Outliers

February 1, 2010 § 2 Comments

“Hard work is a prison sentence only if it does not have meaning. Once it does, it becomes the kind of thing that makes you grab your wife around the waist and dance a jig.” -Malcolm Gladwell, Outliers
Outliers is Gladwell’s attempt to examine the most legendary success stories and figure out how certain people throughout history have had been able to achieve wild successes while others don’t. The book contains a lot of surprising and thrilling revelations about history’s greatest successes, but the one that appealed to me most was that, however smart and talented you are, it takes an incredible amount of time to master a skill: 10,000 hours by Gladwell’s calculations. Even legends of talent and brainpower such as the Beatles and Bill Gates needed this much practice before they got their big break. Of course, to get 10,000 hours in the first place, you have to be devoted to the task an in a situation in which this time spent practicing is possible, and a lot of that depends on your social class, your parents’ occupations, the political situation where you live, etc. Another thing that really struck me was Gladwell’s analysis of the garment industry in New York at the turn of the century. Although the garment industry was grim and inhumane, its entrepreneurial structure gave the work meaning and created a way for lay workers to learn market research, investment strategy, manufacturing, negotiation, as well as how to carve out a place for themselves in pop culture. These workers arrived from eastern Europe and by virtue of their skills as dressmakers, cobblers, and tailors, they were placed at the center of a developing industry where they actually had a chance at making a break.

Which means, of course, now I’m on the lookout for how to get closer to the center of an industry.

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