outliers

‘Outliers’ By Malcolm Gladwell is one of my favorite books about success I’ve ever read so I though I would share some of the key things I have taken from the book (AKA The determining factors of success).  Basically why some people succeed and others don’t, I have also done some research myself and cited my sources below — So without further a-do let’s get right into it!

1. Talent, Opportunity, Work, and Luck

Success is far from impossible like most make it out to be.  There are many commonly held misconceptions about why people actually succeed and fail and this creates confusion around the topic of success and failure and what it takes to “make it big”.  In reality there are only a few main factors that determine whether a person will ultimately achieve greatness and succeed or stagnate and “fail” as we call it. These are seemingly random factors many do not take notice of but if applied correctly they can practically make success an inevitability.  But failure is likely as inevitable if these crucial factors are not put in place properly or violated. The “secret” to success in truth is an impossible-to-bottle mixture of timing, luck, cultural heritage, and thousands of hours of practice. Even if the circumstances aren’t in your favor don’t displace the idea that you could still succeed, for these factors and behaviors may still be cultivated if you understand them in depth and take action to replicate your life with someone who has already accomplished what you are striving for.

2. Timing and Historical Context

Timing and historical are a major key if one wishes to achieve success.  Having a set of skills that one develops through hard work is not enough to guarantee success. In addition, one must also live in a time when those skills are valued by your culture and this is where the role of historical context and timing comes in for determining success.  If the time period does not need our skills at the moment no matter how skilled we are we will not have as much of an impact we could of possibly had at another point in time. Also our historical moment might also prevent you from acquiring certain skills that others can due to their historical moment. For example, if you entered the workforce as a computer scientist before the era of personal computers, when the personal computer did finally become mainstream, you would be too invested in the “old” way of doing things. You would be inevitably stuck in a historical status quo and you would never attain the level of success of someone like Steve Jobs or Bill Gates.

3. Privilege, Heritage, and Cultural Background

A few more factors that can determine success are the complex and often misunderstood relationships among individual talent, hard work, opportunity, and luck. In truth individual talent is necessary but not sufficient to achieve success, opportunity, luck and of course hard long work also pays a huge role. The surrounding context of available opportunity is very crucial. For example, Bill Gates would never have been so successful without his unusually frequent exposure to computing technology in an era where computers were still rare.  Therefore you can not only be talented and willing to work hard—but you actually have the opportunity to be able to. Luck also plays a crucial role in success, seemingly random factors like date of birth can be integral to achieving success. For example, a young Canadian boy’s birth month can actually have a huge impact on his likelihood of success in hockey. Hockey is a part of our Canadian culture; the regulations state that children born in the same year play in the same league, but because kids grow so quickly there is often a huge disparity in size.  Studies show that often these smaller kids, almost a year younger than their teammates, are identified early as ‘weak’ players, and this becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy. When the opportunity comes where they can pay rep the earlier birth months make higher level rep teams and are challenged against better hockey players. They then get all the attention from their coaches and get better faster and faster while the lower level players have no chance because they never had the same luck and opportunity that the children with early birthdays got. In the book Outliers the author indicates that it’s more than a coincidence that over 70% of professional hockey players had birthdays in either January or February. What started out as just a little difference in skill turned into a huge one all because of the luck earlier birth month boys had and the opportunity it presented them.  The truth is success is largely influenced by talent, hard work, opportunity, and luck, and pervasive societal narrative about success resulting from being “gifted” is a misconception, and “pure talent” is a myth.

4. Solutions and Implications for the Future

Privilege and cultural heritage also play a critical role  in determining success. Cultural heritage can be an advantage or a disadvantage, and sometimes it can be both at once.  For example, the rise of Jewish-run law-firms in New York City in the early 20th century had much to do with the fact that Jews were discriminated against, and forced to form their own (often litigation-oriented) firms. This ended up giving Jewish firms a major advantage when corporate takeovers became common practice later in the 20th century. The tremendous success of many of New York’s most legendary lawyers stemmed from the disadvantage that religious discrimination had formerly imposed on them: a disadvantage became a huge advantage over time. Our cultural heritage can influence our attitudes towards race, religion, honor, work (and what constitutes “meaningful” work), money, and entitlement.

