Book review: Outliers

I just finished Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers. I’ve been meaning to read it for a while now, but just got the chance to read it (and finish it!) after a friend lent it to me.

What a thrilling read. There’s so many lessons to learn about why some people are successful and why some are not, even if they may be intellectually gifted. A lot of it has to do with the opportunities you are given along with the culture that you are brought up in.

Even when you are born, something totally out of our control, can affect your chances of success. Gladwell talks about Canadian hockey players, and how those born in January, February and March, have a much higher chance of making it into the national team, vs. those born in the later part of the year, in October, November and December. Why? It’s simply that one year that makes a big difference in how big, skilled and athletic a kid is by the time tryouts come around. Those born in the earlier part of the  year have a whole year’s advantage over kids born later on in the year.

It doesn’t just stop there – even the opportunities that come your way contribute to your success, some opportunities that you may only receive because of where you come from or who you are.

For example, in the chapter “The 10,000-Hour Rule”, Gladwell cites how lucky Bill Gates was, to have access to a computer terminal at his high school in 1968, at a time when no one in America could have dreamed of doing so. These were the times when computers were a luxury – hardly anyone had one and hardly anyone saw their value and how they could be used. Of course, his work ethic is what made Gates a great programmer, taking advantage of this rare opportunity, coding day and night.

Bill Joy is another example and his opportunities behind coding at University of Michigan, before attending UC Berkeley. He was fortunate to attend U Mich the year their Computer Center opened, and they were one of the first universities in the world to switch over to this concept called “time-sharing”, which would allow programming to go at a much faster pace, versus punching holes in cards. There, he would program whenever he could. Joy says that he probably clocked in 10,000 hours by his sophomore year at Berkeley, impressing his peers as a programming wizard.

In chapter eight, “Rice Paddies and Math Tests”, the importance and value of a solid work ethic is shown. It’s engrained in daily conversation too (the optimistic Proverbs the Chinese used showed how much they believed in the value of hard work, vs. Russians who believed that a good harvest is solely due to God), in your beliefs, which lead on to how you think and act. Asians attend many more school days than Americans do and their retention rate (of how much they remember from what they learned) is much higher too as a result.

There’s plenty more very fascinating research in this book, but I’ll leave the rest for yourselves to find out. Gladwell concludes that ultimately, it’s up to us to make sure that everyone gets the same opportunities to succeed, no matter where they are from, when they were born, what socioeconomic class they come from, etc. And I feel that as someone who’s been blessed immensely, it’s my duty to help this dream come true, of living in a society where everyone has equal opportunities to succeed.

Looking back at my own (short) life so far, I realize that the significance of Gladwell’s arguments, and how you need to look much further, much deeper, beyond a person’s IQ or intellectual capabilities.

I am fortunate myself to be blessed with many things so far – the opportunity to attend college in America is a blessing in of itself. The opportunity to study whatever I want is another big blessing. Lastly, having a computer with internet access is one of the biggest blessings for everyone – you can read and learn nearly anything whenever you want!


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