Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell

Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell

I have seen Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell being quoted many times for its 10,000 hour rule to master a skill and I was intrigued. The Wikipedia description convinced me further. “In Outliers, Gladwell examines the factors that contribute to high levels of success”. As a self-help junkie, I jumped right on and finished this book in two days. I was going in with low expectations as I expected it to be a repetition of all the business books and biographies that I have read before. Like Shoe Dog by Phil Knight, Elon Musk by Ashlee Vance or Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson.

However, I was pleasantly surprised. As the title suggests, it talks about the things that is not written or only briefly mentioned in those books such as Bill Gates gaining unlimited access to a computer in his teenage years in the 1960s, The Beatles playing for over 10,000 hours in a club, Bill Joy having the opportunity to tinker with computers and more. These things are usually mentioned in a single sentence and are brushed off but Malcolm Gladwell explored them in detail and talks about how the experts in their fields practiced alot. This roughly adds up to 10,000 hours before someone becomes an expert.

I have seen this being quoted before with some people being huge believers of this principle while others think it is overrated and oversimplified. However, this book really cemented the idea that we all have our own advantages that we can leverage to be successful. No one starts off with nothing and gets everything. Everyone has something, the hard part is finding what that is and executing it. For me it may reading all these books and writing, for you it may be being really into agriculture. Leverage that opportunity and be the best agriculture blogger while working on your projects.

Another idea that was mentioned in the book is the idea that there are golden ages for different groups of people at different times. Take for example the list of the 75 most wealthiest people in human history. Of those 14 were Americans born in the same period of the 1830s. These were people such as John D. Rockefeller (B. 1839), Andrew Carnegie (B. 1835), J.P. Morgan (B. 1837) etc. This was because in the 1860s and 70s, the American economy went through its biggest change. This was the time period when railroads were being built and Wall Street emerged and these people were lucky to have been in their prime then and take advantage of the situation.

What about an example closer to our current timeline. Bill Gates, Steve Jobs and Bill Joy were all born in 1954 and 1955 which allowed them to be ready for personal computer age in the 1970s. This with their experiences already dealing with computers allowed them to come ahead of the rest and become an outlier. Maybe it is a golden age now for remote businesses due to the 2020 Pandemic.

Malcolm Gladwell also talks about how one’s culture affects people using a variety of studies and examples. Although I do not agree with all of them, they are quite interesting and worth a read.

That’s the end of me spoiling this book for you. Read more articles about this and maybe even pick up this book here. You can find my Kindle Highlights below which might be useful.

Kindle Highlights

Biologists often talk about the “ecology” of an organism: the tallest oak in the forest is the tallest not just because it grew from the hardiest acorn; it is the tallest also because no other trees blocked its sunlight, the soil around it was deep and rich, no rabbit chewed through its bark as a sapling, and no lumberjack cut it down before it matured. We all know that successful people come from hardy seeds. But do we know enough about the sunlight that warmed them, the soil in which they put down the roots, and the rabbits and lumberjacks they were lucky enough to avoid.

“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 expertin anything,” writes the neurologist Daniel Levitin.

What Hudson is saying is that IQ is a lot like height in basketball. Does someone who is five foot six have a realistic chance of playing professional basketball. Not really. You need to be at least six foot or six one to play at that level, and, all things being equal, it’s probably better to be six two than six one, and better to be six three than six two. But past a certain point, height stops mattering so much.

“By no stretch of the imagination or of standards of genius,” Sorokin concluded, “is the ‘gifted group’ as a whole ‘gifted.’ ” By the time Terman came out with his fourth volume of Genetic Studies of Genius, the word “genius” had all but vanished. “We have seen,” Terman concluded, with more than a touch of disappointment, “that intellect and achievement are far from perfectly correlated.”

The poorer children were, to her mind, often better behaved, less whiny, more creative in making use of their own time, and had a well-developed sense of independence. But in practical terms, concerted cultivation has enormous advantages. 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.”

When the Termites were into their adulthood, Terman looked at the records of 730 of the men and divided them into three groups. One hundred and fiftythe top 20 percentfell into what Terman called the A group. They were the true success stories, the starsthe lawyers and physicians and engineers and academics.

In the end, only one thing mattered: family background.

Here he was, a man with a one-in-a-million mind, and he had yet to have any impact on the world. He wasn’t holding forth at academic conferences. He wasn’t leading a graduate seminar at some prestigious university. He was living on a slightly tumbledown horse farm in northern Mis souri, sitting on the back porch in jeans and a cutoff Tshirt. He knew how it looked: it was the great paradox of Chris Langan’s genius.

