Whenever we encounter successful people, we usually ask what they are like.
What are their morning and evening habits?
What routines and systems do they have in place?
What are their unique ways of thinking?
However, these questions and the answers that they seek oftentimes don’t paint the complete picture. Other people have similar habits, systems, and routines, but they’re not necessarily unique or exceptionally successful. Well, at least not yet.
Bestselling author Malcolm Gladwell suggests that we should instead ask where they come from and what experiences they had.
As we study these people in order to replicate their success or encourage more to be like them, we have to take a deeper look into the not-so-obvious factors that lined their path to success.
You’ll notice elements that are beyond the individual such as how they were brought up both at home and at school, the exceptional opportunities they were presented with and took advantage of, the cultural legacies they’ve inherited, and yes, even the timing of the turning points in their lives.
If you’re curious to know what and how certain people became successful, what their background is and what their stories are, then the book Outliers: The Story of Success is for you.
Outliers is an outstanding read that is not only thought-provoking, it’s also engaging. The author is a brilliant storyteller and you’ll be left fascinated by all the seemingly little details that later intertwined and nudged these people in the right direction.
Here are my 3 Takeaways.
1. Look beyond the individual
Right off the bat, Gladwell tells the story of a remarkable town called Roseto wherein all the immigrants who inhabited the place had exceptional health. There was none other like them and so, a fascination emerged into what made this possible. After several studies, two scientists discovered that the answers weren’t found in their diet, physical activities, or even their genetics. It wasn’t in the individuals themselves but in their community. The fact that the people in this town had such a positive close-knit relationship and communicated with each other every day were the significant factors that made them all extraordinarily healthy.
The author also tells a turning-point story in the early life of Bill Gates, co-founder of Microsoft and richest person in the world (clearly an outlier). As a student, he was able to get his hands on an advanced computer at the Lakeside School in Seattle, which was at that time, not easily accessible to everyone. Using this, he racked up more programming hours (aka experience) than almost anyone else during that time. And after a series of extraordinary opportunities one right after the other, specifically when we entered the personal computer age, he was poised and ready to take on the industry by storm.
Similarly, one of the early factors that led to The Beatles’ rockstar fame was thousands of hours of experience performing over in Hamburg, Germany. The then-unknown band had been invited to play day-in and day-out for a club there which gave them the opportunity to gain experience, increase confidence, and develop mastery of their music and performance. By the time they, too, were presented with a series of extraordinary opportunities, they were more than ready to firmly seize them.
As you can see, it takes a lot more than simply being talented or smart to become extraordinary. This is why no successful person can ever truly call him- or herself “self-made.” According to the book, you'll need to be at the right place and at the right time and have the right set of skills, experience, mindset, and background.
2. Engage in meaningful work
Meaningful work consists of three things: autonomy, complexity, and a connection between effort and reward.
To engage in meaningful work means you acknowledge you have a certain degree of control over what you do and your outcomes. You’re working on something that makes use of or stretches your mind, imagination, and resourcefulness.
People who engage in meaningful work often don’t mind so much how many obstacles they face or setbacks they encounter. This isn’t to say that these don’t appear or happen in their lives. But since there’s a deep connection between effort and reward, they’re able to keep pushing forward because they know it’ll all be worth their while after.
This is why I believe setting relevant and important goals is quite underrated. With our eyes on the prize, so to speak, we can better focus on what is essential, eliminate everything else, and bring meaning to our work to see things through to the end. With setting goals and engaging in meaningful work, we’re more committed, more resilient, and more productive.
3. Rethink the structures that foster or suppress success
When we talk about successful people, by this point we already know to look deeper into their background, culture, and upbringing but we should also consider the structures we have in place and ask,
Do these structures foster or suppress a person’s success?
Take hockey leagues, for example. Since the registration cut-off for children players are based on their birth year, the biggest and strongest players tend to be born between January to March. Now, this might not seem to matter so much because they’re all born in the same year anyway but when it comes to sports, a few months head start during those early formative years is all it takes to have an advantage. Agents tend to notice them more and they get more training, better coaching, more experience, all of which will later snowball into bigger and better opportunities.
With these takeaways, the study of success and successful people is a lot deeper and more complex than it seems. It takes a number of factors, opportunities, advantages, and unique individual characteristics to become a successful person.
Share in the comments below: What unique experiences did you have that made you the way you are today? Have you read this book? What are your 3 Takeaways?
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Since one of the best ways to improve ourselves is to commit to continuous learning, this post is part of the blog mini-series called 3 Takeaways where I discuss three insights from thought-provoking leaders, books, and podcasts.
My purpose initially was to simply read more books, but the learnings were too valuable to keep to myself. My goal has since been to share the vital lessons that will help you be productive and free.
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