There has been a lot of buzz about Outlier’s: The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell so I decided to give it a read. Basically the material is a compilation of anecdotes and short stories about success and some of the surrounding patterns.
I’m not going to review the book here, but expand on the main theme of what makes someone successful. The book tells what has been engrained into many of us – hard work, perseverance, resilience and opportunity are all factors that help determine success.
While it isn’t always the case, generally someone that has significant experience is better versed and qualified in a subject than someone with less experience. Gladwell cites that mastery on any topic requires 10,000 hours of practice. He provides examples of successful musicians, athletes and technology changing leaders this applied to. I can say the most qualified and successful technology professionals I have worked with started at a young age, experimenting with networks, building and rebuilding computers and writing applications out of intrigue. If they happened to get started a little later in life, they threw themselves into the topic and applied a strong drive to become an expert, accelerating their hours of practice and reducing the timeline needed to excel. However, does experience alone make the difference? There are other qualities and traits that I believe help determine someone’s level of success.
Intelligence – intelligence matters to a point, beyond a reasonable level, studies don’t seem to indicate that much of a difference. Gladwell’s book shows those who have intelligence high enough to be accepted and complete college is generally the baseline and minimal requirement.
Mindset/Confidence – a person has to be interested in learning, bettering themselves and advancing. Success, as most things, can be a self fulfilling prophecy. If one doesn’t believe they have the ability and lacks the desire, little will be accomplished.
Curiosity – learning requires analysis and those who are more inclined to question things are generally more inclined to broaden their knowledge.
Perseverance/Drive/Passion – we all face setbacks, but those who truly prosper are those who don’t allow disadvantages to prevent us from reaching our goals. Thomas Edison, Albert Einstein, Vincent Van Gogh and many other successful inventors and leaders in our history had impairments. The key to their success was the will to overcome these obstacles. General interest and care for what is being done is important. We are all more successful when we have an interest in what we are doing and the desire to be the best we can be. We are generally good at what we like and like what we are good at.
Social Awareness – understanding our environment, how others perceive us, social and cultural norms are all important to interacting with others and navigating our success.
Timing/Opportunity – Gladwell’s book shows that opportunity matters. Being in the right place at the right time does have an influence on what is made available. For example, the material describes a situation where historically certain time periods allow for a better education, because of the low attendance at colleges.
Environment – while all other bullets have a direct influence on success, I strongly believe environment is the most influential factor to someone’s success. While a certain degree of aptitude, interest and opportunity need to be present, I don’t think anything can replace strong role models and both formal and informal instruction.
There are many citations and theories on whether the traits above are innate or something that can be acquired. I believe it is a combination of factors. Our past shapes our future and a challenge or hardship we face often times turn the hands on our future, creating a strong will to change or prove ourselves otherwise.
Gladwell, Malcolm. Outliers: The Story of Success. New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2008.
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