Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Outliers... my thoughts

Writing Every Day...

I finished the audio book Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell and it is one that I'll listen to multiple times. I do this with different books sometimes to get them engrained in my head. One that I did this with was years ago was Think And Grow Rich. It was a compilation of stories by Napolean Hill about the super rich people of his time. These included Carnegie, Rockefeller, JP Morgan, Flagler, etc.

The irony is that book tells us that the rich have attitudes that actually attract wealth to them. It was written in a time when it was ok to be openly racist and a few other ideals that are now antiquated come through. If you read it try to get on of the original unedited versions. In contrast though Outliers basically tears down the idea of the self made man and that any individual can manifest this attraction. Basically Mr Gladwell in his book says that much of it is luck.

I've often bristled when someone refers to me as "Lucky" when they're commenting on my situation or the life I've lead. I've gone so far in business speaking engagements to pronounce that the only luck one has is where you were born and who you were born to. Outliers adds one more line to that list and says "when you were born". After Outliers I'm going to have to admit to myself that luck is a big part of success and lack of success after all.

The problem I find inherent in believing that much of success is luck is it downplays all of the hard work that must accompany that luck in order for great success to happen. It also gives an excuse not to try anything. "I'm just not lucky enough to be like you" could become even more of a reason not to do better than it already is.

In the grander scheme of things what good is this information? For one I think it can make one more appreciative of the people and circumstances that put them where they are today. I for one have always had books at my disposal and was taught to read at a very young age. Would I be where I am today without reading so much? I don't think so.

Secondly I believe that once you've accepted that part of success is taking advantage of the opportunities presented to you then you will start identifying those opportunities and and using them to your advantage.

Third I think it softens how you look at people less fortunate than you are. Where would you be today if your parents had been illiterate or mentally handicapped? Could you be in your current position if instead of school you had to help bring water to your family as soon as you were old enough to carry?

I'm still not completely sure how to benefit from this book past peace of mind. He states that if Bill Gates had been born 5 years earlier or 5 years later wouldn't be the mega rich man he is today. He would have missed a very narrow window of opportunity the even he admits he was lucky to be in. That opportunity being the invention of the personal computer when he was 21 years old. Steve Jobs of Apple btw is nearly the same age.

One point that came to mind but wasn't directly addressed boy Outliers was that the influences the people he profiled had weren't always what we would consider positive at first. Jews going into law in New York in the early 1900's weren't allowed to join prestigious companies and so had to go out on their own. They would take any case that came into the office and would often end up with the less desirable jobs the larger firms wouldn't take. Sounds like a negative. But this meant in the long run they became experts at a type of law that gained in volume. They more or less cornered the market and became rich because of it. If they had lived in a time where hiring a Jew was not a problem they would be just another lawyer in a big firm.

In my own life I think I was lucky that I didn't get along with my parents. If I had then I would still be in that small town in Missouri with 2-3 kids and just as many ex wives. I would have a job I didn't care about and probably wouldn't have traveled much. I guess what it really comes down to is there is no negative or positive influence. Just Influence and how one decides to label it is up to that individual.

Another thing that wasn't touched on directly by the author was how you look and how it effects your life. I've seen many studies that show people are treated differently based on how they look. I think that being overlooked and underestimated is as powerful as being a the person everyone notices.

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