Derek Sivers
Outliers: The Story of Success - by Malcolm Gladwell

Outliers: The Story of Success - by Malcolm Gladwell

ISBN: 0316017922
Date read: 2009-04-23
How strongly I recommend it: 5/10
(See my list of 360+ books, for more.)

Go to the Amazon page for details and reviews.

Deep study of why some people are so much more successful. Often due to circumstances and early opportunities, but really comes down to the fact that it takes about 10,000 hours of hard work to master something.

my notes

The striking thing about Ericsson’s study is that he and his colleagues couldn’t find any “naturals,” musicians who floated effortlessly to the top while practicing a fraction of the time their peers did.
Nor could they find any “grinds,” people who worked harder than everyone else, yet just didn’t have what it takes to break the top ranks.
Their research suggestes that once a musician has enough ability to get into a top music school, the thing that distinguishes one performer from another is how hard he or she works. That’s it.
And what’s more, the people at the very top don’t work just harder or even much harder than everyone else. They work much, much harder.

What’s ten years? Well, it’s roughly how long it takes to put in ten thousand hours of hard practice. Ten thousand hours is the magic number of greatness.

By the time they had their first burst of success in 1964, The Beatles had performed live an estimated twelve hundred times.

In one seven-month period in 1971, Bill Gates and his cohorts ran up 1,575 hours of computer time on the ISI mainframe, which averages out to eight hours a day, seven days a week. “It was my obsession,” Gates says.

In the 1860s and 1870s, the American economy went through perhaps the greatest transformation in its history. This was when the railroads were being built and when Wall Street emerged. It was when industrial manufacturing started in earnest. It was when all the rules by which the traditional economy had functioned were broken and remade. What this list says is that it really matters how old you were when that transformation happened.

A basketball player only has to be tall enough - and the same is true of intelligence. Past a certain point, height stops mattering so much.

Write down as many different uses that you can think of for the following objects: 1. a brick 2. a blanket
This is an example of what’s called a “divergence test” (as opposed to a test like the Raven’s, which asks you to sort through a list of possibilities and converge on the right answer).
It requires you to use your imagination and take your mind in as many different directions as possible.
With a divergence test, obviously there isn’t a single right answer.
What the test giver is looking for are the number and the uniqueness of your responses.

He possessed the kind of savvy that allowed him to get what he wanted from the world. Robert Sternberg calls this “practical intelligence.”

To Sternberg, practical intelligence includes things like “knowing what to say to whom, knowing when to say it, and knowing how to say it for maximum effect.”

It’s practical in nature: that is, it’s not knowledge for its own sake. It’s knowledge that helps you read situations correctly and get what you want.

“They acted as though they had a right to pursue their own individual preferences and to actively manage interactions in institutional settings. They appeared comfortable in those settings; they were open to sharing information and asking for attention....It was common practice among middle-class children to shift interactions to suit their preferences.”

They lacked something that could have been given to them if we’d only known they needed it: a community around them that prepared them properly for the world.

No one - not rock stars, not professional athletes, not software billionaires, and not even geniuses - ever makes it alone.

They had a skill that they had been working on for years that was suddenly very valuable.

The sense of possibility so necessary for success comes not just from inside us or from our parents. It comes from our time: from the particular opportunities that our particular place in history presents us with.

Borgenicht took out a small notebook. Everywhere he went, he wrote down what people were wearing and what was for sale - menswear, women’s wear, children’s wear. He wanted to find a “novel” item, something that people would wear that was not being sold in the stores. For four more days he walked the streets. On the evening of the final day as he walked toward home, he saw a half dozen girls playing hopscotch. One of the girls was wearing a tiny embroidered apron over her dress, cut low in the front with a tie in the back, and it struck him, suddenly, that in his previous days of relentlessly inventorying the clothing shops of the Lower East Side, he had never seen one of those aprons for sale.

By 1900, control of the garment industry had passed almost entirely into the hands of the Eastern European newcomers. As Borgenicht puts it, the Jews “bit deep into the welcoming land and worked like madmen at what they knew.”

To come to New York City in the 1890s with a background in dressmaking or sewing or Schnittwaren Handlung was a stroke of extraordinary good fortune. It was like showing up in Silicon Valley in 1986 with ten thousand hours of computer programming already under your belt.

What Borgenicht was getting in his eighteen-hour days was a lesson in the modern economy. He was learning market research. He was learning manufacturing. He was learning how to negotiate with imperious Yankees. He was learning how to plug himself into popular culture in order to understand new fashion trends.The Irish and Italian immigrants who came to New York in the same period didn’t have that advantage. They didn’t have a skill specific to the urban economy.

Three things - autonomy, complexity, and a connection between effort and reward - are, most people agree, the three qualities that work has to have if it is to be satisfying. It is not how much money we make that ultimately makes us happy between nine and five. It’s whether our work fulfills us.

