Book Review: Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell

If you read (and enjoyed) The Tipping Point, I highly recommend Malcolm Gladwell's latest book, Outliers. In it, Gladwell looks at the factors that lead to extraordinary success. Of course the usual suspects make their appearance (talent, opportunity, chutzpah, etc.), but the author's main point is that achievement is also the product of other, more subtle factors.

To make his point he looks at the success of groups and individuals as disparate as Canadian junior hockey champs, the Beatles, and the students in a remarkable experimental public school called the KIPP Academy in New York City. Along the way, you will meet many other remarkable people including computer geeks Bill Gates and Bill Joy, Korean airline pilots, and non-conformist game-show winners. It is an well-written read filled with the same kind of remarkable anecdotes that made his Tipping Point so interesting and influential.

One of the most interesting factors Gladwell identified is the 10,000 hour rule. According to Gladwell, it takes 10,000 hours of focused, dedicated work to become one of the "outliers" his book features. Take, for example, the Beatles and the marathon gigs they played during their Hamburg years. Gladwell writes:

The Beatles ended up traveling to Hamburg five times between 1960 and 1962. On the first trip, they played 106 nights, five or more hours a night. On their second trip, they played 92 times. On their third trip, they played 48 times, for a total of 172 hours on stage. The last two Hamburg gigs, in November and December of 1962, involved another 90 hours of performing. All told, they peformed 270 nights in just over a year and a half. By the time they had their first burst of success in 1964, in fact, they had performed live an estimated twelve hundred times...The Hamburg crucible is one of the things that set the Beatles apart.

I read the book while on Christmas vacation with the family and I admit it was like a tonic to a bruised soul. After spending last year battling the worst bear market since 1929-1932, I was looking for something to help me sort through what I could gain from the experience. Outliers showed me that sometimes the best reward for long hours of effort is the experience and finely-honed edge that come only after hours upon hours sitting at the grindstone.