Outliers – The Story of Success

Outliers: The Story of Success

Summary of “Outliers – The Story of Success”: It takes 10,000 hours of practice to reach the level of mastery associated with a world-class expert in any field.

By Malcolm Gladwell, 2008, 365 pages.

Note: This is a guest review written by Renata from the blog, lesimages2renata.com

Chronicle and summary of “Outliers – The Story of Success”

10,000 hours is the magic number of greatness.

“In Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell examines the factors that contribute to success. To support this thesis (research findings from Anders Ericsson, father of this theory) he studies the reasons why Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates made his huge fortune, how the Beatles became one of the greatest musical groups in history, how Joseph Flom created Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom and how he made it one of the biggest successful law firms, how cultural differences play an important role in perceived intelligence and rational decision-making, and how two people with exceptional intelligence, Christopher Langan and J. Robert Oppenheimer, end up with very different fates. Throughout the publication, Gladwell repeatedly mentions “the 10,000-hour rule”, arguing that the key to achieving world-class expertise, regardless of skill, is, to a large extent, the question of doing things the right way, and practicing for some 10,000 hours.”

“Outliers: The Story of Success”, published in 2008, is the third non-fiction book written by Malcolm Gladwell.

“Outliers – The Story of Success” has two parts: “Opportunity”, which contains six chapters, and “Legacy”, which has four.

Who is Malcolm Gladwell?

Malcolm Gladwell is a Canadian journalist, best-selling author and speaker. He has been an editor for The New Yorker since 1996. He has written five Best Sellers. The Tipping Point, How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference, Blink, Outliers, What the Dog Saw, and David and Goliath.

Gladwell’s books and articles often deal with unintended consequences, with social science research and make recurrent use of academic work, particularly in the fields of sociology, psychology and social psychology.


Gladwell states the purpose of Outliers: “It’s not enough to ask what successful people are like, but how it is that we can unravel the logic behind who succeeds and who doesn’t”. He talks about global success. He explains how family, culture and friendship each play a role in an individual’s success.

Outliers talks about the men and women who have done or are doing things that go far beyond the ordinary. Malcolm Gladwell tells us the story of geniuses, business tycoons, rock stars, as well as computer programmers. The question arises about success; we want to know what celebrities are like: their personality, their way of life, what are their special talents. We assume that’s what sets them apart from us.

1. We are often told that they come from disadvantaged backgrounds: that makes you dream, doesn’t it?

Malcolm Gladwell explains that it doesn’t work like that. People don’t come from nowhere; these people are there like kings and it “could” seem that they did everything themselves, that they did it alone. No, that doesn’t exist. This is a myth.

For, in reality, they have benefited from hidden benefits and extraordinary opportunities, as well as cultural heritages that allow them to learn and work a lot, and to have a vision of the world that others cannot have, and also, a working capacity which is not within everyone’s reach.

The difference starts with the place (where and in which family) and the moment (time) when we grew up. The culture to which we belong, as well as the cultural heritage received from our ancestors, form patterns for our personal achievement. It’s not enough to simply know what successful people are like. According to Malcolm Gladwell, it’s enough to ask where they come from and that will immediately give us the answer to the question: “Who is or will be successful?”.

The idea that the brightest person gets to the top effortlessly…it’s a pipe dream! Do you know someone who got to the top this way? You do? I am eager to know!

2. The Roseto mystery

Outliers – The Story of Success begins with the story about the mystery of Roseto, an Italian town in the province of Foggia.

The mystery was that the people of Roseto had good health and very rarely had heart attacks. Research was carried out and it was not their diet, nor their physical exercise, nor their genes…. So, what was it?

In Roseto you could see three generations eating at the same table, living under the same roof, and people talked to each other in stores and on the streets. The mysterious magic formula: the benefits of the community. You had to look behind the individual and understand the culture he was part of, who his friends and family were.

They came to the conclusion that the values of the world we live in and the people around us have a profound effect on who we are.

For our understanding of success, Malcolm Gladwell will apply the same approach as in Roseto to the rest of his analyses.

The 10,000-Hour Rule

Part 1: Does innate talent exist?

The question that is often asked is: does innate talent exist? The obvious answer would be yes!

Is success the addition of talent, preparation, and practice? However… the more psychologists analyze the careers of the “gifted”, the more they find that the talent portion is very much lower than that of preparation.

In 1990 psychologist Anders Ericsson and two colleagues from the Berlin Academy of Music (an “elitist” academy) divided violinists into three groups:

  • the “stars” with the potential to become international soloists,
  • the “good”,
  • and those who would not be able to become professional musicians and who would try to become music teachers in public education.

So, a question was asked to the three groups: “ever since the first time you picked up a violin, how many hours have you played?”.

They all started playing at around the same age, 5 years old, and they played around the same time (3 hours per week).

At 8 years old, differences appeared: those who wanted to finish at the top of the class practiced more and more over the years (and more than the others), up to 16 hours per week when they were 14 and over 30 hours at 20 years of age. At that age, the elitist will have completed 10,000 hours of violin practice, the good group 8,000 hours and future music teachers barely 4,000.