These are the factors that typically foster success and either will make you succeed or fail.  The socially conditioned view of success will get you nowhere because it is flawed and will prevent you from having the correct mindset and attitude to achieve success.  These factors are all possible to adhere to as long as you stay focused on your long hard working tedious journey towards success with all the bumps you’ll encounter on the way.

Citations:

1. Talent, Opportunity, Work, and Luck

Kalla, S. (2012). Forbes Welcome. Forbes.com. Retrieved 9 September 2018, from http://www.forbes.com/sites/susankalla/2012/05/31/six-keys-to-excellence-at-anything/

The Forbes article, Keys to Excellence, talks about basketball superstar Michael Jordan and how he became a six-time NBA championship winner.   Although natural talent is a factor for world class athletes, the article makes clear that it was Michael Jordan’s disciplined practice and incredibly hard work ethic that contributed most directly to his success.  Both the story about Michael Jordan and the book  Outliers  set out to dispel the myth that great successes are born, rather than made.  Also, both the article and book conclude that hard work and the right mental attitude are the two most important contributing factors to success.

2. Timing and Historical Context

Lee, B. (2014). Will Automation Take Our Jobs?. Scientific American. Retrieved 9 September 2018, from http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/will-automation-take-our-jobs/

This article talks about  a study published at the University of Oxford estimating the probability that 702 occupations would soon be computerized out of existence.  This means that many changes to labor, markets and businesses and some people will lose their jobs. In the book Outliers it talks about how having a set of skills that one develops through hard work is not enough to guarantee success. In addition, one must also live in a time when those skills are valued by your culture.  The article talks about this as well and how in the future there a lot of people’s skills may no longer be of value in our culture due to Technology.

3. Privilege, Heritage, and Cultural Background

Keating, P. (2011). THE WORLD OF SPORTS runs on merit, right?. ESPN. Retrieved 9 September 2018, from http://espn.go.com/espn/story/_/id/6777581/importance-athlete-background-making-nba

This article looks at whether it is an athlete’s grit and determination that leads to their success, or whether there are other cultural and economic factors at work.  It talks about the 1960’s and 70’s, when over 90 percent of NBA players were from urban areas, as it was a cheap game to play and basketball courts were community meeting spots.  But, as the game gained popularity, attracting more fans and corporate sponsors, it now costs too much for many inner-city kids to compete at the highest level. The book Outliers also talks about how economic and other cultural factors can influence a person’s ability to be successful in specific areas.  Hockey is a part of our Canadian culture; the regulations state that children born in the same year play in the same league, but because kids grow so quickly there is often a huge disparity in size.  Studies show that often these smaller kids, almost a year younger than their teammates, are identified early as ‘weak’ players, and this becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy. In Outliers, the author indicates that it is more than a coincidence that over 70% of professional hockey players had birthdays in either January or February.

4. Solutions and Implications for the Future

Mitchell, M., & Leachman, M. (2015). Years of Cuts Threaten to Put College Out of Reach for More Students. Center of Budget and Policy Priorities. Retrieved 9 September 2018, from http://www.cbpp.org/research/state-budget-and-tax/years-of-cuts-threaten-to-put-college-out-of-reach-for-more-students

This article talks about how society’s cuts to education funding have made college too expensive for many students, and with a growing number of jobs demanding a college education, the future for some of these low-income kids may be marginalized.  In the book Outliers, the author puts forward strategies to combat the low-graduation rates of inner-city schools and to encourage post-secondary education; he presents strategies, such as shortening summer vacation, as this has been shown to reduce the drop-out rate.

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