3 Encouraging Lessons from Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell

Malcolm Gladwell
Certain books should come with a warning sign “it might change your life” because they may have a profound impact on your outlook after reading them, Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell is one such book. I read the book and re-read it several times. I loved it and I highly recommend it.

Gladwell’s message in this book is that of hope for all of us. As such, I would like to share some lessons I found particularly uplifting from the book.

1) Almost any body can make it with enough practice (”The 10,000 Hour Rule”)
In a study of violinists, players were placed in three groups: Group A, those who were judged to have the potential to become world-class players; Group B, those who were judged to be “good”; and Group C, those who were unlikely to play professionally and would end up as public school music teachers.
When asked a single question, the difference was revealed. How many hours have you practiced over your whole career?

While all started at roughly the same age and playing the same amount. As they grew, those in group A increased their practice time from 8 hours a week, to 12, to 20, to well over 30 hours a week. Those in the other groups did not practice as much. Predictably, there were less practice hours in Group C than in Group B.

All totaled, those in Group A had practiced roughly 10,000 hours. And this pattern holds true for computer programmers like Bill Gates, and many others.

They couldn’t find examples of the “naturals” that effortlessly played with little practice or “grinds” that practiced so much but could never break through.

Lesson: We can all become successful in what we do and to get there we need to work hard, not necessarily a genius.

2) A threshold level of intelligence is plenty to be successful.
Gladwell discusses how there is a point where increases in IQ no longer translate into increased real-world success. After about 120 IQ points, more IQ doesn’t help you become more successful. He makes a comparison (among many others) between Chris Langan, whom you’ve doubtfully heard of, with a IQ of 195, while Albert Einstein had an IQ of 150. (The average person has an IQ of 100, although this is changing.)

The point is that after 120 IQ points, other character traits start becoming more important. Being a charismatic and likable person becomes more important, in the real world, than further increases in IQ.

It is also important to remember that IQ is not a measure of everything. For instance it does not measure creativity, a trait that is crucially important in this world. Einstein’s insights into special relativity came not just from careful analytical thought, but through creative visualisations of the world and thought-experiments.

Lesson: After a threshold level of IQ, you don’t need any more IQ points to become more successful in the real world. Also, IQ isn’t everything.

3) Growing up with a hard-knock life can be liberating
OK, this tip does have some qualifiers associated with it. If you grew up in a poorer environment, but your parents were doing meaningful work, i.e. their increased efforts paid off with increased success, you will have learned a valuable lesson.

More work will result in more success, eventually.

This lesson, however, is hard to learn if you and/or your parents have been in a pattern of very low-level work where no other work experience can be gained, and there is no opportunity to learn more or move up within a company.

Lesson: Engaging in or watching meaningful (and hard) work makes it more likely to be successful in the future.

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