Why do some people exceed far more than others? This is the question asked by the book Outliers: The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell. The short book argues that most people erroneously believe that very successful people are primarily products of a high intelligence and lots of talent. But there are many other variables out there, ranging from their date of birth, to their family’s cultural background, to sheer luck.
But the most important relationship was between hard work and luck. In the Chapter called “The 10,000 Hour Rule”, Gladwell states that it takes 10,000 hours to master a subject – be it hockey, music, or computer programming. There are no shortcuts to this.
However, Bill Gates got 10,000 hours of computer time while attending an elite private school before he even reached college in 1973, at a time when many top universities didn’t even have computer labs. Before they became famous, The Beatles ended up playing at a club in Germany for over 8 hours a day, 7 days a week. This meant they accumulated more live stage time (1,200 performances) in a couple years than most bands had in a lifetime. In other words, they both had a nice does of luck to be able to get their 10,000 hours in when very few others had the same opportunity.
At the same time, they also had the ambition and drive to actually complete those 10,000 hours. Sometimes I think that “talent” is no more than loving something so much that you don’t mind spending endless hours doing it.
So to be extraordinarily successful, you need both luck and hard work. People can interpret these stories differently. One person might say “Yup, those guys were successful because they were more lucky than I was.” and then feel better about their lives. The thing to remember is that between hard work and luck, you can control only one.
If you don’t put in the hours, there is essentially zero chance of success. If you do, then when opportunity hits, you can flourish. Gladwell connects the Chinese proverb stating “No one who can rise before dawn 360 days a year fails to make his family rich” to a special public school network within low-income areas that creates kids who can compete with those from private schools in wealthy suburbs.
Although I was initially afraid that this book would try to put too much emphasis on the role of luck, in the end it actually reinforced my own basic beliefs about hard work. You can’t control the cards you are dealt. All you can do is play them as best you can.