The Story of Success
Life gets busy. Has Outliers been gathering dust on your bookshelf? Instead, pick up the key ideas now.
Are you looking to be one of the most successful people in your field?
Throughout his life, Malcolm Gladwell has discovered many things about success. Moreover, he found that successful people have a few commonalities. He shares these findings in his book, Outliers.
Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell is a handbook for those of us hoping to succeed in life and work.
If you’re wondering, “what is Outliers about?” keep reading. We’re going to cover the basics in this Outliers book summary.
Malcolm Gladwell’s Perspective
Malcolm Gladwell is a Canadian journalist, author, and public speaker. He has worked as a staff writer for The New Yorker since 1996. He had years of experience in non-fiction writing before picking up a pen for his novels.
Along with Outliers, Gladwell has four other New York Times bestsellers: The Tipping Point, Blink, What the Dog Saw, and David and Goliath. With these, he has two other books: Talking to Strangers and The Bomber Mafia.
His books tend to focus on social sciences and any unexpected implications he may find in his research. Often, he follows an academic approach through sociology and psychology.
Along with writing, Gladwell spends time podcasting. He is a co-founder of Pushkin Industries. Through this company, he interviews musicians in the podcast Broken Record. In another podcast, Revisionist History, he considers overlooked and misunderstood things.
TIME Magazine included Gladwell on the TIME 100 Most Influential People list in 2005. In 2007, the American Sociological Association gave him their first Award for Excellence. He received this for his Reporting of Social Issues.
In 2007 and 2011, he received honorary degrees from the University of Waterloo and the University of Toronto. He also joined the Order of Canada in 2011.
Further, he’s considered one of Foreign Policy’s Top Global Thinkers.
StoryShot #1: Success Isn’t Linear
Success doesn’t come from one factor. There is a multitude of things that go into making someone successful.
Grit and determination aren’t the only factors to consider. Someone’s environment or upbringing doesn’t predict success.
There’s no way for you to predict or guess what may make you victorious over someone else. The factors that work together for different people create the perfect storm of circumstance and talent.
Outliers tells us that there must be many things happening for someone to become successful.
It’s not about having one thing that sets you apart from others. It’s about having many things that set you apart from others.
Outliers challenges the notion society has been telling us for our entire lives: successful people have some kind of voodoo over the rest of us. It also challenges the notion that anyone can become successful.
It turns out that there’s some in-between thing happening.
If you’re trying to become one of these outliers, you may not have as much control as you thought. Gladwell isn’t saying you shouldn’t try, but he is saying you shouldn’t get upset about failing here and there.
Success isn’t as linear as we may think it is, so you aren’t the only thing to blame for your lack of success so far. There may be other barriers that are preventing you from reaching the success you’re looking for.
StoryShot #2: 10,000 Hours Until Expert Status
Outliers also tells us that we need 10,000 hours of experience in something before we can become experts. While cultures have passed down this notion for centuries, we learn it is valid from Malcolm Gladwell.
We can argue that our effort doesn’t have everything to do with our propensity for success, but it does have something to do with it. Don’t stop putting forth action because other factors are at play. Your preparation and practice are essential, too.
It would help if you also remembered that we’re more likely to put 10,000 hours of practice into the things we care about. You have to love what you do to become an expert at it.
We suppose you could put 10,000 hours into something you hate, but you wouldn’t get the same experience.
In Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell tells us to find the thing(s) we love and stick to it. The more of ourselves we put into the subject/skill, the more we’ll get out of it.
We’ll become experts in the field(s) we care about. Then, we can share the information we know with those around us.
As we culminate a community based on our field, we are more likely to become successful. More people will see us as experts as we share our wisdom and knowledge.
It may not be an instant kind of gratification. Yet, it will likely sustain your success over a long period.
If you focus on the long-run benefits that you’ll get, you’ll be more likely to succeed.
StoryShot #3: Understand Your Culture
Our cultures can tell us a lot about the kind of success we’re most likely to get. Some cultures develop success in specific fields based on that culture’s values.
Because of the values taught within each culture, its members may lean toward becoming experts in one thing or another.
To lean into your culture, you have to know about it. What are its advantages? What about its limitations?
Outliers presents many examples of how culture can affect one’s performance. One such example discusses how the ethnicities of pilots can impact airline safety.
Once you know your culture, you have to learn to embrace it.
You’ve likely entangled yourself within your culture since birth. For many of us, that may be a turn-off. That said, we should challenge these thoughts.
It may be a great idea to stick with your culture and all it offers. Your culture may further your skill development in the field of your choice.
