By: Malcolm Gladwell
This is a fascinating book. It sets out to learn the true stories behind some of the world’s most famous success stories, as well as a few that aren’t so famous. What are the ingredients for success according to this book? One is hard work; the author concludes that, based on the most successful people in their respective fields, it takes around 10,000 hours of practice to master a given sport, instrument, or field. On the surface, though that is a lot of time, it sounds simple enough: success requires hard work, that is nothing new. But the thing that Mr. Gladwell discovered is that 10,000 hours is SO MUCH time, that it actually takes a rather complex mix of opportunity and inherited cultural attitudes to be able to devote that much time to any one thing.
Take, for example, hockey players. The book delves into the (on the surface) odd fact that an overwhelming number of professional hockey players have birthdays that fall in January, February, and March. Why would that be? Upon further examination, it turns out that playing hockey and the selection of the best players starts at a very early age. And kids start out grouped by the year they were born in, meaning that on any given team, those players born in January are nearly one year older than players born in December. This might not matter so much when they are 20-year-olds, but when they are 5,6, and 7, that year of growth and coordination makes a big difference in who is going to get picked to play on the better teams and receive the better, more intensified coaching and training sessions. So, it could be argued, success in hockey is really an accident of when in the year someone is born.
As it turns out, similar accidents of birth and circumstances can account (at least in part, this is not to discredit the fact that someone must still work very, very hard to become a success) for successes in other fields: when it was most auspicious to become a Silicon valley entrepreneur, for example, or when to become a mergers and acquisitions lawyer in New York. And the chapter in the book on the role that culture plays in plane crashes is downright gripping.
So what’s the take-home message for entrepreneurs? The book doesn’t really provide one. But if you were to ask us, it would be this: look for the opportunities where they exist, and make sure to seize the ones that seem to be unique to your time and place. Take into consideration your upbringing and what kinds of cultural programming you bring to the table; be aware of it so that you can tweak it where need be. And finally, work really, really hard. Put the time into whatever you are endeavoring to do, because time is what it takes to master anything. Have you read this or other Malcolm Gladwell books? Let us know what you think in the comments below.
Outliers: The Story of Success
By: Malcolm Gladwell
Published: 2008 by Little, Brown and Company