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Discrediting the Self Made Man

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Discrediting the Self-Made Man

Outliers is Gladwell's attempt at demystifying the unusual success of others, including lawyers, students, mathematicians, pilots, athletes, musicians, and geniuses. In his exploration of what made these outliers indeed outliers, he realized, "it's not enough to ask what successful people are like, it is only by asking where they are from that we can unravel the logic behind who succeeds and who doesn't" (Gladwell 19). He concludes, these outliers were not just sprung from the earth and self-made to become the men we see today. They are rather the product of their history, culture, and good fortune. Not one of these extremely successful people owes their success to their own merits, as often assumed. "It is not the brightest who succeed. Nor is success simply the sum of the decisions and efforts we make on our own behalf. It is rather a gift" (Gladwell 267).

Gladwell illustrates this concept in several ways. He begins with the examination of the success of Canadian Hockey players. Psychologist Roger Barnsley first noted the large effect the players' birth dates had to do with their success. Upon looking at a roster, Barnsley noticed most of the players were born in the first quarter of the year. While this seemed coincidental to some, and even went unnoticed in most, Barnsley was able to detect the link between the players birthday, in relation to the leagues cut-off date, of January 1. This meant that the players born in the first quarter of the year were almost a full year older than their teammates. This age difference leads to an advantage in physical maturity, which later leads to being picked for better teams, which then leads to better coaching and teammates, on teams that practice and play almost three times as much. Collectively, these factors formulate the perfect scenario to produce the best players. This seemingly unimportant contrast in birthdays turns out to actually be a significant disparity. It is not that the players of the Canadian Hockey League born in January, February, or March started out with some inherent gift of athleticism but rather an innate advantage in their date of birth.

Next, Gladwell notes the importance of hard work or practice at your craft. To be successful at anything, you have to work hard at it. But these outliers weren't just successful. They were extremely successful. Gladwell was able to find a common thread in these outliers, in what he calls the 10,000 hour rule. "The emerging picture from such studies is that ten thousand hours of practice is required to achieve the level of mastery associated with being a world-class expert-in anything" , writes the neurologist Daniel Levitin. "In study after study of composers, basketball players, fiction writers, ice skaters, concert pianists, chess players, master criminals, and what have you, the number comes up again and again" (Gladwell 40).

Gladwell gives examples of Mozart, the Beatles, and Bill Gates. Mozart's' earliest composition that was regarded as "masterwork" wasn't composed until he was twenty-one years old. Mozart had already been composing music ten years, ten-thousand hours. Before the Beatles first burst of success in 1964, they too had clocked ten thousand hours. In 1960, they got a gig playing in Hamburg, at a night club. They played up to five hours at a time, seven days a week. "All told, they performed for 270 nights in just over a year and a half. By the time they had their first burst of success in 1964, in fact, they had performed live an estimated twelve hundred times" (Gladwell 50). Ten thousand hours. And Bill Gates? Well Bill Gates attended Lakeside Prep, one of the first schools in the world to have a time sharing computer. He also lived within walking distance of the University of Washington, where they had a free computer to use. "It was my obsession," Gates says of his early high school years. "I was up there at night. We were programming on weekends. It would be a rare week that we wouldn't get twenty or thirty hours in" (Gladwell 52). And during his senior year of high school, he was given a job at a technology company TRW, programming code. By his sophomore year of college, he had been programming non-stop for seven years, more than ten-thousand hours.

The point Gladwell makes is not simply that hard work is the key to success. Yes, these outliers had spent countless hours perfecting their craft, but it was their extremely good fortune that allowed them to. There are several musicians, athletes, and computer programmers who are talented at what they do, but they do not have the extraordinary opportunities these few had. "It's all but impossible to reach that number all by yourself by the time you're a young adult. In fact, most people can reach that number only if they get into some kind of special program-like a hockey all star squad- or if they get some kind of extraordinary opportunity that gives them a chance to put in those hours" (Gladwell 42). We do not owe their success to their own making. It was a product of the world in which they grew up.

In tackling the brilliance of geniuses, Gladwell again asserts that we do not owe all their intelligence to their own merit. He compares Chris Langan, a man with an IQ between 195 and 210, a number higher than Einstein's, to Robert Oppenheimer, a child with a mind very much like Chris Langan's. Oppenheimer was the physicist who famously headed the American effort to develop the nuclear bomb during World War II. Chris Langan is an unemployed, former bouncer, who lives on a horse farm in rural Missouri. .

To unearth the great paradox of the two, Gladwell contrasts their lives. Chris Langan grew up extremely poor and bounced around from city to city. After high school, he was offered a full scholarship to Reed College in Oregon. Reed was a huge culture shock for him. He recalls, "I was a crew cut kid who had been working as a ranch hand in the summers in Montana, and there I was with a whole bunch of long-haired city kids, most of them from New York. And these kids had a whole different style than I was used to" (Gladwell 92). Langan was culturally awkward and to make matters worse, he lost his full scholarship. His mother neglected to sign the paper for the renewal of his financial aid. He ended up leaving Reed for lack of funds, and decided to move back home to Montana where he enrolled at Montana State. Langan again failed to complete his courses because his car broke down and his advisors were unwilling to move his classes from morning to afternoon- the time he would need



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