Book Review: Outliers: The Story of Success

A recent good read, which changed my perspective on what it takes to become a wild success in life. The Outliers is about how success is affected by external factors beyond individual characteristics. These factors include culture, social systems, even friends and families. Here are some highlights:
  • The Matthew Effect – Canadian professional hockey players are mostly born in the early months of a year because the age cutoff for tryouts is January 1st. These players when trying out during childhood, have months of physical development over their later-born counterparts. This is a huge advantage which gives successful candidates access to premium coaches and programmes for years, hence an ever increasing head-start eventually leading to professional careers. Similar patterns are found in Major League Baseball, English Premier League, among other sports leagues.  Even when it comes to school, kids born later in the year are at a slight disadvantage.  Hard to believe, but this arbitrary external factor (cutoff dates) affects people in a very deep way.
  • 10 000-Hour Rule – it generally takes someone at least 10 000 hours of practice to be an expert at something. Mozart did not produce his first masterpiece until 10 years into his career. The Beatles enjoyed years of practice doing small performances in Germany before reaching super stardom. Bill Joy, Bill Gates and Steve Jobs all had early-year access to computers before they became visionaries in the technology realm.
  • Being Sufficiently Smart – you do not need to be a genius to be successful. In fact, many geniuses have failed to succeed as they did not receive the necessary "cultivation" during their minor years. As long as you are smart enough (IQ of around 120), you can be successful if you are raised properly. Good to know that an IQ higher than 120 does not buy you any more success. 
  • Cultural Influence – your roots have much more to do with certain kinds of success or failure. Korean Air had a bad rap on high accident rates years ago. It turned out Koreans' indirect way of interacting with figures of authority, i.e., pilots, operators at control towers, have everything to do with this. Asians tend to excel at math because our language system makes it easier to cognitively manipulate numbers. Asian cultures usually treasure the value of working hard in life, which knowingly or not, helps them succeed in a subject that requires ample practice!
This book provides some encouraging takeaways for the not-so-genius people like me.  For one, given the right cultivation, we have an equally good chance to succeed as the Einsteins of the world. Take a relatively intelligent person, give him the right exposure and fostering during youth and adolescence, coupled with hard work and persistence, remove the negative external factors that are rooted in your culture or circumstances, and voila, you have a formula to manufacture success!



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