OUTLIERS: The Story of Success – A Short Review

We are all in search of Success – Success in our lives, Success at the workplace as well as success in our personal lives. We know that success is acheived through a combination of factors and relentless effort. However, whenever we speak about or look at the lives of succesful people, we tend to atribute their success to one (or sometimes 2 factors). For instance:

  • Sachin Tendulkar is what he is because of his determination and exceptional talent!
  • Aamir Khan is a brilliant actor!
  • Dhirubhai Ambami had the vision and guts to execute his ideas at any cost

We sometimes tend to forget that these “success stories” are about ordinary people with sometimes extra-ordinary perseverence who were fortunate to be gifted opportunities and had the insight to make most of these. OUTLIERS: The Story of Success is a book that talks about how extra-ordinarily high acheivers are bred out of not a single reason, factor or circumstance – but often a combination of a huge number of these.


Malcom Gladwell, a British-born Canadian journalist and author – (though I did not enjoy his earlier books “Blink” and “The Tipping Point” too much) – has come up with a landmark book. Outliers is about how success can be acheived in everyday life provided we are working hard and can spot the opportunities life presents us. Outliers is about creating more such opportunities – so that there are even more extra-ordinary people – and society, at large, can benefit. 

Any well-written book gives you certain “take-aways”. My “take-aways” from Outliers are these 2 ideas that have stuck on to my mind and will probably remain there for quite a while:

1. The 10,000 Hour Rule:

According to this rule, if you want to “master” anything.. (like Mozart-level master), you have to give it 10,000 hours. Gladwell thinks 10,000 is the magic number for success at anything. He also refers to a research study which proves the hypothesis. And he goes on to state that the sooner you complete your 10,000 hours, the sooner you become a “master” at that particular activity. With examples ranging from Bill Clinton and The Beatles to references from lesser-known American folklore, Gladwell brings this point alive in ways that you cannot even imagine!

2. The Ethnic theory of Plane Crashes:

 This chapter in the book talks about the other “flip” side. If success is a combination of  many factors, well so is failure. Gladwell refers to an in-depth analysis of airline crashes and brings up stories from global aviation history. He brings forth the point that plane crashes are not because of the ONE BIG technical snag, or JUST that there was no fuel or a SINGULAR reason. Planes crash, Gladwell says, because of a series of failures which could be as unrelated as:

  • A pilot who has had a more-than-long stint at the cockpit
  • Tired air-hostesses who spilt water on the floor, was busy cleaning it and did not adhere to the captain’s instructions
  • A passanger who did not follow safety regulations and had inadvertently switched on his cell phone
  • A co-pilot who, due to a “communication gap” with his superior could not apprise the captain of the situation and raise an alarm in time

When 4 such factors strike at the same time, we have a disaster waiting to happen. Interestingly, the rules of success are the same as the rules of failure.

At times, it is hard to make out exactly what Gladwell is trying to say. Nonetheless, the book is very anecdotal, every statement is backed by data and an attempt is made to ensure that every insight shared has reason, rather than rhetoric. Throughout the time that I was reading this book, I kept wondering – “What exactly is he trying to say?” – That success is bred within the person? .. Or is it the function of the oppurtunities (including luck!) that are external to oneself? … It is only towards the end that I started getting the idea behind the book and that idea is not better summarized than this excerpt:

“It is not the brightest who succeed. Nor is success simply the sum of decisions and efforts we make on our own behalf. it is, rather, a gift. Outliers are those who have been given opportunities – and who have had the strength and presence of mind to seize them.”

2 thoughts on “OUTLIERS: The Story of Success – A Short Review

  1. So, out of curiosity, is it 10,000 hrs AT the job? Taking 8 hour days, 5 days a week, 22 days a month, it would take about 4y8m to master anything. Say golf for example. Is that the key to become a scratch player?

    On the other side, it could mean, 14 months (assuming hour 1 starts the day I pick up a golf club, and work at it full time, with daily breaks and days off).


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