‘Outliers’: A Book of Facts or a Eulogy to your tanking dreams?

We’ve been encouraged from a young age to dream big and work hard to achieve our goals. It starts with the talk our parents give us as teenagers to stimulate us and help us do well on school tests, followed by watching biopics of famous personalities and reading memoirs as we get older, and finally subscribing to TED Talks to get some morning inspiration over breakfast.

In the thick of it all, what if I told you that certain metrics defining success — things that have nothing to do with hard effort or creativity, depend on your birthdate and geolocation? Would you be willing to buy it?

Source: author

It’s somewhat difficult to grasp this concept at first, given that we’ve spent our entire lives listening to motivational speeches urging us to push ourselves to new limits and work hard. They rarely acknowledge that success can sometimes shine on individuals who have had an unfair advantage since birth or… because of their birthdate. When I first read about these metrics in Malcolm Gladwell’s book — Outliers, I couldn’t believe they were true.

There are three reasonable insights about these metrics that caught my attention while reading Outliers

1. Does your birthdate chart your sports career?

Author Gladwell claims that there is a higher proportion of professional sports players born between January and March, particularly in hockey. The remaining months receive a smaller share of the total. Is this, however, correct?

Source: GIPHY (The Office )

A logical argument is that in the west, schools use January 1st as a cutoff for team selection, which means that kids born in January-March are typically up to a year older than those born later in the year and that the physical maturity that these kids have compared to those younger on their team leads to better success. As a result, they have a better chance of being chosen as “A players” in the team.

My take: While the logical arguments in favor of early births in the year make sense, I strongly believe that when it comes to physical maturity, variables other than your physical age play a role. Food and nutrition, for example. Although I am not a researcher, I believe that proper vitamin and food consumption, as well as proper sportsmanship skills, have a larger influence in making it to a sports team with “A Players.”

2. What happens when & where you grow up, help you grow up!

Another idea is that economic and technological changes that occur during a person’s upbringing have an influence on their potential.

Source: GIPHY (Bill Gates)

The author used the lives of Bill Gates and Steve Jobs as examples. Gates and Jobs were fortunate enough to be born at the appropriate time and in the right place (around Silicon Valley) to benefit from the personal computer revolution (during the 1970s). It happened at the perfect time when technology was just beginning to emerge, and their inherent interest in these innovations allowed them to participate in the revolution that resulted in Microsoft and Apple.

My take: I absolutely agree with this argument. Being born at the proper time — not too early or too late — and in the right location can have an impact on the talents and interests you acquire throughout time. This also allows plenty of time to hone those necessary talents and capitalize on them when the opportunity arises.

3. Does your legacy make you stronger or weaker?

Here, the author provides a finding from studies investigated The author presents a finding from studies that looked at various occurrences and causes of plane crashes, and the results highlight a concept called Power Distance.

Photo by Hao Zhang on Unsplash

Co-pilots from cultures with a higher power distance — those who are unwilling to challenge their superiors are more likely to not confront their superiors’ poor decisions, and fail to offer truly effective solutions to problems that have emerged. A chapter in Mathew Syed’s book ‘Black Box Thinking’ is dedicated to this, and it includes a case study of how a group of Korean co-pilots faced with the Power Distance difficulty overcame this culturally-ingrained behavior in their careers.

My take: Another rational and reasonable argument. The power distance challenge still exists in many East Asian countries, and it is becoming increasingly complex over time. To eliminate this, genuine Black Box thinking paradigms may need to be implemented right from the start of children’s schooling and adult career training.

So, what exactly does this imply? Should this book serve as a eulogy for your unfulfilled goals because you were not born at the appropriate time or in the right place? No, not at all!

The burgeoning Personal Computer Revolution of the 1970s benefitted men like Steve Jobs and Bill Gates, according to the book.

This, however, would be meaningless if they lacked the ambition or zeal in these technologies, to bring about the revolutions they dreamt of. And, with technology and transportation progressing at such a rapid pace, there doesn’t appear to be a single industrialized nation that isn’t taking advantage of the cutting-edge technologies being developed in Silicon Valley, and flying to Silicon Valley isn’t nearly as difficult as it was in the 1970s, allowing more and more people to travel for study and work.

So, no, the book isn’t a eulogy; rather, it’s a collection of facts that every parent should read before expecting extraordinary results from their children, in order to understand that extraordinary success requires more than just hard work.

So let’s summarise what we have learned:

1. Your birthdate can decide your acumen in sports but physical maturity is enhanced more by food & nutrients and other sportsmanship skills you develop.

2. Being born at the right time and the right place matter…ed may be back in the 70s but with technology being so widespread, it’s easier to miss the hop on the bandwagon unless your interests don’t align.

3. Your legacy decided by your culture plays an important role in how you communicate with your peers and superiors. However, all barriers in communication can be overcome with correct practices put in place during the early years of schooling/training.

Do you agree with these arguments provided in this book by Malcolm Gladwell? Let’s discuss and find out!

~Aditya Darekar

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