Friday, December 30, 2011


by Malcom Gladwell

Outliers are expressed in this book as people who are successful in business, born into the right race at the right time and the right place.

Now to me, the idea of being an outlier is inherently crazy. Being in the chinese culture (which incidentally is covered in this book), I had a long standing idea that success cannot be waited on and through hard work up the ranks will somehow yield success. That part might never change unfortunately because of my upbringing.

The Part One (titled Opportunity) of the book however, provided me with some insights that while yes you cannot change the race, place, time where you are born. You can get definitely get yourself or your children ready for the opportunity when it (if) comes by. Summarized below:

1. To bred a sportsman, have a child whose birthdate is as close to the eligibility date as possible.
2. Show the child that one part of hardwork equals one part of success, the idea of putting in effort means getting some form of return. This becomes a achievement cycle, on how success breeds basically more success.
3. Teach the child to learn numbers in a language that processes numbers fast and have a rigid structured number system (an inherent Asian advantage). The faster they process numbers, the more they can remember said numbers.
4. Even if the child is clever, without the right (encouraging) environment to grow up in, it would be a wash.

The chapter I was most interested in is the idea of "concerted cultivation". I initially had problems with grasping what exactly concerted cultivation meant. At first I understood it as needing to expose the child to anything and everything that the parent could get their hands on. I thought that it was a contradiction with the 10,000 hours theory proposed earlier in the book. (The author says it as the amount of time it takes to be excellent at a said task) I posed the question: "how it could be possible for a child to get exposure to everything and also get 10,000 hrs into a single task?"

Turns out I just understood the idea while re-reading over the chapter. I believe the important part of concerted cultivation isn't exposing the children. It was to teach the children to exert themselves in the society. This sense of "entitlement" as expressed in the book. Simply put, it's confidence.

The rest would be just compromise then, perhaps there is not a huge overlap between people who are doing everything at once and people who spend 10,000 hrs into a single task. I do believe though, in that overlap, a person would at least be well off, if not immensely successful.

Part Two (titled Legacy) deals with things are mostly not in our control. How each different culture operates and how it affects being an outlier. This is where the programming of each of our cultures affect an individual.

Having an ancestry from hunters in the Scottish regions means people can kill each other in the name of honor 400 years later (1800s) in Southern United States.
Having coming from cultivating the rice paddies in China means the Chinese believe "一份耕耘一份收获" (direct translation to: "one sowing of seeds equals one harvest", or in the current generation "hardwork equals reward")
Being from a culture where seniority structures are deeply enforced means a estranged way of communication with a superior can cause serious problems in a cockpit.

These advantages/disadvantages are things we can't change. What we can do is realize the said advantages and exploit (used here in the nicest of terms) them further, while alleviating the disadvantages.


One thing I would hope that anyone that reads this book not take away from, is that the idea of complacency. Just because you feel you're not born into a "right" family, you're not of the "right" culture, did not get the "right" education, means you can just give up and supposedly "let nature run its course".

Yes I concede that being an outlier means you will be successful in business faster or easier, but what the book also says is that having the right attitude and the right skills will make one better off than its peers.

You won't be too far away from the crowd, but... wouldn't you be an "outlier" as well then?

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