Outliers, The Story of Success -Stuff I learnt

I recently read the book Outliers, The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell. This is the same author who wrote The Tipping Point. I thoroughly enjoyed reading Outliers. There are a number of intriguing points made. This will probably be a series of posts where I will try to relay some of what I learnt from reading this book.

The point of the book seems to be that success is not just dependent on our own efforts. There are factors beyond our control that significantly affects whether we are successful. The idea that if one just works hard, applies oneself, one will eventually be successful is shown to be flawed. Gladwell shows that details like which month you were born in, your birth year, your ethnicity and other factors beyond our own doing, can make a decidedly difference to how well we do in life.

The month you were born can make a difference when it comes to activities that have a static cut off date, and which require one to be of a certain age by the cut off. For example, some sporting activities might require one to be a certain age by January 1, to qualify for a particular playing level or class in the sport. Let us say the particular age to be by the first of January is 6 years. Someone born in December might just make the age of qualification, while another born in January of the same year as the former, would not only qualify but would probably have an advantage over the one born in December, in that he would be almost a year older. This may mean he is more physically mature which can give an advantage in some sports. The implication is that those born toward the start of the year will have an advantage over the others in being successful in the particular sport.

In the example above, What happens then is that this initial advantage leads to greater advantages as the years go by. This will happen in certain sports because of how the progression happens. A child who starts out with the advantage of
being older and more mature is likely to do better, and therefore placed in the better team, which usually has the better coach(es). As the child gets to the next class level in the sport, he will now be in a better position to be selected for the best team than the other children who happened to be born months after him. So again, he gets the better coach(es) which widens the skill gap between him and the others who did not make the ‘A’ team. So although as one gets older, the difference in maturity between one born in the start of the year and one born towards the end, will become less significant, the better coaching due to the initial advantage would have led to a widening skill gap as the years go by. Gladwell used Hockey to illustrate this point. He shows tables of statistics which do tend to support this analysis. The best players tend to be born between January and March.

In the next entry to this series, I will highlight another factor outside our control that plays a part in whether we will be successful.


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  3. The Richest Man in Babylon
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