Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Book Review: Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell

As a musician, I'm prone to wondering why some people succeed and others don't. Malcolm Gladwell does a wonderful job of explaining that it's not purely a matter of talent, or even of hard work.

For instance, the first chapter discusses the fact that most Canadian hockey stars are born in the first three months of the year. Coincidence? Nope! Canada's hockey leagues run according to the calendar year, which means that a boy born on January 1st will play in the same league as a boy born on December 31st. The boy born on January 1st will be bigger, and his size will give him an advantage early on. This advantage will in turn give him the chance to get more time on the ice, get into better hockey leagues, play against better opponents, play more games, practice more, and ultimately have a greater chance of success, while the younger, smaller boy gets left behind.

Gladwell stands by the "10,000-hour rule," which states that 10,000 hours of focused practice is required in order to become an expert. Achieving expertise is not reliant on natural talent, but on putting in the required 10,000 hours. In this book, he aims to prove that certain conditions and circumstances (such as birth date) make completing these 10,000 hours of practice more accessible early on to those who succeed. Each chapter discusses a different success story, including The Beatles and Bill Gates.

While some may criticize Gladwell's ideas regarding the relationship between chance and success, I find them comforting. Yes, chance provides some of us with the opportunity to achieve those 10,000 hours of practice earlier than others, but the key word in that statement is earlier. Ultimately, it's putting in those 10,000 hours that really counts. If we're motivated and willing to put in the time and do the work, despite any obstacles that we encounter along the way, it is still possible for any of us to become experts -- it just may take us a little longer.

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