Then Ericsson compared amateur pianists with professional pianists, and they found the same pattern. The amateurs don’t practice more than three hours per week during childhood, and around the age of 20 they will only total 2,000 hours of practice. And the professionals gradually increased their working hours until they totaled 10,000 hours.

Ericsson and his team did not find the “natural” musician, the one who is gifted and who becomes professional without effort. People who reach the top not only work more than others, but much more and harder!

Neurologist, Daniel Levitin, says that 10,000 hours of practice are required to reach the level of “mastery” associated with being a world-class expert in any sector/field.

Because 10,000 hours is the time it takes for the brain to assimilate all that this true mastery requires. 10,000 hours is a lot, so it’s good to start them very young. After all, there is family and other events that will take your time.

The same goes for those we consider as prodigies, like Mozart for example, because Mozart’s early works were not very good. His first work considered as a masterpiece is No.9, K. 271, which he composed at the age of 21. At that time Mozart had already been composing for 10 years.

Part 2: Three Stories, three successes…

The story of Bill Joy

Bill JoyIn 1971 the University of Michigan opened its computer center; the university had the most advanced computer program in the world, and it was like the “space odyssey”. Thousands of students attended, including Bill Joy.

He was designated as the most studious student. He was 16 when he arrived, the year the computer center opened (an opportunity). And from that day, the place became his life, he programmed whenever he could.

Working in a small group, he started rewriting UNIX (developed by AT&T), and Joy’s version was very good, to the point that it is still today: it’s the system that operates millions of computers around the world.

He also wrote the program that allows you to connect to the Internet. Then, after graduating from Berkeley, he created “Sun Microsystems”, which we all know very well, in Silicon Valley! He has even been called the “Edison of the Internet”. He is one of the most influential people in the world of modern computing. The story of Bill Joy has been told many times and it is always the same: the beautiful story of someone who succeeded because he “deserved it”, because the world of programming was new where you could only advance through money or your influence networks. It’s a space where the winner had to succeed on his own, thanks to his talent and abilities, and where the best won, like Bill Joy.

This explanation is much easier to accept, but no! It’s too easy!

The story of the Beatles

Before the Beatles arrived in the USA in 1964, Lennon and McCartney had started working together in 1957, sevenBeatles years before arriving in America. In 1960, when they were still just a high school rock band, they were invited to play in Hamburg in a club where they had to play a lot of hours in a single night, sometimes all night.

In Liverpool, the group did hour-long rehearsals, always playing the same songs, the best ones. And, in Hamburg they had to play 8 hours straight and they had to find a different way of working. This allowed them to become better and gain confidence.

In a year and a half, the Beatles went to Hamburg 5 times. On their first trip, they played 106 nights, 5 hours a night minimum. During the second trip, they played 92 times, the third 48 times, for a total of 172 hours on stage. During the last two trips, they performed 90 hours on stage. In total they worked 270 hours. By the time their success exploded in 1964, they had played around 12,000 times live. And that is extraordinary!

The story of Bill Gates

Bill GatesBill’s father was a wealthy lawyer and his mother was the daughter of a banker. Since he was bored at his school, his parents enrolled him in Lakeside, a private school for elites. Each year the mothers’ club (the equivalent of parents’ associations in France) organizes a sale, the profits of which (1968) go towards the school’s computer equipment.

Therefore, they installed modern equipment, with the “time-sharing” system (a technique allowing many users to access a central computer simultaneously via remote terminals); in many other places it was still a very complicated system of punch cards. From then on Bill Gates spent his life in the computer room!

At that time, to be able to use computers, each student had a time allotted, which was expensive to buy, even in these schools for privileged families.

Gates and his friends had several opportunities to work for companies that asked them to test their programs/products in exchange for free time on the computers at the University of Washington.

In the span of 7 months, Gates and his colleagues spent 1,575 hours on the computer, about 8 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Gates says that he and Paul Allen spent between 20 and 30 hours a week there; it was at the age of 15. Paul Allen had found that in the medical and physical center of the University of Washington, there were computers which were not reserved between 3 am and 6 am. Gates got up at night and from his home he went to university on foot or by bus. Today, Gates is very grateful to them (he says that is why he is generous with them because they allowed him to steal so much computer time.)

Between entering and leaving Lakeside, a period of 5 years, Gates had plenty of opportunities to seize. First arriving at the Lakeside school, having access to a time-share terminal in 1968, then the contribution from the mothers’ club, and a whole series of occasions when companies asked students to work on their products. With what result? This gave Bill Gates additional practice time. By the time Gates graduated from Harvard, he had practiced non-stop for over seven years, exceeding 10,000 hours. Malcolm Gladwell asked how many teens gain experience like Gates’.

Part 3: The path to success

After studying these three cases, we can better understand the path to success. The idea of “success” is subjective, and one does not need to be so famous or so rich to say that one is successful. That said, I think these stories are sobering, because it means that we could all do it. Of course, if only we have the desire to work that much… and the ability to do so.

Obviously, the Beatles, Bill Joy and Bill Gates were talented! They were brilliant and extraordinary.

