Nordic Track Book Club Review: Outliers

Everyone reading this post is familiar with Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers: The Story of Success to some degree.  Few books received more press over the last 12 months than Outliers. I’m glad for that attention, because after several months of exposure I broke down and ordered the book.  I wasn’t expecting much, but was pretty much blown away.  Insightful conclusions with supporting facts and experiences on what sets exceptionally successful individuals apart, as well as which factors we individually may have in common.  This is the first book I’ve read in a long time that my wife said she wanted to read.  That’s quite an event!  5 [NordicTrack] Stars.

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p.19 The people who stand before kings may look like they did it all by themselves, but in fact they are invariably the beneficiaries of hidden advantages, extraordinary opportunities and cultural legacies that allow them to learn and work hard and make sense of the world in ways others cannot.

p.22 More players in the Ontario Junior Hockey League were born in January than any other month, and by an overwhelming margin. The reason is simple. In Canada the eligibility cutoff for age-class hockey is January 1st.  The boy who turns ten on January 2nd could be playing alongside someone who doesn’t turn ten until the end of the year. At that age this represents and enormous difference in physical maturity.

The Matthew Effect. “That unto everyone that hath shall be given.” It is those who are successful, in other words, who are most likely to be given the kinds of special opportunities that lead to further success. It’s the best students who get the best teaching and most attention. Success is the result of what sociologist like to call accumulative advantage.

p.39 Ericsson’s research suggests that once a musician has enough ability to get into a top music school the thing that distinguishes one performer from another is hard how he or she works.  That’s it.  And what’s more, the people at the very top don’t just work harder or much hard, they work much, much harder.

p.41 10,000 hours of practice or experience is the magic number in greatness.

p.49 The Beatles.  In Liverpool, we only did one hour sessions, and we just used to do our best numbers.  The same ones.  In Hamburg we had to play for eight hours, so we really had to find a new way of playing.  By the time they had their first burst of success in 1964, the Beatles had performed live an estimated 1200 times. The Hamburg crucible was one of the factors that set the Beatles apart.

p.53 Bill Gates. When I was 15 or 16, Paul Allen found a computer that was free at the University of Washington.  They had these machines in the medical center and physics department.  They were on a 24 hour schedule, but with a slack period between 3 and 6 in the morning that they never scheduled anything.  I’d leave at night after my bed time, walk to the University or take the bus.  That’s why I’m always so generous to the University of Washington, because they let me steal so much computer time.

p.80 In basketball, past a certain height, height stops mattering so much.  A player who is 6’ 8” is not automatically better than someone 2 inches shorter. Michael Jordan, the greatest player ever, was 6’ 6” after all.  A basketball player only has to be tall enough.  The same is true of intelligence.  Intelligence has a threshold.

p.105 By contrast the working class and poor children in the study were characterized by an emerging sense of distance, distrust and constraint. They didn’t know how to get their way, or “customize” whatever environment they were in for their best purposes. 

p.110 This skill is not genetic, nor is it racial. It turns out it’s a cultural advantage. Alex has those skills because over the course of his young life his mother and father in the manner of educated families had painstakingly taught them to him, guiding and prodding and encouraging and showing him the rules of the game.  By contrast, Langdon didn’t know entitlement.  He learned constraint.

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A long time developer, I was an early adopter of Linux in the mid-90's for a few years until I entered corporate environments and worked with Microsoft technologies like ASP, then .NET. In 2008 I released Sueetie, an Online Community Platform built in .NET. In late 2012 I returned to my Linux roots and locked in on Java development. Much of my work is available on GitHub.