Book Review: Outliers

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What are the right conditions for success?

I found Gladwell through his podcast Revisionist History, and really enjoy the things he likes to explore and think about. In this book, Gladwell takes a stab at changing the way we think about how people think about the conditions for success by taking a look at the geniuses and most successful people in the world. At the core of it, he argues that being smart can only take you so far—and there is a point where it doesn’t make a difference anymore in those that become successful versus those who don’t. It’s really the opportunities around them, their environment, and culture that differentiate the Bill Gates and the Beatles of the world to those we have never heard of.

The first part of the book explores how some key factors are common among the successful.

  • being born simply earlier than the rest of your peers contributes to being more skilled and your leaders will slowly nurture you in the right way.
  • most successful people have put in 10,000+ hours of work. However, you must have that luxury of time, and be born in the right time period that allows that work to thrive.
  • socioeconomic upbringing dictates the type of parenting style on the child, and thus their ability to succeed, holding intelligence itself constant.

The latter half of the book looks at the importance of environment and culture as a factor. Gladwell takes a look at various cultures around the world and how their traditions have led them to be successful in various roles – for ex, the Chinese, the complication of rice paddy fields shows their persistent personality, combined with an easier numbering system led to them being better at math. He also discusses things such as attitudes of pride and respect playing a role in how some are more suited in certain roles than others.

A trend with Gladwell is that he often takes anecdotal evidence and discusses it as a statistic, so it’s hard to side with his conclusions or believe that his argument is strong. However, it doesn’t mean the broader question should be negated. This book was extremely interesting in thinking about how people achieve success. The obvious factors of hard work and intelligence are important, but having the right opportunities at the right time, in the right time period, with the right personality no doubt hold a certain weight.

I think there is plenty of observable evidence from my own experiences—growing up and going to college, seeing how students are valued, how opportunities are given, and how luck can change the course of a career. One pretty important point is how expectations with education can be a domino effect; separating those who are smarter and putting them in better learning paths will leave the rest in gaps that are harder and harder to catch up with. This can come about through stereotypes, as well as additional schooling that lower income families don’t have the luxury to put their kids into. Ultimately, we can see that how you develop your child and the environment you surround them with, even if you can’t possibly control them all, in is an incredibly huge factor in the success they will have.

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