Day #797: Lessons on Success and Opportunities From ‘Outliers:The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell

Malcom Gladwell’s Outliers: The Story of Success‘ is arguably one of the best books written in the last decade. Not only for making popular the 10,000 hour rule which is now widely accepted and the hot topic of discussion of most dinner parties as the benchmark for success but more importantly for the way it redefined what we know and have accepted as definition of ‘success’. Gladwell makes a strong argument on why we should rethink our understanding of success as the effort and genius of one person but a collection of advantages and opportunities most of which we never pay attention to.

While skimming through this book recently, I highlighted some parts of the book which still gets me thinking. They are presented below:

“The lesson here is very simple. But it is striking how often it is overlooked. We are so caught in the myths of the best and the brightest and the self-made that we think outliers spring naturally from the earth. We look at the young Bill Gates and marvel that our world allowed that thirteen-year-old to become a fabulously successful entrepreneur. But that’s the wrong lesson. Our world only allowed one thirteen-year-old unlimited access to a time sharing terminal in 1968. If a million teenagers had been given the same opportunity, how many more Microsofts would we have today?”

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-olds who get the most coaching and practice. Success is the result of what sociologists like to call “accumulative advantage.”

“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.”

“To build a better world we need to replace the patchwork of lucky breaks and arbitrary advantages today that determine success–the fortunate birth dates and the happy accidents of history–with a society that provides opportunities for all.”

“Practice isn’t the thing you do once you’re good. It’s the thing you do that makes you good.”

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