The Story of Success

Outliers, by Malcolm Gladwell.

A number of threads on this forum have recently touched on success and how it is achieved. Gladwell’s new book is about that too. It defines success in a mainstream, Anglo-Saxon, capitalist, Bill Gates-ish way, but is nonetheless a good and interesting journalistic read, suggesting - like some of the posts in the threads - that “success” is more to do with culture, nurture and hard work than native ability.


“Success” in our western industrial societies is mostly achieved by being a psychopath/sociopath.

That’s genetic, it would seem.

Cheers, Geoff

Geoffrey Heard, Business Writer & Publisher

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Erm, no (even taking full account of the “mostly”, and, I guess, some irony).

Gladwell’s point is that the right genes may be necessary, but they’re not sufficient. Even in sport: in certain sports in the US and Canada such as ice hockey and baseball innate talent is not enough. The statistics show that you also have to be born in particular months of the year to make a successful career. That’s because of the interaction of children’s birth dates and selection for teams and training right from when they start. Born in certain months - don’t even bother. Similarly, birth years and luck were important - because of the opportunities for early experience of computers before other kids - for the likes of Bill Gates and Bill Joy, who co-founded Sun Microsystems.

The hard work comes in because Gladwell picks up on the research that shows that to be really successful in certain careers you need, as well as talent, luck and nurture, more than 10,000 hours of practice*. He is of course expanding the old saying about perspiration and inspiration…

Anyway, read the book, especially the early chapters.


*This certainly accords with the experience of successful writers I know. Except - how did JK Rowling put in her time?

Probably the same way the rest of us did… writing lots of stories that were never published.

I remember an interview with her in which she said she had been writing for a long time - from her pre-teens if I remember correctly.

That her first published novel hit it so big is exceptional, but also - how many books in the series were already published when the craze hit, dragging the first book up with it?

This piece has a less rosy take on how JK afforded to “put in the time”. (Hint: It rhymes with “welfare” – oh, gave it away!)