Those three things autonomy, complexity, and a connection between effort and rewardare, most people agree, the three qualities that work has to have if it is to be satisfying.

Success is not a random act. It arises out of a predictable and powerful set of circumstances and opportunities, and at this point, after examining the lives of Bill Joy and Bill Gates, pro hockey players and geniuses, and Joe Flom, the Janklows, and the Borgenichts, it shouldn’t be hard to figure out where the perfect lawyer comes from.

Cultures of honor tend to take root in highlands and other marginally fertile areas, such as Sicily or the mountainous Basque regions of Spain. If you live on some rocky moun tainside, the explanation goes, you can’t farm. You probably raise goats or sheep, and the kind of culture that grows up around being a herdsman is very different from the culture that grows up around growing crops. The survival of a farmer depends on the cooperation of others in the community. But a herdsman is off by himself. Farmers also don’t have to worry that their livelihood will be stolen in the night, because crops can’t easily be stolen unless, of course, a thief wants to go to the trouble of harvesting an entire field on his own. But a herdsman does have to worry. He’s under constant threat of ruin through the loss of his animals. So he has to be aggressive: he has to make it clear, through his words and deeds,

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.

Chinese number words are remarkably brief. Most of them can be uttered in less than one-quarter of a second (for instance, 4 is “si” and 7 “qi”). Their English equivalents “four,” “seven” are longer: pronouncing them takes about one-third of a second. The memory gap between English and Chinese apparently is entirely due to this difference in length.

James Flynn, perhaps the world’s leading expert on IQ, has subsequently made a fascinating counterclaim. Asians’ IQs, he says, have historically been slightly lower than whites’ IQs, meaning that their dominance in math has been in spite of their IQ, not because of it.

“No one who can rise before dawn three hundred sixty days a year fails to make his family rich.” Rise before dawn 360 days a year For the Kung leisurely gathering mongongo nuts, or the French peasant sleeping away the winter, or anyone else living in something other than the world of rice cultivation, that proverb would be unthinkable.

Bill Gates was addicted to his computer as a child. So was Bill Joy. The Beatles put in thousands of hours of practice in Hamburg. Joe Flom ground away for years, perfecting the art of takeovers, before he got his chance.

The wealthiest kids come back in September and their reading scores have jumped more than 15 points. The poorest kids come back from the holidays and their reading scores have dropped almost 4 points. Poor kids may out-learn rich kids during the school year. But during the summer, they fall far behind.

The reading scores of the poor kids go up by .26 points. When it comes to reading skills, poor kids learn nothing when school is not in session. The reading scores of the rich kids, by contrast, go up by a whopping 52.49 points. Virtually all of the advantage that wealthy students have over poor students is the result of differences in the way privileged kids learn while they are not in school.


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 hockey and soccer players born in January, it’s a better shot at making the all-star team. For the Beatles, it was Hamburg. For Bill Gates, the lucky break was being born at the right time and getting the gift of a computer terminal in junior high. Joe Flom and the founders of Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen and Katz got multiple breaks. 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. And what Korean Air did, when it finally turned its operations around, was give its pilots the opportunity to escape the constraints of their cultural legacy.

Marita doesn’t need a brand-new school with acres of playing fields and gleaming facilities. She doesn’t need a laptop, a smaller class, a teacher with a PhD, or a big ger apartment. She doesn’t need a higher IQ or a mind as quick as Chris Langan’s. All those things would be nice, of course. But they miss the point. Marita just needed a chance. And look at the chance she was given! Someone brought a little bit of the rice paddy to the South Bronx and explained to her the miracle of meaningful work.

It is not easy to be so honest about where we’re from. It would be simpler for my mother to portray her success as a straightforward triumph over victimhood, just as it would be simpler to look at Joe Flom and call him the greatest lawyer ever. Even though his individual achievements are so impossibly intertwined with his ethnicity, his generation, the particulars of the garment industry, and the peculiar biases of the downtown law firms. Bill Gates could accept the title of genius, and leave it at that. It takes no small degree of humility for him to look back on his life and say, “I was very lucky.” And he was. The Mothers’ Club of Lakeside Academy bought him a computer in 1968. It is impossible for a hockey player, or Bill Joy, or Robert Oppenheimer, or any other outlier for that matter, to look down from their lofty perch and say with truthfulness, “I did this, all by myself.” 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 luckybut all critical to making them who they are. The outlier, in the end, is not an outlier at all.