Firstly, I should start by noting that Malcolm Gladwell had done it again. I highly recommend this book. It is simply a must-read. It offers some quite interesting and unique insight into how “geniuses” are made (that’s right, not born), how they rise to success and how being very smart is simply not enough in life to get fame and fortune.
Malcolm Gladwell’s idea is quite straight forward: “People don’t rise from nothing.” There is always someone or something that has helped them on the way up–parenting style, life circumstances, lucky coincidences.
Or just being born and present at the right time, at the right place and being able to say the right things to the right people. Simply put, where and when we grew up makes all the difference. The notion that the best and the brightest make it to the top because of the extra effort and determination that they put into their goals, is a illusion, the author claims. Rather, opportunity plays a much bigger role in their success.
The author further goes to explore his idea by providing numerous examples. It may come as a rather shocking statement that the month we are born in can influence our career–that is, what professional sports we can join, for example. Of course, not everything is pure chance and opportunity. We do need to have talent. We need to be not only good at what we do–we need to be very very good. We need to work harder, we need to practice more, we need to become experts. In fact, according to the author, the “magic” number is 10,000. That is, in order to become better than the rest in what we do, we need to have practiced for at least 10,000 hours. Prodigies are not simply born exceptional, they are made exceptional. How? With lots and lots of practice. Of course, in order for anyone to do this, there are few “pre-requisites.” You need to be born in a family that encourages your development. You need to not be poor since having a second job or being raised in a family that struggles financially may mean that your talents will be neglected at the price of survival. In other words, you need to grow up in a bubbled environment, one that will allow you to focus on your talent and practice..for 10,000 hours. In doubt?–consider the Beatles or Bill Gates. They would have never had the status they do today if it wasn’t for the long hours they have put into sharpening their talents.
Another interesting idea that Malcolm Gladwell defends is that being very very smart, i.e. having a very high IQ, does not guarantee that one day we may win the Nobel Prize. In fact, he states, high IQ is needed to win the recognition but not necessarily very high IQ. That is, “intelligence has a threshold.” intellect matters only up to a point. Beyond it, other things come into play–things that determine who, among two equally intelligent people, will earn a Nobel Prize and who may even go through life unnoticed and his talent–un-recognized. These are the things mentioned above but mainly–our environment and our opportunities. In fact, it is all very similar to basketball–in order to make it to the NBA and become one of the best players in the world, all someone needs to do or be (besides being able to play basketball, of course) is to be just tall enough so they can qualify. They don’t need to be the tallest person int he world in order to be the best player. It is that simple.
Further, while opportunities in life are crucial to our success, there is something else that matters a great deal–something of a personality trait. Malcolm Gladwell calls it “practical intelligence.” (The term itself is coined by Prof. Robert Sternberg in his Triarchic Theory of Intelligence. The theory claims that we each posses 3 types of intelligence–analytical, creative and practical. Of the three, practical is one of the greatest significance to our success–it determines how well we can adapt and shape our environment). The term means to know “what to say to whom, when to say it and how to say it for maximum effect.” As it can be inferred, it is a priceless skill to have. The good news is that it can be developed. But the bad news is that it is not that easy–in fact, it takes time, support and encouragement from our families. From a very young age. In other words, we need to have been exposed to a so-called “concerned cultivation” parenting style–one that will foster our talents and skills from a very young age. The ability to “customize” our environments to serve our purposes can be learned. If someone is willing to just pay enough attention to us. A little encouragement does go a long way, it seems.
Overall, the book doesn’t disappoint. