I first heard about Outliers from, of all things, an underground video recording of Macklemore. Taken at a club in 2011, Macklemore discusses the book in the context of putting in enough hours to gain the skills to succeed. Immediately, he piqued my curiosity. How many hours had I put into writing and editing? Best guess? Between 2004-2012, about 5000. That’s not a lot. Only about 12 hours a week. Even my best guess of my most recent, concerted effort in July barely puts me above that average. Of course, there are always excuses, but that’s what the book is about. Why are successful people successful? Is it luck? Or something more. Gladwell proposes that these events are something more.
Outliers contains two sections. The first details preparation and time spent preparing for the opportunity. The second explores cultural perceptions on hard work and circumstances.
For details, obviously, one would have to read the book. However, these two main concepts are worth mentioning. For all those who view success as a matter of luck, the book champions the notion that while luck may exist, so does exceptional hard work behind those who do finally get their big break.
The difference between luck and opportunity is critical. Luck is winning the lottery. That’s the actualization of a one in a million shot you didn’t prepare for. Opportunity is a one in a million shot you’ve been preparing for your entire life, honing skills and getting the chance. Michael Jordan and LeBron James don’t make clutch shots because they’re lucky. They practice.
The second notion, that culture plays into our abilities and expectations is examined in the latter half of Outliers. The idea that summer break is actually detrimental to the development of desirable cognitive abilities or that east Asians are better at math, not because they just are, but because of the way various languages process numbers differently.
Well written and articulate, Outliers seeks to deprive people from deriving comfort in putting in the bare minimum effort and hoping for success. Gladwell’s argument is that even the smallest success requires a significant effort and dedication. Not everyone will achieve Beatles or JK Rowling fame but all success results from the time and effort put into an endevour. I’m sure everyone who writes feels this way: the more we write, the better we get at it.
Think of it this way: Those sports players with all that potential who waste it because their opponents have the “experience”. It’s an exercise in efficiency.
I can’t recommend this book enough. Not just for anyone who has a passion they follow, but for those who look at their friends and don’t understand why they devote so much of their lives to hobbies or avocations. Dreams, even.
As the old saying goes, “anything worth doing is worth doing well”. Outliers just reframes that sentiment in a way that inspires.
Verdict: Buy this book. Or borrow it from the library.
Side note: Summer break is such a strange concept. I never knew what to do with my time and therefore hated it.