“Success is the result of perfection, hard work, learning from failure, loyalty, and persistence.”  – Colin Powell

Lessons learnt: 10.000 hours of dedicated work is more important for success than luck. Giving meaning to your work will give you drive. Your environment has more impact on your success than you know.

As always Malcolm Gladwell keeps on amazing me. In Outliers: The Story of Success he digs into the hidden forces of not social events or our thinking, but what makes us successful. The book is divided into two parts, 1) opportunity and 2) legacy. In the first part, he tackles the notion that success comes from luck or inherent ‘talent’. He argues – very successfully – that hard work and dedication for something you stand behind are much more important than talent. In the second part, he argues that we are not alone in creating our success, we are very much dependent on our circumstances and the people around us. In an ever entertaining way – with the use of plenty of examples and stories – Gladwell has written another classic.

Many people like to believe that success comes from ‘talent’, that you are just lucky to have it. If you find out that you do not have ‘talent’ then you will never make it, others will always be better. Some may say that this is a fixed mindset (versus a growth mindset), you cannot fight the status quo. People love to bring up the young prodigy Mozart. He was composing music before most kids were even writing full sentences. Gladwell investigates this story and comes to three conclusions. The first is that Mozart was strongly pushed by his family, the second that his early work is actually not that good (go listen to it!), and third that at about 10,000 hours of deliberate practice his work came to be as brilliant as we all remember it to be.

You may argue that this is a one-time fluke and that there are many other people that have gained great success without much practice. For this, I challenge you to think of someone who has climbed the Mount Everest without training, a great voice without years of practice (pop-stars with auto-tuning do not count!), or a professor who only reads one book a year. Gladwell argues that you need about 10.000 hours of dedicated work to become an expert in your field. That does not mean you will be the best, that is dependent on how dedicated others are too. What he does strongly state is that it has little to do with intelligence (sorry SAT scores) or luck. If you are really dedicated to your work, you will put in the hours and become an expert.

But it is not all about you. Your environment has a very large – a much larger than we normally think of – impact. An investigation into the success of Bill Gates leads Gladwell to this conclusion. Bill Gates was born to a (moderately) wealthy family in America (2 points for environment). When he went to school, his school was one of the first to have computers (the really slow kind), he then got interested in them and wound up being one of the first people to work on computers at a university (2 more points for environment). It was the right place at the right time that made him start Microsoft. Also, the people around you can have a great impact. Think for instance about Silicon Valley, tech entrepreneurs do not (only) go there for the great weather, they know that there are likeminded people and opportunities to get to those 10.000 hours as quickly and effectively as possible.

“Practice isn’t the thing you do once you’re good. It’s the thing you do that makes you good.” -Malcolm Gladwell

Of course, success requires hard work, at the same time it is your environment that can greatly help you. I remember the personal story of Dan Ariely (author of Predictably Irrational and The Upside of Irrationality), where he speaks about the accident in which 3/4th of his body was burnt. He has no chance anymore to compete in sports and gets interested in the irrationality relating to small things like (not) taking medicine or how his nurses removed his bandages each time. He is now one of the leading thinkers in behavioural economics and irrationality. Sometimes you do not know what the future will bring, and where you may be motivated to do your work. All that is certain is that the right environment and your 10.000 hours are the (very difficult, but achievable) way of getting it.

The Book:

Outlier: The Story of Success – Malcolm Gladwell – ISBN-10: 9780316017930 – ISBN-13: 978-0316017930

More on Outliers

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=596wT4mRq8w – Audio of Outliers on Youtube

http://gladwell.com/outliers/ – Outliers on the website of Gladwell

http://cs.ecust.edu.cn/snwei/studypc/jsjdl/data/OutliersTheStoryOfSuccess.pdf – .pdf of Outliers