Book: Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell

Yes, this is the book in which Malcolm Gladwell wrote that you basically need 10 000 hours of practice to get world class at something.

Many more people have heard about 10 000 hours concept than the book itself. They may be even surprised to learn that this number is NOT a core concept. It appears maybe 3-4 times.

The core message Malcolm Gladwell is trying to impart is that success is not individual. It is a product of individual effort and the opportunity to turn this effort into mastery.

The success of a person is shaped by the interaction of environment, upbringing and most of all – timing.

Hard work is only the price of admission, but it is not sufficient.

[Amazon link]

The key to mastery is long hours of deliberate practice. Work put into developing talent has to be continually challenging to conquer and yet easy enough that’s it not overwhelming.

But 10 000 hours of deliberate practice sounds much easier than it is. It’s not sitting somewhere in the basement, just chipping away at it.

You have to have the string of opportunities – each with just the right amount of challenge – present themselves over and over again.

On some level, it makes perfect sense.  If the majority had the opportunity to reach mastery levels, it would be – by definition mediocre. Mastery is at the top of „pyramid” precisely because only a few attain it. It has to be one of the harder things to achieve.

Hard-working attitude is not enough. Only the lucky few have even the opportunity to spend so much time putting the hours in.

The point was brought very close to home when I started the chapter about the upbringing of Bill Gates. Bill had a unique opportunity – by chance he had dedicated access to a school computer since he was thirteen. In that time, nobody was able to afford it. In the result, Bill spent close to 10 000 hours of programming and developing his understanding of how computers work.

Of course, he is a brilliant, driven individual. But many other people are as well,

I am much less intelligent and driven than him, but in retrospect, I have to credit my career to my specific upbringing. Since a very young age, I have been included in ‚engineering’ tasks both by my grandfathers and my dad.

One of my grandfathers was a jet engineer. He has a knack for dirty macgyver-style tinkering and likes to keep half-done parts or projects everywhere.

My dad was in his time a carpenter, painter, metallurgist and an entrepreneur. He also liked to do things his way, and he loved to modify everything to add his unique „improvements.”

I spent half of my childhood taking machines and appliances apart and developed quite an experience in how things are put together.

When the Internet came to Poland in 1990s, by chance I developed a website for my scout team and somehow got „stuck” developing websites for a living (!) since I was 15. That is almost 20 years now.

Of course, to be even moderately successful, I had to have some other qualities, but my sheer amount of experience in both technical reasoning and web technologies themselves will be just hard to beat by anyone.

Naturally, until the world changes enough that my experience will become a drawback rather than an advantage.

Till then, (nerd) party rages on.

My highlights

  • If you make a decision about who is good and who is not good at an early age; if you separate the “talented” from the “untalented”; and if you provide the “talented” with a superior experience, then you’re going to end up giving a huge advantage to that small group of people born closest to the cutoff date.

  • The small initial advantage that the child born in the early part of the year has over the child born at the end of the year persists.

  • Denmark. They have a national policy where they have no ability grouping until the age of ten.”

  • “Matthew Effect”

  • We prematurely write off people as failures. We are too much in awe of those who succeed and far too dismissive of those who fail.

  • 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.

  • Mozart, he argues, actually “developed late,” since he didn’t produce his greatest work until he had been composing for more than twenty years.

  • “We have seen,” Terman concluded, with more than a touch of disappointment, “that intellect and achievement are far from perfectly correlated.”

  • He’d had to make his way alone, and no one—not rock stars, not professional athletes, not software billionaires, and not even geniuses—ever makes it alone.

  • But as is so often the case with outliers, buried in that setback was a golden opportunity.

  • 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. For a young would-be lawyer, being born in the early 1930s was a magic time, just as being born in 1955 was for a software programmer, or being born in 1835 was for an entrepreneur.

  • Even the most gifted of lawyers, equipped with the best of family lessons, cannot escape the limitations of their generation.

  • For centuries in Europe, they had been forbidden to own land, so they had clustered in cities and towns, taking up urban trades and professions.

  • The distinctive buildings that still stand on the lower half of Broadway in Manhattan—from the big ten- and fifteen-story industrial warehouses in the twenty blocks below Times Square to the cast-iron lofts of SoHo and Tribeca—were almost all built to house coat makers and hatmakers and lingerie manufacturers and huge rooms of men and women hunched over sewing machines.

  • Hard work is a prison sentence only if it does not have meaning.

  • the consensus appears to be that that region was plagued by a particularly virulent strain of what sociologists call a “culture of honor.”

  • But a herdsman does have 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.

  • The triumph of a culture of honor helps to explain why the pattern of criminality in the American South has always been so distinctive.

  • 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.

  • Our ability to succeed at what we do is powerfully bound up with where we’re from, and being a good pilot and coming from a high–power distance culture is a difficult mix.

  • high–power distance communication works only when the listener is capable of paying close attention, and it works only if the two parties in a conversation have the luxury of time, in order to unwind each other’s meanings. It doesn’t work in an airplane cockpit on a stormy night with an exhausted pilot trying to land at an airport with a broken glide scope.

  • In languages as diverse as Welsh, Arabic, Chinese, English and Hebrew, there is a reproducible correlation between the time required to pronounce numbers in a given language and the memory span of its speakers.

  • In this domain, the prize for efficacy goes to the Cantonese dialect of Chinese, whose brevity grants residents of Hong Kong a rocketing memory span of about 10 digits.

  • The Chinese is literally ‘out of five parts, take three.’ That’s telling you conceptually what a fraction is.

  • “No food without blood and sweat.” “Farmers are busy; farmers are busy; if farmers weren’t busy, where would grain to get through the winter come from?” “In winter, the lazy man freezes to death.” “Don’t depend on heaven for food, but on your own two hands carrying the load.” “Useless to ask about the crops, it all depends on hard work and fertilizer.” “If a man works hard, the land will not be lazy.”

  • it’s not so much ability as attitude. You master mathematics if you are willing to try.

  • “Education lays the foundation of a large portion of the causes of mental disorder,” Jarvis wrote.

  • one of the singular features of rice cultivation is that because of the nutrients carried by the water used in irrigation, the more a plot of land is cultivated, the more fertile it gets. But in Western agriculture, the opposite is true. Unless a wheat- or cornfield is left fallow every few years, the soil becomes exhausted.

  • When it comes to reading skills, poor kids learn nothing when school is not in session.

  • “I find that the problem with math education is the sink-or-swim approach.

  • Outliers are those who have been given opportunities—and who have had the strength and presence of mind to seize them.

 

 

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