My dissatisfaction with the current overbearing schedule for students in high school, has led me to do quite a bit of reading. (To see my reading list for books about success and education, click here.) One of the first books I read was Outliers: The Story of Success, by Malcom Gladwell.
In the first half, Gladwell showed how the success of Outliers can be tied to luck, to timing, to “Opportunity.”
In the second half, Gladwell showed how the success of Outliers is also affected by where you come from and your culture, “Legacy.”
There’s nothing like taking the evidence presented to you and thinking that you can come up with a better explanation, even though you’re getting all the information from a secondary source. 🙂 (In other words, I didn’t get to see all the evidence Galdwell collected, just what he presented to me in this book.) But I think all the information can point to a different, more hopeful, and more active interpretation.
What you need for success – my take on Outliers, by Gladwell
Give luck a hand by practicing diligently to be successful
I think Outliers shows that luck can help, but it isn’t all that’s required. What’s more, you can give luck a hand. Because when you take the time to practice something diligently, just by exposure more opportunities will come your way.
Ask for opportunities to be successful
Oh, and and you can also give luck a hand by asking for opportunities.
Which brings me to one of the things I think Gladwell missed. When it comes to the computer Outliers, they didn’t just take advantages of opportunities.
They didn’t just ask for opportunities.
They took them.
Take – or Make – opportunities to be successful
By take opportunities I don’t just mean “take opportunities that come your way.” I mean actively take opportunities.
Jobs, Gates, and Joy were all willing to break and bend rules to feed their obsession and amass their 10,000 hours. They all grew up when computers were less common. Time on them was carefully allotted and limited.
Joy hacked a bug to get more time on a time-share computer, so that he got unlimited time when computer use time was expensive.
Gates snuck out of his house in the middle of the night to get more computer time and stole so many passwords that he and a friend crashed a computer. This was back when it was an even bigger deal than it is today. (And if you’re computer has crashed lately, I bet you can appreciate that calling a computer crash a “big deal” is an understatement, even now.)
I’m sure if I tried to do something like “bend” the rules to get more computer time, I’d get caught. And the very thought of getting caught is enough to stop me.
But Gates and a friend did get caught. They even got banned from using that computer, and there weren’t many computers around back in those dark ages, so it could have been devastating. But they didn’t let that stop them. In spite of the difficulty, they just found another computer they could get time on.
So now that’s a tricky question for a parent. How do you teach your child to test the line without going over it? I mean, today you might be more than banned from a computer for stealing passwords. Today you can go to prison. (I can’t find the exact case I remember that gave me that thought. But you can read more about hacking laws here and here. And I know enough software engineers to know that (innocent) hacking is a time honored way to learn how a computer works. But it’s good sportsmanship to to inflict your practice on other software engineers.)
Thinking of learning, Gladwell asserts that practical intelligence, the ability to get what you want out of others, is learned. While I agree that some of it is learned, I also think some of it’s innate. There are definitely some people who are born more “people-persons.” And that’s not me. But I do think it’s something I can work on, and try to help my kids work on it as well, so that it’ll become more natural to them as they grow up.
Practice Creativity to be successful
Gladwell also asserts that once you pass that intelligence threshold, divergent thinking – or creativity – becomes important. I like this idea, because while I know I’m not way up there at the level of a genius, I like to think I’m creative.
Gladwell gives an example of a creativity test where you have to come up with as many uses as you can think of for a brick and a blanket. Go ahead. Give it a try if you like.
My husband gave one of my daughters the test with amusing results. (Hint, the most creative people, apparently, come up with some rather devious uses. Heh, heh, heh. Her mind was darker than I thought!)
The importance of divergent thinking makes sense to me, because I’ve always thought that imagination and creativity were important when I was doing scientific research for my graduate degree.
Unfortunately, Gladwell doesn’t give any evidence to back up this claim.
Perhaps some of these different conclusions I drew led to me coming to a different conclusion for the book as a whole, what you need to be an outlying success. In my next post, I’ll look at what it takes to be an outlying success.