Self-made Success – Or Is It?
“Success follows a predictable course. It is not the brightest who succeed. Nor is success simply the sum of the decisions and efforts we make on our own behalf. It is, rather, a gift.”
This is the underlining thesis of Outliers, and I must say, it is very well backed up. Often times we look at highly successful people with amaze. We wonder how intelligent they must be, how gifted they surely are, and how smart they have been to make it to the very crisp top of the world. We wonder how they just sprang from the earth, popped from nowhere, and all of a sudden, conquered the world. We cling to the idea of self-made. We absolutely love the idea of someone making it from nothing. From rags to riches, self-made success, oh boy are these stories often romanticized, or in modern terms, liked and shared.
In this writing I will often talk about success. Now, you have to understand that success is subjective, and has vast depth and personal meaning. The more you think about success, the more you can talk about it on different levels. However, in this case, I will leave out the personal definitions of success, and merely focus on what the compelling message from the author Gladwell is. In order to understand what he has to say, we must view success through the lenses of Outliers. By definition, Outlier is “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.” So, you see, success from the outlier point of view, offers no value proposition, which means we are free to discuss the reasons behind success, or, rise of the people.
Have you ever wondered how Bill Gates did it? How was he able to create one of the most successful businesses in the world, that has ever existed in the history of mankind? How about Steve Jobs? How was he so brilliant, that he was able to create a legacy that continues on for decades on end, even after his death? How about the biggest stars in sports today, where did all their talent come from, and how on earth were they able to beat all of the other rising stars, that never made it? And The Beatles, how did they become widely regarded as the foremost and most influential act of the rock era? What separates these and countless of other similar people from those, who we have never heard of?
What if I told you, that the biggest and most important facts about all these Outliers are when they were born, and where they came from? As I stated before, success is a gift. It is an opportunity presented to the individual. Now, this opportunity comes not because of the talent or hard work of the individual. The opportunity comes precisely because the person is born on a specific time, or comes from a specific place. How comforting it is to hear that success has nothing to do with your personal efforts, right? Obviously, the raw talent and hardest of hard work is often required to achieve success, but those are not the founding building blocks to make an outlier.
To be able to turn raw talent into actionable skills, one needs to practice, a lot. In fact, there are studies that suggest, that in order to become a true professional at anything, individuals need 10,000 hours of practice. This is regarded as the 10,000-Hour rule. There are numerous case studies and examples of this, and even though the topic is extremely interesting, it is not my intention to reveal the matter much further. I only want to point out, that even for an outlier, this 10,000 hours seems to be the requirement. The difference comes often, however, in the opportunity a person has, to acquire this 10,000 hours before anyone else. This was the case with Bill Gates, as it is with many of the world’s top Ice Hockey players. As you start to digest the little pieces and events that lead to success, you start to see that opportunity is closely related to timing. It was crucial to Bill Gates’ success that he was born just at the right time, and in the right place. Had he been born a year or two earlier, or a year later, he would have most likely missed his window of opportunity. He was once interviewed about his success, and his reply was, that he “got lucky”. Now, as self-made is so strongly clinched on our minds, we chuckle at the idea of him getting lucky. There is absolutely no way the caliber of a man that Bill Gates is, just got lucky. It is easier to just marvel at his brilliance. The journalist laughed it off, and they continued with the rest of the interview. But the fact is, Bill Gates did get lucky, and he knows it. His story is beautifully illustrated in the book.
The world around us is complex. But the people in it, are rather simple. There are people with great minds, and strong drive to do things. There are people with enormous amounts of talent, but to be an outlier, you need a little help from the outside. This book was an eye opener. I now realize, that even the most successful stories in the world hide behind them, in fact, quite ordinary people. The crucial thing that changes everything, is to, however lame it sounds, seize the moment. The window of opportunity does not stay open forever, and if we get the chance, we should hop on and hope for the best.
Gladwell shares awesome stories of remarkable people who have been presented with an even more remarkable opportunity. As New York Times put it, “Malcolm Gladwell has a rare ability: he can transform academic research into engaging fables spotlighting real people.” This description is spot on. As I was reading the book, I felt immersed in every topic it threw at me, and received an epiphany a time or two. This book is a must read, for sure! Five out of five stars.