Outliers: The Story of Success is a book that examines the qualities and experiences of successful people in order to provide a blueprint for nurturing the human potential. According to the author, Malcolm Gladwell, human potential is not something one is born with but something that has to be shaped throughout one’s life course. Contrary to popular belief, having a high IQ or a lucky break are good opportunities to have, however, they do not contribute to an individual’s success alone. Gladwell realized that it took a combination of biological, personal, social, and environmental factors to help an individual reach their full potential. Examples of those factors that influence one’s success include timing of birth, area where one lives, family history, and culture. These factors make up concepts that Gladwell described as practical intelligence, social savvy, natural growth, and natural advantage.
In addition to these factors, he discussed how anyone can succeed if they were willing to practice and work hard. He demonstrated this theory by researching the different stories of successful people and he found a common denominator, long hours of professional practice. He referred to this as the “10,000 Hour Rule. He mentioned that it took 10,000 hours or approximately 10 years of practice to perfect a professional trade. Outliers are successful people that are not your ordinary individual. However, the distinction of a true outlier can be attributed from the author’s recipe of success: the right combination of the different factors, practice, and hard work.
Gladwell knew that IQ was not the sole determinant of success. So he developed other concepts based on family circumstances that included the time period of birth and child rearing, as well as, one’s acquired knowledge through education. Robert Sternberg described practical intelligence as a procedural method of knowledge that helps one know how, when, and what to say to whom to get what they desired. Gladwell looked at the life’s courses of successful people and found that many sports players born at a certain time of year were more likely to be selected for professional hockey or soccer teams. He discovered that they had more time to practice and become better at playing these sports before the team’s selection process.
He also looked at the time period at which one was born such as Bill Joy or Bill Gates, to show how they were born at the perfect time to refine a skill and change the world when the opportunity presented itself later in life. These examples show that each of these people acquired the proper skills from lots of hard work and long hours of practice; nonetheless, they were also at the right place at the right time, which were made possible through family circumstances.
Social savvy is another process of acquiring knowledge that includes a collection of skills that had to be learned. These skills and attitudes are usually passed down through family generations and the chances of success are strongly influenced by their cultural legacy. Annette Laureate was a sociologist who best explained this concept after studying a group of black and white 3rd graders from different socioeconomic statuses. She discovered that the socioeconomic status played a major role in children developing social savvy skills. However, the two parenting style “philosophies” were divided along class lines. Wealthy and middle-class parents supported their children and encouraged them to pursue goals. Wealthy children’s parents tended to be very involved in their child’s life and their schedules were filled with numerous activities.
Middle-class parents used reasoning with their children to teach their children how to talk, negotiate, and question authority figures to obtain more information. This parenting style was called “concerted cultivation” because it nurtured and evaluated a child’s opinions, talents, and skills. Whereas, poor parents had a different strategy of raising their children, that is referred to as natural growth. Natural growth is the parent’s sole responsibility of caring for their children but letting the child develop and grow on their own. Neither method is ethically better than the other but the concerted cultivation demonstrated more natural advantages.
Comparing Chris Langham, the smartest person in the world, and Robert Oppenheimer, one of the wealthiest lawyers in world, we learned that the cultural advantages of the wealthier families made a significant difference in how one is able to navigate throughout life. Although the poor children were independent and creative, later on in life they were not able to customize their desired path because they distrusted authority and lacked the knowledge that taught them how to make a lasting first impression. These concepts proved that being an outlier is not just about luck but a combination of IQ, acquired knowledge from education and ideal circumstances generated by family.
In 1994, David Leven and Michael Feinberg founded KIPP, Knowledge is Power Program, Academy in New York City for underprivileged children. The school’s concept is remotely based on one of Gladwell’s main points, the importance of cultural legacy. This experimental middle school choose their students through a lottery system and the students spent long hours each day learning about respect and different school subjects. This social initiative has been compared to other foreign countries’ schooling, because it supported another one of Gladwell’s points that hard work and lots of practice matters in success.
Gladwell mentioned that practical intelligence or social savvy skills were usually acquired from one’s family, but KIPP Academy taught these skills at school. Therefore, many of the children went on to be successful because they have learned the tools to ensure life achievement. As mentioned earlier, socioeconomic status was one of the factors that contributed to one’s accomplishments, however, this school’s mission proved that regardless of a child’s family background, the child can still succeed if given the structure and opportunity.
Daisy Nation and her husband were hard working schoolteachers who provided a foundation for the success of their children and their grandchildren. Both of their twin daughters, Faith and Joyce, were able to reap the benefits of their labor and achieve higher education. Faith was given several scholarships but Joyce was not always that lucky. However, Daisy always looked out for both daughters and sent them to schools believing that the funds for their educations would be come unexpectedly. Joyce went to France for school where she met her husband, Graham, and in this union Malcolm Gladwell, the author of this book, was born. Gladwell was indeed an outlier; however, he remained humble in knowing that he was not self-made but the product of his family and the concepts he mentioned in his book. His IQ, practical knowledge, and social savvy all played a role in his success.
This book was very inspirational to me because it helped me to understand my past, present, and future success. I was not raised in a wealthy family, attended what is considered to be the best schools or even considered the smartest person in my classes, but I have had impeccable timing and great drive to pursue goals when educational and professional opportunities presented themselves. In my past, the life lessons and values from my parents created common sense. My DNA and pursuit of higher education generated book sense. With both set of skills, I have had many memorable experiences and I obtained a substantial amount of knowledge that has brought me thus far and will take me further than my high IQ or any lucky break could have taken me alone.
This thought-provoking text demonstrated that I did not have to be wealthiest or have the highest test score, but solely needed the concepts of knowledge and practice to meet the success threshold. This book has also helped me to understand what I need to do presently in order to be a Public Health and Social Work expert. I lack the direct practice that is needed to reach the expertise level; however, I am willing to work hard and long to be successful in understanding individuals to produce changes in a population of individuals. Our society needs more individuals who have found their niche and used it for the advancement of the general public.
The level of training and knowledge in public health is ever-changing and will require hard work and practice to be effective. I am an African American woman who has continued to beat the odds regardless of what some have predicted or desired for my life. At times, I feel as if they are right, but I remember the words of a wise man, “God doesn’t expect you to always be the best, He just expects you to do your best.” Therefore, I use negativity as my motivation to keep striving and utilize my skills to make a change one step, one day at a time.
Courtney from Study Moose
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