Today the world is as globalized as it could be - - yet we struggle to find meaning in our daily existence.

13 February 2010


How do you define success? Is it tangible? Can it be measured? It is visible? Undoubtedly falling into the category of life's greatest questions; paradoxically (like the rest), it arrives without a concrete answer. The cliche response would be that everyone defines success differently. True, and to some, success is measured through one's material gains (i.e., wealth), and to others maybe it is measured through one's public image (i.e., fame). I suppose others view success as having attained a deeply personal goal, like leaving the world a better place for tomorrow's generation. In today's review, the author partially correlates success as - simply being somewhere, at the right time in history. Maybe a tad too simplified?

Outliers: the story of success, by Malcolm Gladwell, is an interesting take on how "successful" people, became "successful." He examines the many factors that contribute to an individual's success story. I will do my best to re-tell Gladwell's message (without summarizing the entire book, and for the purposes of keeping your mind entertained).

Let's start by looking at one of his samples:

Bill Gates is an incredible-math-whiz-Harvard-drop-out that eventually goes on to revolutionize computer programming by creating Microsoft with "sheer brilliance and ambition and guts" (Gladwell, 56). Was Bill Gates born a pure genius? Or was part of it due to a series of fortunate events and an incredible opportunity to succeed in the burgeoning computer programming field? Gladwell wants to dig a little deeper. Gladwell did some research, and upon interviewing Gates, the first response he said was that he "was extremely lucky" (57).

Bill Gates didn't grow up in South Central Los Angeles. His father was a wealthy lawyer practicing in Seattle, and his mother was the daughter of a banker. Which meant that all his basic needs (and then some) were taken care of. His parents took him out of public school, because he was "easily bored" (58). When he entered the seventh grade they enrolled him in a private school for Seattle's elite. During his second year, Gate's school started a computer club. What's so important about starting a computer club that it should be bolded you ask? It was 1968. Most colleges didn't have computer clubs at this time.

And those computers were NOT like these:

I'm going to forgo the technical details of what kind of computer he used, but let's just say it was one with time-sharing abilities and considerably smaller. Recap: Bill Gates starts to do real-time programming as an eighth grader in 1968. Effing brilliant. Think about that for a second. When were you born? Maybe sometime between 1980 and 1989? This guy has already been coding programs for 12+ years before we could even say one grammatically correct sentence. Call it destiny, call it fate. Bill Gates was born at the right time, not in some ghetto, to parents who went above and beyond to provide him with anything he needed, went to the right school, had some creative ingenuity, and got his hands occupied with computer programming as soon as it was launched. "In one seven-month period in 1971, Gates and his cohorts ran up 1,575 hours of computer time on the ISI mainframe, which averages out to eight hours a day, seven days a week" (Gladwell, 59). Someone enlighten me. Please tell me that my occupation of teaching 8 hours a day for 5 days a week is equivolent to what Gates did in the early 70's. Clearly, I don't come close. By the time he dropped out of Harvard, he had been programming for seven years straight, putting in well over ten thousand hours (Gladwell continuously attains success to practicing a specific task for this amount of time).

Gladwell further emphasizes the importance of being born at the right time. A few years out of college, and you might already be married. Probably worked out the details for your mortgage, and on top of that you got a kid coming. So, according to Gladwell, anyone born before 1952 would have been be "too old" to be a legitimate computer programmer. Furthermore, you can't be too young. I mean if you're still in highschool when all this is taking off, you were probably still "too young" to have harnessed the entrepreneurial spirit. So... anyone born after 1958 is also a no-go. The perfect age (according to Gladwell) to be in 1975, is "old enough to be a part of the coming revolution but not so old that you missed it. Ideally, you want to be 20 or 21, which is to say, born in 1954 or 1955" (72).

Are you still following?

Try this really fast, search bill gates birthday on google. Tell me what you see.

Shocked? Intrigued? Coincidence?

Ok, ok so maybe that was just coincidence...

Next, search paul allen microsoft wiki on google. FYI, he co-founded Microsoft with Gates.

Any new feelings?

& finally, search this bad boy, steve jobs apple wiki on google. If you didn't know, he co-founded Apple Computer. Similar story to Gates, except Jobs grew up around Silicon Valley. "Once he even called Bill Hewlett, one of the company's [Hewlett Packard = H.P.] founders, to request parts... It's as if you were interested in fashion and your neighbor when you were growing up happened to be Giorgio Armani" (75).

So did you take a look at his birthdate?

New thoughts now?

Ofcourse, you can't deny their innovative ideas, nor their exemplary business techniques. Nor their hard work, their passions, and their pursuit to create something worthwhile. I just think it's really cool to see that someone had the time to figure out how these three computer "nerds" became so darn "successful." Success is measured in a multitute of ways. There is no correct answer. Yet, what set these guys apart from everyone else was that when opportunity came to them, they took off with it. What if Gates parent's didn't send him to the private school? What if Jobs wasn't born near Silicon Valley? What if it was you standing in their shoes? Will you have done everything they did? I guess we'll never know...

Gladwell has intricately woven many "success" stories together, and they are all interesting views on how "success" found these people. From hockey players on the Canadian National Team, to the Beatles, to a particular genius whose IQ is significantly higher than that of Albert Einstein (whose IQ was at 150, the former at 190), and to commercial airline pilots, Malcolm Gladwell approaches "success" in a non-conventional way. He even comes up with an elaborate reason as to why Asians are so good at math! Though his ideas seem a bit... over-simplified and generalized, I've found that Outliers was definitely an interesting read, and I've concluded that with every encounter you have, and with every experience you go through, and every day and night you put behind you, you must surely be learning.

Thank you for reading!


Lau and Sugi said...

so can we conclude that ones success correlates to their parents success?
nice post

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