In his latest book “Outliers,” Malcolm Gladwell deals with factors contributing to high levels of success. He notes that “the biggest misconception about success is that we do it solely on our smarts, ambition, hustle and hard work.”
In “Outliers,” he hopes to show that there are a lot more variables involved in an individual’s success than society cares to admit, and he wants people to “move away from the notion that everything that happens to a person is up to that person.” Gladwell notes that although there is little that can be done with regards to a person’s fate, society can still impact the “man”-affected part of an individual’s success. In other words, someone being in the right place at the right time can become successful.
The book offers examples including Bill Gates, founder of Microsoft, and Steve Jobs, founder of Apple. The author thinks that they were part of a very special experience that made them successful. Both were born in the 1950s. Both spent more than a year with one of the first programmable computers. At that time, there were only three programmable computers in the world, and four people who spent the most time in front of these computers became the founders of the software industry. One of these four computers was in the high school Bill Gates attended. Gates used another one when he attended Washington State University. This special experience subsequently led Bill Gates to become the architect of the most popular software.
A common theme that appears throughout “Outliers” is the “10,000-Hour Rule.” Gladwell thinks that if you spend 6,000 hours playing a violin, you will become an average violinist, while 8,000 hours will make you a good one. To be considered a great violinist, you should practice for 10,000 hours. This is something true in all areas of life including authorship, computer programming, musicianship, piloting and oratory. The more investment you make in a specific subject, the more payback you will get.
Gladwell continuously reminds the reader that genius is not the only or even the most important thing when determining a person’s success. Using an anecdote to illustrate his claim, he discusses the story of Christopher Langan, a man who ended up working on a horse farm in rural Missouri despite having an IQ of 195 (Einstein’s was 150). Gladwell points out that Langan has not achieved a high level of success because of the environment he grew up in. With no one in Langan’s life and nothing in his background to help him take advantage of his exceptional gifts, he had to find success by himself. “No one — not rock stars, not professional athletes, not software billionaires and not even geniuses — ever makes it alone,” writes Gladwell. Later, he compares Langan with Oppenheimer, the father of the atomic bomb. Noting that they typify innate natural abilities that should have helped them both succeed in life, he argues that Oppenheimer’s upbringing made a pivotal difference. Oppenheimer grew up in one of the wealthiest neighborhoods in Manhattan, was the son of a successful businessman and painter, attended the Ethical Culture Fieldston School on Central Park West and was afforded a childhood of concerted cultivation. “Outliers” argues that these opportunities gave Oppenheimer the chance to develop the practical intelligence necessary for success.