5 Things That Make Outliers Stand Apart

5 Things That Make Outliers Stand Apart


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Why are some people successful while others never express their full potential? When someone stands out as an expert in their field, we often are awed by their raw talent and innate ability to achieve massive success. In ‘Outliers’, Malcolm Gladwell dives into the cultural and societal forces that influence successful individuals.  Gladwell insists that instead of being self-made, most successful people “are invariably the beneficiaries of hidden advantages and extraordinary opportunities and cultural legacies that allow them to learn and work hard and make sense of the world in ways others cannot.” He puts to bed the myth that success can solely be attributed to individual qualities such as talent, motivation or genius. He explains that the formula for success is the culmination of opportunity and time on task. Opportunity can then be broken down into time, place, culture, specialization, and collaboration.

1. Timing is everything

Opportunity is a direct function of timing, and if you miss the knock on the door you miss out. While the tallest tree in the forest certainly came from a good seed, it was also planted in good soil where no other trees blocked its sunlight.
It just so happens that the vast majority of an elite hockey team’s players were born between January and March.  Gladwell explains that they are not elite because of their raw talent but rather because the cutoff for age-class hockey is January 1st. This creates a ripple effect, where a child who is almost 11 is much larger and than someone who has just turned 10. This larger child is then able to make an impression on talent scouts at a young age. Then, they join better teams, receive better coaches, and have more opportunities to practice. Hence, they become better players. This anomaly is present in many sports, as well as the school system. It doesn’t mean that the other children don’t have a chance, it just means that they have a slight advantage.

2. Proper Positioning

Being in the right place at the right time has contributed to the success of many people. Imagine a gymnast who lives across the street from an Olympic development gym. How much more likely is that gymnast to reach elite status? Similarly, Bill Gates happened to live within walking distance of MIT’s world-renown computer science lab. Here, he was able to spend the majority of his free time learning how to code. As this was right when the world was ripe for a technological revolution, he was able to capitalize and create massive success. Distance to crucial resources plays an important role in the attainment of mastery.

3. Culture of Commitment

Gladwell explains how inherited values and biases influence the direction of an individual, for better or worse. The gymnast, for example, would be even more successful if his/her parents were also elite gymnasts. In contrast, Gladwell explains that there was a family feud that existed for generations between two families in Kentucky. Many people were killed out of hatred for the other family for decades. As the animosity was passed down generation to generation, the reason why they were fighting in the first place was lost. This shows that the influence of your upbringing plays an important role in skill development.

4. Prioritize and Specialize

It is much easier for someone to reach a level of expertise in an act which they perform many times a day. Those who are able to spend the majority of their day practicing their craft are naturally more likely to become successful in that field. Unfortunately, most people work a full-time job that does not involve their craft. For them, it will take much longer to become an expert. However, the deliberate nature of their practice may allow them to learn and develop faster than others. If someone focuses solely on one skill and practices that skill diligently, they can surpass others who practice many things at once without as much thought.

5. Collaboration and Consultation

“You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.” – Jim Rohn
To become better at any skill, it is worthwhile to find those who are better than you and learn from them. If you surround yourself with masters, you will inevitably become better yourself.  Choose your friends wisely and avoid negative influences!

There has been much debate about Gladwell’s philosophy on this matter. He doesn’t seem to give enough credit to the perseverance and persistence many successful people exert in achieving their goals.  However, his points about opportunity and environmental factors cannot be ignored. By aligning yourself with the right people, in the right places, and at the right time, you are much more likely to ride the wave of opportunity to massive success.

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