Non-fiction of Note: Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell

Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell was published over a decade ago but it’s still one of my favorite non-fiction reads and it explores some fascinating events that have shaped lives, policy, and practices of business, sports, and individuals.  While the book covers a lot in its 300-plus pages, the concept is there are certain aspects or qualities that people possess that will push them to do great or unique things.

While my favorite chapter deals with airplane crashes and how cultural tics can cause or prevent crashes, I think a lot of the book is explained in his focus on Bill Gates.  For me, the big argument of the book was that opportunities can play, at times, a bigger role in success than the people we see as successful.

This is not to say that the work and drive produced by someone like Bill Gates wasn’t an overarching factor in him becoming one of the wealthiest people in the history of ever, but conditions and opportunities present in the life of Mr. Gates were vital in his knowledge and invention of the technology that’s made him who he is today.

Without giving a chapter-by-chapter review, and focusing on the Bill Gates story, having opportunity or chances that others may not, clearly influences success.  For me, when Gladwell talked about how Gates had access to a computer in a time where very few did, it struck me as a prime example that we may have a wealth of geniuses around our world, but that lack of simple opportunities could be keeping them from exceling.  

However, opportunity, according to the book, isn’t the only thing that matters.  Gladwell says that in order to become great or an expert at something, it takes 10,000 hours of practice or simple doing of the task.  That much devotion to a single area, like music or art or developing a skill, is something few would commit to so I think the big ideas in this book marry well. So, if you plan to be the best dentist in Raleigh, NC, expect for it to take about a decade. At a minimum.

The idea that some people have become wildly successful because of chances they’ve had–in some cases well beyond the norm–is hard to argue against.  But, it’s also the case that putting in work matters ever so much since having the tools to build something great, while not an option for everyone, is useless in the hands of someone unwilling to roll up their sleeves and use them.