“Outliers: The Story of Success” by Malcolm Gladwell

I have enjoyed Malcolm Gladwell’s interesting and thought-provoking takes on catalyzing movement (Tipping Point), intuitive decision-making (Blink), and now becoming successful (Outliers).

Part of our desire at Mosaic is to become a community that helps people become successful – to become the person God created them to be in a faster amount of time than they would have been able to make it on their own.

I was intrigued by the idea that a person’s birth month could actually help determine whether or not they will have a shot at becoming a professional hockey player.  It was fascinating to discover that Bill Gates spent 10,000 hours programming before dropping out of college and starting Microsoft or that the Beatles became expert rock musicians after performing for over 10,000 hours in Germany before coming to the United States.

What can we do to help people become more successful sooner?

Here are some of  my favorite quotes from the book:

“No one- not rock stars, not professional athletes, not software’s billionaires, and not even geniuses- ever makes it alone.”

“Success arises out of the steady accumulation of advantages: when and where you are born, what your parents did for a living, and what the circumstances of your upbringing were all make a significant difference in how well you do in the world.”

“The traditions and attitudes we inherit from our forebears can play the same role.”

“Each of us has his or her own distinct personality. But overlaid on top of that are tendencies and assumptions and reflexes handed down to us by the history of the community we grew up in, and those differences are extraordinarily specific.”

“When we understand how much culture and history and the world outside of the individual matter to professional success…. We have a way to make successes out of the unsuccessful.”

“If Canada had a second hockey league for those children born in the last half of the year, it would today have twice as many adult hockey stars.”

“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 lucky- but all critical to making them who they are. The outlier, in the end, is not an outlier at all.”

To receive the full notes and to sign up for my monthly email newsletter, send an email to me at eric@mosaic.org with “Outliers” in the subject heading.

Ray Allen of the Boston Celtics suggests that all NBA players are Outliers (not just the superstars).  For more of his thoughts on this book as applied to the NBA go to J.A. Adande’s article “Theory in Practice.”

One of my friends has pointed out that there is still something about Bill Gates that motivated him to go to all of the effort to program when others with the same opportunities did not.  In other words, some people still struggle to succeed when given the best environment to do so.

What insights did you draw from the book?

Showing 7 comments
  • Mud Puppy

    Can’t wait to read this book. I’m almost finished with Tipping Point right now, and ordered Blink last night.

    Mud Puppy’s last blog post..Review: The Noticer

  • James Petticrew

    Eric I worry about some of the research and conclusions in this book. Gladwell claims that many of the “revenge” killings in the Southern states of America can be traced back to the culture from Scotland which was imported into the States with Scottish settlers.

    If this was true then in those areas where several hundred years ago there was a strong “revenge culture” in Scotland there should still be high levels of violence as in the areas of the States Gladwell talks about.

    The problem is that there isn’t! In fact the two areas which I think Gladwell is referring to in Scotland which witnessed inter family / clan feuds, the Highlands and the Borders, are now some of the most peaceful and crime free areas in the whole of the UK.

    Therefore there must be something happening in the States to keep this tendency to violence going it can’t simply be blamed on a culture imported from Scotland.

  • Kyle Hunsberger

    First comment on this blog!
    Ironically, I too, am in the middle of “Outliers”, and while it’s certainly an interesting book, I worry a bit at the unspoken corollary to his main idea. That is, if success is primarily dependent upon certain advantageous outside situations (i.e. birth month, knowing which “10000 hours” of stuff to be practicing ahead of time, $$$, parenting styles, cultural legacies), then Gladwell is equally implying that those without such factors in their lives are simply that much more unlikely to arrive at success.
    I wonder if he is overemphasizing his point too much, to the extent that success become even more out of reach for those who are “Inliers”.

    Kyle Hunsberger’s last blog post..Saturday

  • Eric Bryant

    A great title for the sequel, Kyle!

    A funny thing happened when I was reading this book. I was on a plane reading through the chapter on Korean Airlines’ struggle with plane crashes. This freaked out the girl sitting next to me. After helping her calm down, I began reading it again (this time I made she couldn’t read it over my shoulder).

    Anyway, I ended up reading the final transcript of the KAL flight 801 which tragically crashed. I was so engrossed in the book I was unaware of how close we were to landing. The exact moment I read “sound of groans” the plane I was in hit the ground hard for the landing. We were ok, but I almost had a heart attack!

  • Jeff Slack

    Hey Eric:
    This book is one of my favorites; I would recommend it to most of my friends. Where this book hits home is in my life as a parent. I want what is best for my children but I am not always sure how to get them there. I grew up in a highly dysfunctional family with two addicts and a cockroach infested apartment in the projects of Chicago; I was taught to survive at all costs; not thrive. I’ve overcome much of the dysfunction but I want what is better for my kids. Gladwell makes the point it has more to do with a combination of opportunities then just one certain thing. Practice, determination, positive background and exploiting open doors; these all amount to the possibility of producing Outliers. I do well to just be relatively and mildly successful; but I am thinking about my kids and my grandkids. For me, this book had more to do with legacy and setting a path that will someday change the tide from the dysfunctional journey my family has long been on. I said above I would recommend this book to most of my friends; that would be to the ones who have kids, because I do not see this read as a self-help.

  • Eric Bryant

    I loved the parenting insights as well, Jeff!

    A friend of mine (Chris Taylor) posted this on my facebook account which I thought was a great summary of two personal takeaways:

    ” 1) it takes about 10,000 hours for anyone to become really good at something. There’s no substitute for working really hard at it, over time. 2) Our success is about the pattern of opportunities we are given. Some choose to use those opportunities, some don’t. We all have them in some form or another.”

  • Kevin Kim

    I love this book. The Korean airlines chapter is one of my favorite. Since I know the shortcomings of my own culture it was interesting to hear it put in terms of an actual career and how the language’s communicative order affected its performance.

    I think the greatest take away from this book for me was that there are certain opportunities, timelines, people that are around successful people to shoot them up into becoming outliers. I think in some ways it can sound like if you don’t have money, the right people, the right resources you won’t make it. It almost actually sounds like Gladwell could be talking about how if we understand the higher power and what He’s doing around us, we can partner with Him to become great.

    Kevin Kim’s last blog post..Be courageous

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