees. Number three was that, when that money ran out, one of the parents happened to work at C-Cubed, which happened to need someone to check its code on the weekends, and which also happened not to care if weekends turned into weeknights. Number four was that Gates just happened to find out about ISI, and ISI just happened to need someone to work on its payroll software. Number five was that Gates happened to live within walking distance of the University of Washington. Number six was that the university happened to have free computer time between three and six in the morning. Number seven was that TRW happened to call Bud Pembroke. Number eight was that the best programmers Pembroke knew for that particular problem happened to be two high school kids. And number nine was that Lakeside was willing to let those kids spend their spring term miles away, writing code. And what did virtually all of those opportunities have in common? They gave Bill Gates extra time to practice. By the time Gates dropped out of Harvard after his sophomore year to try his hand at his own software company, he'd been programming practically nonstop for seven consecutive years. He was way past ten thousand hours. How many teenagers in the world had the kind of experience Gates had? "If there were fifty in the world, I'd be stunned," he says. “There was C-Cubed and the payroll stuff we did, then TRW—all those things came together. I had a better exposure to software development at a young age than I think anyone did in that period, and all because of an incredibly lucky series of events.”
What truly distinguishes the success histories is not individual’s extraordinary talent but their extraordinary opportunities. We pretend that success is exclusively a matter of individual merit. But there's nothing in any of the histories we've looked at so far to suggest things are that simple. These are stories, instead, about people who were given a special opportunity to work hard and seized it, and who happened to come of age at a time when that extraordinary effort was rewarded by the rest of society. Their success was not just of their own making. It was a product of the world in which they grew up.
The relationship between success and IQ works only up to a point. Once someone has reached an IQ of somewhere around 120, having additional IQ points doesn't seem to translate into any measurable real-world advantage. That is not to say that there are not real differences between the intellectual capabilities represented by IQs of 115 and 150 or even between IQs of 150 and 180. But IQ differences in this upper part of the scale have far fewer personal implications than the thresholds just described and are generally of lesser importance for success in the popular sense than are certain traits of personality and character.
Knowledge of a law student's test scores is of little help if you are faced with a classroom of clever law students.
Practical intelligence includes things like "knowing what to say to whom, knowing when to say it, and knowing how to say it for maximum effect." It is procedural: it is about knowing how to do something without necessarily knowing why you know it or being able to explain it. It's practical in nature: that is, it's not knowledge for its own sake. It's knowledge that helps you read situations correctly and get what you want. And, critically, it is a kind of intelligence separate from the sort of analytical ability measured by IQ. To use the technical term, general intelligence and practical intelligence are "orthogonal": the presence of one doesn't imply the presence of the other. You can have lots of analytical intelligence and very little practical intelligence, or lots of practical intelligence and not much analytical intelligence.
IQ is a measure, to some degree, of innate ability. But social savvy is knowledge. It's a set of skills that must be learned. It must come from somewhere, and the place where we seem to get these kinds of attitudes and skills is from our families.
Sociologist Annette Lareau concluded in her study that the middle-class parenting style "concerted cultivation." It's an attempt to actively "foster and assess a child's talents, opinions and skills." Poor parents tend to follow, by contrast, a strategy of "accomplishment of natural growth." They see as their responsibility to care for their children but to let them grow and develop on their own. The heavily scheduled middleclass child is exposed to a constantly shifting set of experiences. She learns teamwork and how to cope in highly structured settings. She is taught how to interact comfortably with adults, and to speak up when she needs to. In Lareau's words, the middle-class children learn a sense of "entitlement."
Successful people don't do it alone. Where they come from matters. They're products of places and environments. It's that they had a skill that they had been working on for years that was suddenly very valuable. They were given an opportunity, and they seized it.
The three things: autonomy, complexity, and a connection between effort and reward are, most people agree, the three qualities that work must have if it is to be satisfying. If I offered, you a choice between being an architect for $75,000 a year and working in a tollbooth every day for the rest of your life for $100,000 a year, which would you take? I’m guessing the former, because there is complexity, autonomy, and a relationship between effort and reward in doing creative work, and that's worth more to most of us than money. Work that fulfills those three criteria is meaningful. Hard work is a prison sentence only if it doesn’t have meaning. Once it does, it becomes the kind of thing that makes you grab your wife around the waist and dance a jig. If you work hard enough and assert yourself, and use your mind and imagination, you can shape the world to your desires.
