Author: Victoria Cohen

Outliers: The Story of Success

Our SSE professional development book club recently met to share our insights on Malcolm Gladwell’s renowned work, “Outliers.” Malcolm defines an outlier as “Those who have been given opportunities—and who have had the strength and presence of mind to seize them.” This thought-provoking discussion has led us to ponder what it genuinely takes to ascend to excellence in the professional sphere, sports, academia, and beyond. Are these achievements truly within our control? As you read on, you’ll uncover our favorite takeaways from this enlightening book:

1. Success Can Be Linked to Birth


“Outliers” confronts us with the unsettling reality that success is not solely a product of merit but often a result of the circumstances into which we are born. Malcolm Gladwell draws attention to the peculiar phenomenon that most professional hockey players in Canada are born in January, February and March, a statistic linked to the age cutoff date for youth hockey leagues. These players, by nature, tend to be bigger, stronger, and more capable than the players in their same league. Naturally, they outperform players with later birth-months and continue to get more specialized training opportunities to further capitalize upon their talent and truly become “the best.”. Gladwell also mentioned that 20% of the wealthiest individuals in history were born in the 1830s, which marked a pivotal opportunity to take advantage of America’s transformative economic era.

Gladwell also uncovered the academic advantage held by older students, who tend to excel academically and receive specialized educational resources compared to their younger peers who are in the same year of schooling. This leads to a cycle of success for the eldest in a class. These insights from “Outliers” remind us that unequal opportunities can significantly impact our professional development journey, and striving for equity is paramount in fostering a level playing field.

2. The 10,000-Hour Rule


Gladwell introduces the captivating concept of the “10,000-Hour Rule,” emphasizing that true expertise arises from extensive and deliberate practice. He supports this notion with compelling examples, such as The Beatles’ relentless performances in Hamburg. Bill Gates, too, stands as a testament to this rule. On top of being born in the dawn of the computer age, Gates was given a remarkable and unique opportunity at age 13 that most of his peers did not have. Living within walking distance of the University of Washington, he had nearly free access to one of the most advanced computers of his time. This unique advantage allowed Gates to accumulate his 10,000 hours of coding experience before creating Microsoft.

In a world that often romanticizes innate talent, “Outliers” reminds us that true greatness and expertise is cultivated through dedicated practice. However, it is also important to remember that some are given unique advantages and access to resources to gain the practice required for achieving mastery.

3. Our Culture and Upbringing Influences Our Destiny


Culture, deeply intertwined with our upbringing, plays a pivotal role in shaping our approach to work and success. Gladwell delves into the influence of generational legacies and values, highlighting the example of Asian culture’s connection to rice farming. In such cultures, hard work is valued intrinsically, not just for its outcomes.

The novel also shared consequences of cultural differences, particularly in the context of plane crashes caused by communication breakdowns. These tragic incidents could have been avoided with better cross-cultural understanding. The book also highlights that many outliers possess high levels of practical intelligence acquired through their families and upbringing, allowing them to navigate social situations effectively to capitalize upon opportunities.

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