To bolster this fact, Gladwell tells us about how East European immigrants started a clothing business in New York City. Their culture played a significant role in their success with their company.
Whether you realize it or not, culture plays a significant role in who you are. Further, it can determine your level of success.
It’s important to remember the term “cultural legacy.” This legacy is what we leave behind for our offspring, their offspring, and so on.
The cultural legacy you’re a part of can persist for generations.
Your actions within your culture and how you present that culture to your children matter. As they grow up within their own cultures, they may find success with the talent that they’ve acquired from their cultural gifts.
StoryShot #4: Luck and Talent Play a Role
Whether you depend on luck or talent, you may be in for a surprise. We learn that luck and talent play critical roles in determining someone’s success.
Learning this, you may not be at a complete loss, but the terms may mean something different than you’re used to.
Outliers tells us titular outliers are lucky because they were born at the right place and right time to have their interest. Think about how timing plays a significant role.
Being into acting in the 1500s was less lucrative than it is now like how being into soap-making now is less lucrative than it was in the 1500s.
Malcolm Gladwell considers you lucky if you end up in a time when other people value your interests. Others appreciating your skill determines the number of riches and level of greatness you achieve. Further, you’re luckier if you have the resources to pursue your expertise.
With or without luck, talent matters, too. The 10,000 hours are essential to becoming an expert, but you must also have some natural aptitude.
If you lack musical talent, 10,000 hours of practice isn’t enough to become renowned for your work. There may not be enough hours in a lifetime to get you where you need to be.
Those who can fall back on the 10,000-hours rule likely have a natural talent in their chosen field. Finding your talent could help determine which area you should consider.
If you feel overwhelmed thinking about 10,000 hours of practice, break it up. If you’re thinking about getting this done, think about meeting a certain number of hours a week.
It’s not guaranteed that you’ll become a success when you hit your 10,000 hours, but it can get you a lot closer. Plus, you can use the practice time to get ahead.
Post about your practice. Share it with others. Get your name out there and let everyone know what you love doing.
StoryShot #5: Start Early and Be Patient
We’ve all heard the phrase, “the early bird gets the worm.” In the case of success, this may be true both now and later.
Outliers reveals that early success is an essential indicator of later success. Cultivating your talents and skills early can help you reach your greatest potential faster than before.
In turn, you’re more likely to become successful, especially during a peak time in life.
Starting later isn’t the end-all-be-all of your dreams. Yet, it can deter the traditional idea of success that we all have.
You can achieve success at any age, but it’s more likely that you’ll reach it on the younger side of the timeline.
With that in mind, we must remember that small things have enormous repercussions. Our regular contributions to our success can spark significant changes.
In Outliers, there’s an example that compares the English and Chinese numerical system. Chinese numbers are brief as compared to English numbers. Because of this slight difference, people who speak Chinese can recite digits quicker than people who speak English.
This slight difference is why many Chinese speakers excel in mathematics. They likely perform arithmetic problems quicker and easier than English speakers.
These differences may account for the schooling advantages students who speak Chinese have.
Even this slight difference in language may account for differences in success rates.
We’re not asking you to uproot your entire language, although learning many languages may be beneficial. Instead, we’re asking you to consider the systems you use to do your daily tasks.
Are you making simple things more complicated? Are there ways to make complex things simpler?
StoryShot #6: Discern Practical and Analytical Intelligence
Malcolm Gladwell distinguishes between two types of intelligence: practice intelligence and analytical intelligence.
Analytical intelligence is the most revered in society. We can measure this kind of intelligence using an IQ test.
Because this intelligence is concrete and measurable, society understands it more. Thus, we’re more likely to celebrate this kind of intelligence.
As for practical intelligence, it’s harder to measure. People may also refer to practical intelligence as “street smarts.”
This kind of intelligence is also vital for people who want to become successful. Having practical intelligence can help you maximize social opportunities while avoiding social problems.
No matter which subject you’re interested in, this intelligence can go a long way. Many opportunities present themselves through connections and communication.
We learn that having practical intelligence may be even more important. Traditional intelligence can get you closer to becoming an expert faster. Yet, it cannot navigate social expectations as you advance in your area.
In a perfect world, you would have a mix of both. Together, these bits of intelligence can help you advance as a successful individual.
If you lack one kind of intelligence, it isn’t easy to learn enough to advance your ability to become successful. Although, analytical intelligence is easier to understand than practical intelligence. This concept may also explain why practical intelligence is more important in most fields.
Practical intelligence is more nuanced and rarer than analytical intelligence. If you’re a master of practical intelligence, don’t be afraid to put your skills to the test.