Success is not a random act. It arises out of a predictable and powerful set of circumstances and opportunities. Successful people world, their culture and generation and family history gave them the greatest of opportunities.
The "culture of honor" hypothesis says that it matters where you're from, not just in terms of where you grew up or where your parents grew up, but in terms of where your great-grandparents and great-great-grandparents grew up and even where your great-great-great-grandparents grew up. That is a strange and powerful fact. It's just the beginning, though, because upon closer examination, cultural legacies turn out to be even stranger and more powerful than that. Cultural legacies are powerful forces. They have deep roots and long lives. They persist, generation after generation, virtually intact, even as the economic and social and demographic conditions that spawned them have vanished, and they play such a role in directing attitudes and behavior that we cannot make sense of our world without them. So far in Outliers we've seen that success arises out of the steady accumulation of advantages: when and where you are born, what your parents did for a living, and what the circumstances of your upbringing were all make a significant difference in how well you do in the world. The question for the second part of Outliers is whether the traditions and attitudes we inherit from our forebears can play the same role. Can we learn something about why people succeed and how to make people better at what they do by taking cultural legacies seriously? I think we can.
"Power Distance Index" (PDI). Power distance is concerned with attitudes toward hierarchy, specifically with how much a particular culture values and respects authority. To measure it, Hofstede asked questions like "How frequently, in your experience, does the following problem occur: employees being afraid to express disagreement with their managers?" To what extent do the "less powerful members of organizations and institutions accept and expect that power is distributed unequally?" How much are older people respected and feared? Are power holders entitled to special privileges?
It turns out that there is also a big difference in how number-naming systems in Western and Asian languages are constructed. In English, we say fourteen, sixteen, seventeen, eighteen, and nineteen, so one might expect that we would also say oneteen, twoteen, threeteen, and fiveteen. But we don't. We use a different form: eleven, twelve, thirteen, and fifteen. Similarly, we have forty and sixty, which sound like the words they are related to (four and six). But we also say fifty and thirty and twenty, which sort of sound like five and three and two, but not really. And, for that matter, for numbers above twenty, we put the "decade" first and the unit number second twentyone, twenty-two), whereas for the teens, we do it the other way around (fourteen, seventeen, eighteen). The number system in English is highly irregular. Not so in China, Japan, and Korea. They have a logical counting system. Eleven is ten-one. Twelve is ten-two. Twenty-four is twotens-four and so on. That difference means that Asian children learn to count much faster than American children. easily. Ask an English-speaking seven-year old to add thirty-seven plus twenty-two in her head, and she has to convert the words to numbers (37 + 22). Only then can she do the math: 2 plus 7 is 9 and 30 and 20 is 50, which makes 59. Ask an Asian child to add three-tens seven and two-tens-two, and then the necessary equation is right there, embedded in the sentence. No number translation is necessary: It's five-tens-nine. "The Asian system is transparent". For fractions, we say three-fifths. The Chinese is literally 'out of five parts, take three.' That's telling you conceptually what a fraction is. It's differentiating the denominator and the numerator." It's hard not to wonder how many other cultural legacies have an impact on our twenty-first-century intellectual tasks.
Virtually every success involves someone or some group working harder than their peers. Success is a function of persistence and doggedness and the willingness to work hard for twenty-two minutes to make sense of something that most people would give up on after thirty seconds.
Everything we have learned in Outliers says that success follows a predictable course. It is not the brightest who succeed. If it were, Chris Langan would be up there with Einstein. Nor is success simply the sum of the decisions and efforts we make on our own behalf. It is, rather, a gift. Outliers are those who have been given opportunities—and who have had the strength and presence of mind to seize them. For Bill Gates, the lucky break was being born at the right time and getting the gift of a computer terminal in junior high. They were born at the right time with the right parents and the right ethnicity, which allowed them to practice takeover law for twenty years before the rest of the legal world caught on.
Superstar lawyers and math whizzes and software entrepreneurs appear at first blush to lie outside ordinary experience. But they don't. They are products of history and community, of
opportunity and legacy. Their success is not exceptional or mysterious. It is grounded in a web of advantages and inheritances, some deserved, some not, some earned, some just plain lucky—but all critical to making them who they are. The outlier, in the end, is not an outlier at all.