Work that fulfills those three criteria is meaningful. Being a teacher is meaningful. Being a physician is meaningful. So is being an entrepreneur.

The Beatles didn’t recoil in horror when they were told they had to play eight hours a night, seven days a week. They jumped at the chance. Hard work is a prison sentence only if it does not have meaning.

Jewish doctors and lawyers did not become professionals in spite of their humble origins. They became professionals because of their humble origins.

Success is not a random act. It arises out of a predictable and powerful set of circumstances and opportunities,

It shouldn’t be hard to figure out where the perfect lawyer comes from. This person will have been born in a demographic trough, so as to have had the best of New York’s public schools and the easiest time in the job market. He will be Jewish, of course, and so, locked out of the old-line downtown law firms on account of his “antecedents.” This person’s parents will have done meaningful work in the garment business, passing on to their children autonomy and complexity and the connection between effort and reward. A good school - although it doesn’t have to be a great school - will have been attended. He need not have been the smartest in the class, only smart enough.

That region was plagued by a particularly virulent strain of what sociologists call a “culture of honor.” Cultures of honor tend to take root in highlands and other marginally fertile areas, such as Sicily or the mountainous Basque regions of Spain.

A herdsman has to worry. He’s under constant threat of ruin through the loss of his animals. So he has to be aggressive: he has to make it clear, through his words and deeds, that he is not weak. He has to be willing to fight in response to even the slightest challenge to his reputation - and that’s what a “culture of honor” means. It’s a world where a man’s reputation is at the center of his livelihood and self-worth.

Test insult: Young men from the northern part of the United States treated the incident with amusement. They laughed it off. But the southerners? Oh, my. They were angry.

Cultural legacies are powerful forces. They have deep roots and long lives. They persist, generation after generation, virtually intact, even as the economic and social and demographic conditions that spawned them have vanished, and they play such a role in directing attitudes and behavior that we cannot make sense of our world without them.

Planes are safer when the least experienced pilot is flying, because it means the second pilot isn’t going to be afraid to speak up. Combating mitigation.

It is the success of this war on mitigation as much as anything else that accounts for the extraordinary decline in airline accidents in recent years.

Hofstede argued, for example, that cultures can be usefully distinguished according to how much they expect individuals to look after themselves. He called that measurement the “individualism-collectivism scale.” The country that scores highest on the individualism end of that scale is the United States. Not surprisingly, the United States is also the only industrialized country in the world that does not provide its citizens with universal health care. At the opposite end of the scale is Guatemala.

Another of Hofstede’s dimensions is “uncertainty avoidance.” How well does a culture tolerate ambiguity? Here are the top five “uncertainty avoidance” countries, according to Hofstede’s database - that is, the countries most reliant on rules and plans and most likely to stick to procedure regardless of circumstances:
1. Greece
2. Portugal
3. Guatemala
4. Uruguay
5. Belgium
The bottom five - that is, the cultures best able to tolerate ambiguity - are:
49. Hong Kong
50. Sweden
51. Denmark
52. Jamaica
53. Singapore

People who grow rice have always worked harder than almost any other kind of farmer.

China and Japan never developed that kind of oppressive feudal system, because feudalism simply can’t work in a rice economy. Growing rice is too complicated and intricate for a system that requires farmers to be coerced and bullied into going out into the fields each morning.

We could predict precisely the order in which every country would finish in the Math Olympics without asking a single math question. All we would have to do is give them some task measuring how hard they were willing to work. In fact, we wouldn’t even have to give them a task. We should be able to predict which countries are best at math simply by looking at which national cultures place the highest emphasis on effort and hard work.So, which places are at the top of both lists? The answer shouldn’t surprise you: Singapore, South Korea, China (Taiwan), Hong Kong, and Japan. What those five have in common, of course, is that they are all cultures shaped by the tradition of wet-rice agriculture and meaningful work.* They are the kinds of places where, for hundreds of years, penniless peasants, slaving away in the rice paddies three thousand hours a year, said things to one another like “No one who can rise before dawn three hundred sixty days a year fails to make his family rich.”

David Levin, who founded KIPP with a fellow teacher, Michael Feinberg, in 1994.

We look at the young Bill Gates and marvel that our world allowed that thirteen-year-old to become a fabulously successful entrepreneur. But that’s the wrong lesson. Our world only allowed one thirteen-year-old unlimited access to a time-sharing terminal in 1968. If a million teenagers had been given the same opportunity, how many more Microsofts would we have today? To build a better world we need to replace the patchwork of lucky breaks and arbitrary advantages that today determine success - the fortunate birth dates and the happy accidents of history - with a society that provides opportunities for all. If Canada had a second hockey league for those children born in the last half of the year, it would today have twice as many adult hockey stars. Now multiply that sudden flowering of talent by every field and profession. The world could be so much richer than the world we have settled for.