StoryShot #7: Your IQ Doesn’t Guarantee Success
IQ is a separate issue from analytical and practical intelligence. There is a massive belief that our IQ can determine how successful we are.
We think about geniuses like Einstein and Hawkings and become fixated on this belief that an IQ makes you successful.
Think about it.
There are plenty of intelligent people who the media doesn’t swarm. Likewise, these people aren’t on the news daily. We don’t see them on our social media feeds all the time.
Instead, we see the social butterflies.
We see people who dared to introduce themselves to a business executive at a party. We see people who knew the right connections to start their own show or star in their own movie.
High analytical intelligence does not guarantee success in life.
Those of us banking on our analytical intelligence to lead to success need to work on cultivating our intelligence. We should also look for and work on our talent(s).
It’s not enough to be smart. We must learn how to use those smarts to our advantage, especially if we lack practical intelligence.
We can solve theories of quantum physics every day. Yet, this doesn’t guarantee us a spot on national television.
We must learn how to stand out among others, especially those who stand out despite other factors.
Think about how you can turn your analytical intelligence into practical intelligence. You may be able to show your intelligence to others or network within your field. Networking can help you find those with both practical and analytical intelligence.
You have to look at your IQ in a three-dimensional way to make any success come out of it.
StoryShot #8: Opportunity Grows Exponentially
There’s good news for those with the talent and time necessary to develop our skills: opportunity is exponential!
The first few successes and opportunities are hard to gain. But, each following opportunity or success is easier to get.
As you gain each achievement, you’ll find that the following one is easier to get.
It’s almost like there’s a threshold to success. Once you reach the threshold once, it’s easier to reach each later threshold. You may be meeting success and opportunities on a daily basis.
You’ll find the same concept in individuals who have a lot of wealth. Once you’ve accumulated a certain amount of money, you’ll find it easier to make money.
Those who don’t have the riches necessary to make money may struggle to make enough money.
Exponential goodness is not a new concept, but so many of us forget about this as we’re reaching for success. We think that we’ll never be able to make a life for ourselves if we’re struggling like this.
Those who become successful don’t have this level of difficulty all the time. At some point in our success, we become unstoppable.
No matter how society may change, those who set themselves up for success stay successful. Even those who are cast out by society still maintain their riches and fame, docking any major events.
If you reach the success you’re looking for, you may experience this phenomenon firsthand.
StoryShot #9: Fulfillment Matters
If we’re not fulfilled in the things we’re doing, it won’t matter how talented or lucky we are. We may think that we can rough it in a field we don’t care about, but the money and success aren’t enough in the long run.
Once we become successful, we may realize that this existence isn’t what we want for ourselves. With the money we make from our success, we may pivot to new things.
We’ve seen this narrative happen so many times in Hollywood. Someone becomes famous for one thing, figures out that they don’t like that thing, then pivots to something else. Sometimes this change is successful, and sometimes it’s not.
Often, the success of these changes depends on the person and the community around them. If you have a fan base who’s loyal to the field, you may find yourself struggling to stay afloat. Yet, a fan base that’s loyal to you may not care what industry you’re in or what you’re doing.
To determine if you’re fulfilled in what you’re pursuing, you should look at three factors:
- Your autonomy in the field
- How challenging the subject is for you
- Whether there is a clear connection between your efforts and any rewards you may receive
If you’re missing one or many factors, you may need to look at what you’re doing. You may determine that there is a better choice out there for you.
Without complete fulfillment in our subject of choice, we may find it difficult to find success in that field.
StoryShot #10: Outliers Are Rare
Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell tells us that outliers are rare. In fact, they’re a lot rarer than we think.
We see famous people on our televisions and phones and think that it’s not so hard to be like them. After all, there are how many hundreds of well-known names out there?
Despite this, you have to remember that outliers are rare. The definition lies in the name.
These are the people who stand out from the rest. These are the ones who go outside of the typical box.
Many of us want to work so hard to become outliers, but we’re hazed by the rewards associated with becoming one. We think about the fame, money, and recognition that we can get from becoming an outlier. In actuality, our wants have nothing to do with our success.
We can dream and wish all day, but this will not create success.
If you’re looking to become an outlier, you shouldn’t think about it at all. Focus on cultivating your talents and skills to become the best that you can be in your chosen field.
Focus on getting better. Pay attention to making your practice time as valuable as possible.
There are tons of resources out there to help you with whatever area you’re studying. Google whatever you need to know and get to work on your chosen subject. The sooner you start, the sooner you’ll be done.