What is success for you? In your view, how do people become successful? It’s honestly more than the story you get to hear. It’s more than just being smart, or fit, or whatever else you have heard out there from successful people. 

And this is what Malcolm Gladwell, the author, tries to explain.

Let me just say, before I got this book sometime last year, I did not know the meaning of the word “Outlier.” Then I knew the meaning, read the book, and it made so much sense.

The book basically explains who an outlier is, and why they are considered outliers. Outliers, in the book, are identified as those who have been given opportunities, and who have had the strength and presence of mind to seize them.

I know, it doesn’t make much sense as you read that.

But, it debunks the fact that character, intelligence, and hard work determine success.

For example, what do you know about Bill Gates? Gladwell uses him as an example of someone who benefited from extremely fortunate circumstances. His high school had a computer terminal at a time when even colleges at that time (1969) didn’t have them (opportunity).

Also, have you ever asked yourself why children from Asian countries seem to be better at math compared to those from other countries? I, for one, thought that they were just born being good at math as a sort of inheritance (I know it’s dumb). However, as Gladwell puts it, it is in their agricultural tradition of rice farming that teaches and shows them that you get exactly out of your rice paddy what you put into it. For them, therefore, their success in math is attributed to their hard work.

Here’s what I picked from the book

On opportunity

Success is rarely found in the myths of rags to riches – there is a glimmer of talent identified, and then the door of opportunity is opened up to the person. This way, the person has the time and access to coaches and equipment to develop their skills, thus dramatically magnifying the difference between those with opportunity and those without.

Outliers break the norms.

On timing

Believe it or not, when and where you were born can influence your luck/opportunity. In the list of the richest people in history, 14 out of 75 are Americans born in the 1860s and 1870s, when the industrial revolution was taking off.

Those born in the 1890s to early 1900 were less fortunate than those born after 1913. These people had to face the great flu epidemic, the 1st world war, the great depression, and then they were still young enough to be recruited into the 2nd world war (if they survived all the other issues).

Also, in 1935, there were 600,000 fewer babies born as compared to the previous year, which meant smaller class sizes, thus a greater chance to get into the good sports teams, colleges and go on to get good jobs at reputable firms.

On upbringing

A sociologist, in the book, studied 3rd graders for a while. She concluded that involved parents vs non-involved parents were the key difference that led to an individual’s success in life. Involved parents talk to their children more and critically provide more opportunities for them by for example, helping them do their homework among other things. They also develop a sense of ‘entitlement’, so less likely to settle with the first ‘No.’

On meaningful work

This made so much sense to me. If you find work meaningful, you will put in hours to it. There’s a chapter about how the offspring of many immigrants ended up becoming professionals. This was linked to the fact that it was because of and not despite their humble origins that they did well. They had been raised in a family where hard work was valued and practiced.

There is so much more in there that will change your perspective on success. Read it and we can start a book club, yes?

See you next week!


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