Outliers

Outliers is a book by Malcolm Gladwell that answers the question: "How did outrageously successful people, these outliers, get to where they are?" Through exploration of athletes, entrepreneurs, and scientists, Gladwell makes the case that these successful outliers is a product of every society through a combination of upbringing, opportunities and timing. The popular notion that personal success is the result of genius and hardwork is faulty. Rather, Genius and hardwork is only the beginnings of a potentially successful life. The person's community and society plays a larger part in determining success.
  1. The perfect birth date for a Canadian hockey player is in January. Due to the January 1 cut-off date for the Canadian drafting season, boys born in January will always be larger than their counterparts during selection. This small difference in size in the beginning then triggers a waterfall of advantages for the January boy. This drafting cut-off has since been updated to four different dates throughout the year. But arbitrarily selected cut-off dates in society can have profound impacts on an individual's chances in life.
  2. Chinese children test better in math because of their language structure and rice-agriculture past. Chinese numbers are all single syllabic and logically constructed. As a result, Chinese-speaking toddlers can easily count to 100 while English-speaking toddlers can only count to the twenties. Math is also a subject that requires persistence, and persistence is a highly-valued Chinese trait as evidenced by folklore and poems throughout Chinese history. Gladwell postures that the importance of persistence was a construct of rice-agriculture, which requires heavy management and rewards the harder working farmer. These two features of Chinese culture, emphasis on persistence and a simple and logical language for numbers, gives Chinese children a distinct advantage when it comes to mathematics.
  3. Disasters are most often caused by a series seven micro events rather than one large event. This was the case for airplane crashes, which are usually caused by some combination of poor weather, tired pilots, decreased visibility, equipment failure on the plane, equipment failure on the airport, and mis-communication.
  4. Twenty-one is the perfect age to be when societal opportunities present itself. Consider Rockefeller and Carnegie who were born in the 1830s and in perfect maturity to take advantage of the oil boom. Or Bill Gates, Bill Joy, James Gosling and Steve Jobs, all born in 1954-1955 and in perfect maturity to take advantage of the computer revolution. A twenty-one year old is young enough to accept the risks of a new opportunity while old enough to appreciate new opportunities. Twenty-one year-olds are also old enough to have earned 10,000 hours of practice in some discipline in preparation for said opportunity.
  5. You don't need to be the smartest, you just need to practice for 10,000 hours. Those who succeed are all smart enough, but not necessarily geniuses. At some IQ mark, increased genius has a diminishing return. Rather, practice of 10,000 hours is what differentiates the winners. This is true in musical "geniuses," computer "geniuses" or even science "geniuses."