Tuesday, 24 July 2012

Let's See How They Got On...

Have you ever read Outliers by Malcom Gladwell ?

Pretty interesting stuff, this interesting theory on success. The book challenges our assumptions that exceptionally successful people, or 'outliers' as Gladwell refers to them, are so because they're extraordinarily talented. In each chapter, he illustrates how people from different walks of life have made it big on circumstances other than sheer natural gifted-ness.

Gladwell argues that:
  • culture
  • timing / date of birth
  • practice
  • communication (in some cases)
  • opportunities
... are all factors in success. Very interesting ideas, it has to be said.

And so...
This got me thinking about some of my own achievements, about my own life, and whether any of these factors could be said to have had an underlying influence. Let's take a look at the findings!

Timing/date of birth -- Let's start with my birthday. I was born in '79. This was also the same year Maggie 'Milk Snatcher' Thatcher became PM. Nasty! Can I attribute any of life's disappointments to spending the first 17 to 18 years of my life under Conservative rule? Since I've had a terrific upbringing, I think I'll say yes!

Culture -- Well, we Brits are famous for our good manners, reserved, er, manner and fleme britannique (the good ole British stiff upper lip). I'd have to say being quintessentially British has gotten me far at home and abroad. Cup of tea, old chap?

Practice -- According to Gladwell's Outliers, Bill Joy, one of the world's most successful computer programmers put in 10,000 hours of computer programming practice. Using my noggin and the power of Excel, that works out at 416 days, 6 hours. To be the very best at writing, blogging or anything else I choose to do, that's over a year of solid, round-the-clock practice. That sounds quite pleasurable, actually! Am I a geek?

Opportunities - Sticking with our friend Bill Joy, it turns out that not only did Billy boy put in 10,000 hours behind the computer screen, he also happened to be in the right place at the right time. At the time Joy attended university, computer programming was a tedious and lengthy process. However, he studied in Michigan, one of the first places in the world to switch to a new system of programming, the timeshare. Better still, the computer labs were open 24 hours a day. Joy may as well have given up his student digs and moved into it!

Have to say I've had my fair share of the breaks in the past. But at the same time, some of these breaks I've also created for myself. Not sure I can concur with Gladwell on this one (not that he cares, I imagine!). Sometimes you gotta make your own luck.

Communication --  I'm a languages specialist. I'm a wordsmith. I'm a customer service expert. I read a lot. I write a lot. It's gotten me places. (Just a short entry in case you felt I was waffling above!)

Didn't he do well!
Okay, I've been messing about in this post, but Gladwell puts forward some interesting arguments, though some of his theories may only ever be just that: theories.

Nevertheless, it makes his book somewhat inspiring. If you're no good at something, it doesn't mean you never will be. You've just got to keep at it and keep your eyes and ears open. Eventually the breaks will come and things will start to fall into place. The forces of the world will conspire to make it your oyster. Bon appetite, soldier!

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