It is not the brightest who succeed. Nor is success simply the sum of the decisions and efforts we make on our own behalf. It is, rather, a gift. Outliers are those who have been given opportunities—and who have had the strength and presence of mind to seize them.
The definitions of outlier: (1) something that is situated away from or classed differently from a main or related body, (2) a statistical observation that is markedly different in value from the others of the sample.
Living a long life, the conventional wisdom at the time said, depended to a great extent on who we were—that is, our genes. It depended on the decisions we make—on what we chose to eat, and how much we chose to exercise, and how effectively we were treated by the medical system. No one was used to thinking about health in terms of community.
Biologists often talk about the “ecology” of an organism: the tallest oak in the forest is the tallest not just because it grew from the hardiest acorn; it is the tallest also because no other trees blocked its sunlight, the soil around it was deep and rich, no rabbit chewed through its bark as a sapling, and no lumberjack cut it down before it matured. We all know that successful people come from hardy seeds. But do we know enough about the sunlight that warmed them, then soil in which they put down the roots, and the rabbits and lumberjacks they were lucky enough to avoid?
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 (especially in sports) persists. It locks children into patterns of achievement and underachievement, encouragement and discouragement, that stretch on and on for years.
Those who are successful, in other words, who are most likely to be given the kinds of special opportunities that lead to further success.
Success is the results of what sociologists like to call “accumulative advantage”.
We so profoundly personalize success, we miss opportunities to lift others onto the top rung. We make rules that frustrate achievement. 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. And most of all, we become much too passive. We overlook just how large a role we all play—and by “we”, the author means society—in determining who makes it and who doesn’t.
We cling to the idea that success is a simple function of individual merit and that the world in which we all grow up and the rules we choose to write as a society don’t matter at all.
Achievement is talent plus preparation. The problem with this view is that the closer psychologists look at the careers of the gifted, the smaller the role innate talent seems to play and the bigger the role preparation seems to play.
People at the very top don’t work just harder or even much harder than everyone else. They work much, much harder.
10,000 hours of practice is required to achieve the level of mastery associated with being a world-class expert—in anything.
Practice isn’t the thing you do when you’re good. It’s the thing you do that makes you good.
The other interesting thing about that ten thousand hours, of course, is that ten thousand hours is an enormous amount of time. It’s all but impossible to reach that number all by yourself by the time you’re a young adult. You have to have parents who encourage and support you. You can’t be poor, because if you have to hold down a part-time job on the side to help make ends meet, there won’t be time left in the day to practice enough. In fact, most people can reach that number only if they get into some kind of special program or if they get some kind of extraordinary opportunity that gives them a chance to put in those hours.
What truly distinguishes successful people is not their extraordinary talent but their extraordinary opportunities.
We pretend that success is exclusively a matter of individual merit. But it’s not that simple. There are stories, instead, about people who were given a special opportunity to work really hard and seized it, and who happened to come of age at a time when that extraordinary effort was rewarded by the rest of society. Their success was not just their own making. It was a product of the world in which they grew up.
The relationship between success and IQ works only up to a point. Once someone has reached an IQ of somewhere around 120, having additional IQ points doesn’t seem to translate into any measurable real-world advantage. A basketball player only has to be tall enough—and the same is true of intelligence. Intelligence has a threshold.
If intelligence matters only up to a point, then past the point, other things—things that have nothing to do with intelligence—must start to matter more.
Practical intelligence includes things like “knowing what to say to whom, knowing when to sat it, and knowing how to say it for maximum effect.” It is procedural: it is about knowing how to do something without necessarily knowing why you know it or being explain 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. And critically, it is a kind of intelligence separate from the sort of analytical ability measured by IQ.
No one—not rock stars, not professional athletes, not software billionaires, and not even geniuses—ever makes it alone. Successful people don’t do it alone. Where they come from matters. They’re products of particular places and environments.
Sometimes, successful people didn’t triumph over adversity. Instead, what started out as adversity ended up being an opportunity.
The sense of possibility so necessary for success comes not just from inside of us or from our parents. It comes from our time: from the particular opportunities that our particular place in history presents us with.
Autonomy, complexity, and a connection between effort and reward are, the 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.
If you work hard enough and assert yourself, and use your mind and imagination, you can shape the world to your desires.
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.
Plane crashes are much more likely to be the results of an accumulation of minor difficulties and seemingly trivial malfunctions. The kinds of errors that cause plane crashes are invariably errors of teamwork and communication.
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.
We assume that being good at things like calculus and algebra is a simple function of how smart someone is. But the difference between the number systems in the East and the West suggest something very different—that being good at math may also be rooted in a group’s culture.
Success is a function of persistence and doggedness and the willingness to work hard for twenty-two minutes to make sense of something that most people would give up on after thirty seconds.
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