However, what makes their stories special is not their talent, but the extraordinary opportunities they were able to seize.

Lennon and McCartney had a musical gift that is not given to everyone; Bill Joy was so quick that he was able to solve complex algorithms very easily.

Malcolm Gladwell mentions the hidden opportunities that the Outliers benefit from.

Without forgetting Steve Jobs, co-founder of Apple Computer. Unlike Gates, Jobs did not come from a wealthy family. However, he grew up at the right time and in the right place, his own Hamburg * in Mountain View, California, the epicenter of Silicon Valley. The neighborhood was full of engineers, such as those from Hewlett-Packard.

* (Hamburg being the opportunity seized by the Beatles)

According to Malcolm Gladwell, there are models to follow and one should not pretend that success is exclusively a story of individual merit.

It is not that simple, these are stories about people who have had a special opportunity to work very hard, who have measured their luck, and for whom this effort has been socially rewarded. Their success was / is the product of the world in which they grew up.

Book critique of “Outliers – The Story of Success”

1. Read Outliers – The Story of Success!

Outliers – The Story of Success has two parts: “Opportunity”, which contains six chapters, and “Legacy”, which has four. “The 10,000-Hour Rule” is a long chapter in the “Opportunities” part. You should read Outliers – The Story of Success because it provides several ways of seeing: the talent, the work and the perseverance, as well as the “Opportunities” that we have from our birth, and this is thanks to our “Legacy”.

I only chronicled the long chapter on “The 10,000-hour rule”, because each chapter concerns a different analysis, each one being very interesting, but they should be discussed in a future article.

2. Set challenges, to get out of your comfort zone

When I read “The 10,000-hour rule” for the first time, 4 years ago, this rule immediately appealed to me because I myself had had this experience. Between the age of 14 and 17 I took piano lessons once a week. I think I was pretty good, but I didn’t spend much time practicing. I came to the same conclusion as Malcolm Gladwell and Ericsson: I told myself that if I had worked more, I could have achieved something, that I would have gone further.

People think and say that they “themselves” (the poor) can’t do it because they “themselves” don’t have “Talent” (Talent with a capital T). It’s easy and it’s a good excuse to not work. It’s always BECAUSE of the TALENT that we don’t have or THANKS to the talent that we do have. Too easy! It’s always someone’s or something’s fault!

3. How to put it into practice?

So, what if we got started? Does this tempt you? It’s never too late! Do you want to become a MASTER in your passion?

I find it to be a very interesting challenge!  You only need 2 hours a day. You will tell me: WHAT? A couple of hours? …Well, in that case start with an hour, then you will see that you will quickly do two! For example, an hour of cooking, in the end, is nothing! Because you have to do it anyway!!! Then you add a quarter of an hour and so on.

Of course, you have to want to. You must not force yourself. We don’t all have the capacity and perseverance of Mozart and we don’t all WANT to become a Mozart… 😉

At the end of this article I will tell you about my challenge… I set the bar a little high, but…why not? I have nothing to lose by trying. And, I won’t become Mozart but will simply improve myself, and challenging myself to move forward inspires me and gives me that needed “oomph”! I hope you will follow me and encourage me, because… it’s almost like climbing Everest and I need you to reach the top!! Thank you!

Practicing is not what you do once you are good, it is WHAT YOU DO to become good!

…take action now! ;-))

As I said above, I read Outliers – The Story of Success 4 years ago, and I just reread it to write this column. I found Outliers – The Story of Success quite simply inspiring.

When I first read the 10,000-hour rule, I said to myself, “Too bad, it’s too late for me, I’m too old to start!” But when I read it again, I realized that it’s never too late and that the important thing is to start, because the process is above all an interesting experience. So, I embarked on a challenge. I did my calculations, then my planning: when, how and how long per day and per week to reach “my” 10,000 hours! If you want to have more details and follow my breakdown, I invite you to read this article: “My 10,000 hours”

Strong points:

I find Outliers, with its various analyses, very interesting. It allows us to see things differently. And to remember that “successful” men and women worked very hard to get there. It wasn’t innate. They worked, then they got there.

The 10,000-hour rule is an obvious rule. I like this rule. It’s a possible choice for everyone: you do it or you don’t. It’s very simple! Do you want to acquire mastery or not? If you have the desire and the passion to do so, you have to do your utmost to make it happen.

No matter what we choose, the important thing is that we assume it and that we don’t criticize because “others” have succeeded and not us. The only thing to know is: will we have the courage?

Weak points:

I was wondering if it still worked for everyone. But I don’t have counterexamples either. Since I didn’t find any weak points, because I like what inspires me, I went to look on the Internet. The criticism is that Gladwell wants to enlighten the reader on how the world works, what successful people are like, and does this by simplifying things. The publication made a smashing in pole position on the New York Times and the Globe and Mail bestseller lists. Generally well received by critics. The writing style is easy to understand. The criticism focused mainly on the extreme simplification of complex social phenomena.

…I would also like to ask the question: what is Mastery? When are we Masters?

My rating :

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