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THE HIDDEN ADVANTAGES BEHIND SUCCESS

  • May 24, 2010
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Rating:
+5
Is Malcolm Gladwell just stating the obvious when he says really successful people achieve their success through a series of advantages? He labels such people as "outliers," a use of the word not sanctioned by the English dictionary. He's not interested in run-of-the-mill kinds of success, but of really huge kinds of success, like Bill Gates or The Beatles. Let me begin by saying that I found this book fascinating, and made my way through its 285 pages rapidly, eager to see what was on the next page, in the next chapter. The book is full of new perspectives and ideas to savor over time.

Gladwell introduces us to the "10,000 hour rule," by which someone who can put in 10,000 hours at their craft, especially when there are barriers to others getting that many hours, gain a significant advantage. He discussed how Bill Gates, as a teen-ager, had access to real time (as opposed to punch cards) programming, and how the Beatles played clubs in Hamburg Germany where the music was non-stop and they played 8-hours stretches. Practice makes perfect.

He also visits Chris Langen, a 200 IQ genius who grew up in extreme poverty and never finished college. He tells us about a long-term study of high IQ people like Langen that showed they are not more successful than other people. According to the author's analysis, it DOES take a certain level of intelligence to make it in our society, but beyond a certain IQ (about 120), the advantage of greater intelligence disappears. IQ tests only test a kind of logical intelligence, but it seems there is also a kind of practical intelligence that comes from exposure to people, places and things. If you grow up in an environment of low stimulation, with few opportunities for interaction with people or visits to a variety of places, you will be lacking in the kind of intelligence needed for success. Poor Chris Langen. Gladwell compares him to Robert Oppenheimer, who was also a genius, but came from a wealthy home. Their stories could not be more different.

He also talks about the role of cultural legacy in success, and attributes various kinds of dysfunctional behavior to cultural inheritance. For instance, the famous feuds of mountain people (like the Hatfields and McCoys) are traceable to their ancestry in the hills of Scotland, where they had to be aggressive in protecting their sheep. Koreans make lousy airline pilots because their extreme adherence to respecting those of higher status keeps co-pilots and flight engineers from telling the captain when something is wrong and needs immediate correction.

These observations are all very interesting, but once I was finished with the book, I began to wonder if what we have here is an entertaining book full of ideas, but not a complete theory of success. I was especially interested in what the author says about Bill Gates, since my husband and I were also involved in the very early software business, and we knew many other people who had a classic "garage business" (or, since we live in Michigan, a "basement business"). Yes, Bill Gates dropped out of Harvard because he knew the picture of the Altair on the cover of Popular Electronics in January 1975 meant the time was right for small computers to become more than a hobby. Gates wrote a version of the BASIC language for the Altair, working with his buddy, Paul Allen. They founded Microsoft and were for a number of years, a computer language company. Gates was smart enough to always license (rather than sell) his languages, and that made him lots of money that let him move on to the next wave of computers.

But Gates was not the only entrepreneur out there, nor was the Altair the only machine (but it was the first). My husband David Welsh wrote a word processor for the Radio Shack TRS-80 and we sold it all over the world through ads in computer magazines. At the peak of its popularity, the TRS-80 had so many entrepreneurial programmers that the premier TRS-80 magazine, 80 Micro, was a hundreds-of-pages fat thing, bulging with ads. There were magazines for the Apple, Commodore, and other microcomputers, all full of ads for programs written by eager, talented enthusiasts. But only Bill Gates and Steve Jobs survived and are today moguls of a huge industry. What happened to everyone else?

(David and I wrote a book about our experiences - "Priming the Pump: How TRS-80 Enthusiasts Helped Spark the PC Revolution." The real story of microcomputers involves lots of people who did not get rich. The book is available on Amazon.).

In my mind, Bill Gates succeeded because of many of the factors cited by Malcolm Gladwell, but also because he had what many of the rest of us lacked, and that was the vision to see that software could be a huge industry. He not only had the skill and talent as a programmer, but he also had business acumen. And by the way, while Gladwell makes a big thing out of successful people having the opportunity to go to college, Gates not only dropped out of college, but his parents supported him in that choice. Gates' father was an attorney who helped him with advice on how to deal with the companies that wanted to use his BASC in their computers. How many parents would have let their son drop out of college to pursue something as iffy as creating a language for a "toy" computer (pretty much what the IBM crowd thought of the Altair)?

Yes, Gates had lots of advantages, but he was able to see the future in a way that most of us couldn't. Did that arise from another of those hidden advantages? Maybe books he'd read about how new technologies develop? Maybe trips to museums that traced the history of technologies? Maybe his father shared his ideas and his help was why this young man was able to craft such good deals with the likes of Radio Shack, and later, with IBM?

I think Outliers is a five-star book because it makes you think, and it is entertaining enough so you keep reading. Reading it will not turn you into a success, but it will give you some ideas about how people like Bill Gates got to be Bill Gates. You can start looking at successful people in a new way, wondering where their advantages came from and how those advantages worked with their own passion and talent to get them to the top.

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review by . June 07, 2009
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Theresa Welsh ()
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I'm a book lover, book reviewer and part-time book seller. I'm also a writer and author, with a background in IT work in both the auto and medical industries. I retired from full-time work a year … more
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Amazon Best of the Month, November 2008: Now that he's gotten us talking about the viral life of ideas and the power of gut reactions, Malcolm Gladwell poses a more provocative question inOutliers: why do some people succeed, living remarkably productive and impactful lives, while so many more never reach their potential? Challenging our cherished belief of the "self-made man," he makes the democratic assertion that superstars don't arise out of nowhere, propelled by genius and talent: "they are invariably the beneficiaries of hidden advantages and extraordinary opportunities and cultural legacies that allow them to learn and work hard and make sense of the world in ways others cannot." Examining the lives of outliers from Mozart to Bill Gates, he builds a convincing case for how successful people rise on a tide of advantages, "some deserved, some not, some earned, some just plain lucky."

Outlierscan be enjoyed for its bits of trivia, like why most pro hockey players were born in January, how many hours of practice it takes to master a skill, why the descendents of Jewish immigrant garment workers became the most powerful lawyers in New York, how a pilots' culture impacts their crash record, how a centuries-old culture of rice farming helps Asian kids master math. But there's more to it than that. Throughout all of these examples--and in more that delve into the social benefits of lighter skin color, and the ...
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Details

ISBN-10: 0316017922
ISBN-13: 978-0316017923
Author: Malcolm Gladwell
Genre: Business & Investing, Health, Mind & Body, Nonfiction
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
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