Wednesday, September 21, 2011

What I'm Reading: Outliers - The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell

This episode of "What I'm Reading" is on Malcolm Gladwell's book "Outliers: The Story of Success".  Someone suggested that I read this book years ago when I was having an exceedingly difficult time trying to find a job, even before the whole “Recession” thing was on everyone’s lips.  For years, I had no idea what the book was about nor why it was suggested that I read it.  It was just mentioned in passing that I should check it out, so one day, on one of my many trips to the local library, I came across the book, and I decided to check it out.

It’s been a long time since a book has given me this feeling, but I can sum up my opinion of the book in one word: WOW!  For much of the book, I felt like I was reading the words that had been in my head for a long time, especially as I’ve had to been introspective in seeking to uncover my own path to success in life, and why success has so deftly eluded me until now (at least in financial terms).

For the most part, the book posits that success is not just a factor of hard work, intelligence, ambition, and “stick-to-itiveness”, but also due to a number of factors that can provide someone with those characteristics with the opportunity to achieve phenomenal success as a result of a series of fortuitous circumstances that then propel them far ahead of their peers.  In other words, it’s like saying what I’ve always believed, which is that those stories of people that “pull themselves up by their own bootstraps” are rarely true.  Essentially, success isn’t achieved in a box, and it’s not something that can befall someone simply because they’re smart, talented, and able.  Though I’m fairly young (all things considered), I know for a fact that you can be smart, intelligent, hard-working AND ambitious and STILL not be successful in life, because I’ve seen people in their 40s, 50s, and 60s with those traits that just haven’t gotten the opportunity afforded to them to turn all those things into profitable endeavors.

Having the opportunity to see early in life that the race isn’t always won by the best racer has helped me get, what I believe, is a realistic expectation of the probability of achieving success.  I love the fact that reading this book almost INSTANTLY made me feel like I wasn’t crazy in my belief system!

The second major takeaway in the book is the notion of an “Outlier” and what it truly means to be one.  For those that don’t know, an outlier is pretty much a statistical anomaly that severely seems to deviate from the rest of the pack.  People like Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, and Oprah Winfrey are surely considered to be outliers given their success in life and how far it has placed them from their peers.  I love the way he tells rarely told stories about Bill Gates and Steve Jobs’ success, specifically that each had amazing opportunities to work on computers in the late 1960s and early 1970s at a time when people, even those working in the field of Computer Sciences had rare opportunities to use computers.  Knowing how these extraordinary opportunities shaped the later success of Gates and Jobs, in my opinion, sheds a lot of light on exactly how success is obtained.

Yes, Bill Gates and Steve Jobs are exceptionally smart and innovative, but they’ve also had some exception opportunities to enhance and capitalize on their skillsets in a way that FEW people ever could have, in their generation, and even still nearly 50 years afterwards.  I do have to say, I would have LOVED to hear Oprah’s story of “Outlier Success”.  I’m certain there’s so much more to that story than we in the general public now, but I suspect we won’t find out about it until AFTER she’s passed on, or is pretty close to it. LOL.

A running theme throughout the book is the “10,000 Hour Rule”, which pretty much states that most outliers are successful in the fields because they’ve spent a concentrated 10,000 hours of their lifetime perfecting and improving their craft.  Bill Gates got his 10,000 Hours between the time he was in grade school until the time he went away to college, having spent years working on computers at his private school as well as through companies that were affiliated with his father.  A phenomenal opportunity whose importance of which can’t be overlooked, given that most college campuses didn’t even have active computers in the 1960s.

The Beatles got their 10,000 hours while during a two year “residency” in Hamburg, Germany playing sets for hours at a time and improving their showmanship and musical talent.  In Outliers, Gladwell purports that it was these experiences, coupled with individual talents and ingenuity that enabled The Beatles, Bill Gates, Steve Jobs and many of the other “trailblazers” in modern history to leave their mark on history.  I think the book shows that “luck” really is what happens when preparation meets opportunity, and it shows that receiving that opportunity is critical to success.

For this reason, I’ve decided to write Malcolm Gladwell (or at least attempt to do so), and tell him how monumentally inspiring his book was AND how I’d greatly appreciate anything he could do to help me open up the doors success I so desperately need to propel my own self to success.  Over the past several years, as my life has been on a continual downslide, I’ve always held firm to the notion that this is happening to help prepare me for a better day.  It’s this belief that is likely the ONLY thing that keeps me getting up out of bed each day, even when I know that getting through another day is likely going to be grueling.  Throughout it all, I know that it just takes ONE PERSON (i.e. THE RIGHT PERSON) to catch wind of what I’m doing and that can become the start of everything turning around for the better.  I’m tireless in my efforts to continue to do what I can to bring forth the opportunity I need to bring my success to fruition, and I’ll be tireless in trying to access the people that can help me access the network that I need to flourish. 

Stay tuned.  I’ll let you know how it works out in the upcoming weeks.

So, with that being said, that’s what I’m reading.  I would HIGHLY recommend this book, and if you happen to read it, let me know what you think.

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