Success = Luck + 10,000 Hours

Blatantly obvious when you put it like that. No doubt there are some examples of success with only one, but one of Gladwell’s objectives is finding how to help more people be successful with more certainty.

Luck is hard to generate, but understanding how culture affects aptitude is not (in other words you don’t get to choose where you were born or how you were brought up, but you can understand the unique strengths that set of circumstances will bring).

In Outliers, Gladwell does a brilliant job of breaking down the American obsession with the myth of the self-made man. I can’t decide if I’m thrilled or not with this conclusion.

On the glass half-empty side, if you’ve got to be in the right place at the right time and it takes 10,000 hours of hard work to be successful, why bother? Accept your fate.

On the other hand, from the optimist’s viewpoint, what could you excel at given your background and what you love doing. This is an extremely insightful way to review your life. It’s remarkable how seemingly small events can add up to powerful determinants of future success. For  Bill Gates, Gladwell recounts how it was being at a school which had one of the first  computers in the world that allowed online processing enabling him to rack up 10,000 hours while still in his teens.  For the Beatles, their extensive live stage time in Germany is also cited as a key driver of success.  The biggest determinant of which kids makes it to the elite in classical music?  Practice time.  If you’ve got kids, now is a good time to think about whether you’re helping them to really practice the things they love.

BTW, the book is very entertaining, because Gladwell is such a great storyteller. I recently had the misfortune of picking up The Town the Food Saved which could have been full of wonderful stories about country characters and how they turned a dead mining town into a thriving local food community. Instead it was an extremely dull history where you got all you needed to know from the jacket – artisanal, local food is good for the planet, profits, and the local community. At least reading something like this makes you realize how good authors like Gladwell are.

If you look back at your life, you’ll discover unique twists and turns that have set you up for success in a number of areas. Why do some people lose that trail, while others keep the passion alive? Is it parental intervention, the influence of peers, just wanting to fit in, or chasing a pot of gold? Discovering what helps people stay on track would be a great companion to this book.  For me, retrospection revealed product and process design, reviewing, cooking, and trail running as opportunities.  What would it help you to see in your own life?

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