Books We Love: Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell

Reviewed by Joy Mahoney

Don’t you love a great Cinderella story?

Our real-life heroes’ lives tend to follow similar versions of the same plot: An unknown genius rises from humble origins to the summit of success through a combination of talent, hard work, and personal sacrifice. The result? Fame and, often, wealth beyond imagination—in other words, an American dream come true. Think Bill Gates, John D. Rockefeller, and the Beatles – you get the idea.

In Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell makes the case that we’ve got it all wrong. These remarkable people, whose lives fall so far outside the norm, are outliers not solely because of their talents and commitment to excellence, but also in spite of it.

Things We Learned

The 10,000 Hour Rule

There’s a simple formula that separates good practitioners from truly great ones in any field, and it’s surprisingly straightforward.

While most leaders at the tops of their fields hail hard work and, perhaps, some luck as the formula for their success, we can actually dissect their distinctive career paths by counting the number of hours they’ve spent practicing their craft over the course of their lives. The best of the best routinely log an extraordinary 10,000 hours of practice in their field of passion, often by young adulthood, before they emerge as breakouts in the world we know.

“Practice makes perfect,” we like to say—but if we were to rephrase this adage to be more precise, it would read, “More practice makes more success.”


The Power of Demographics

Even though we don’t like to acknowledge this, the time, place, and community into which we’re born have a tremendous impact on our later success. Our parents’ education and socio-economic status distinguish the micro-cultures in which we grow up, shaping our opportunities, communication skills, and views of authority that equip us with the skills we need to compete or flail within our society.

And our success is shaped enormously by the world in which we come of age. The time and place of our birth play a major role in the opportunities available to us—and for a woman entrepreneur today, this means we may be primed for unique success within the context of history. After all, at press time, there’s a legitimate possibility that a woman might ascend to the highest position of leadership in our country—the Presidency—for the first time ever.


The Importance of Cultural Legacies

So if our native culture, demographics, or place in history has held us back, how do we overcome it?

Gladwell takes inspiration from the academic performance of top-ranked Asian countries compared with the lower-ranked U.S. For him, the agrarian roots of our ancestors still influence our cultural expectations for work and rest.

For example, in countries like China and South Korea, rice farming required year-round labor from dawn to dusk. In America, crops required seasons of labor and seasons of rest in order to thrive. These patterns settled deep within each culture’s roots of thought and reveal their legacies today in the structure of our education systems. When we acknowledge this, we can begin to reshape the cultural patterns that are inhibiting the potential of students in the U.S.


So as women entrepreneurs, what can we take from this eye-opening book?

It’s simple: By joining our voices at this singular moment in history, we have a real chance at rewriting the story of success for ourselves and for generations of entrepreneurs to come.

Favorite Quote

“It’s not enough to ask what successful people are like…. It’s only by asking where they are from that we can unravel the logic behind who succeeds and who doesn’t.”

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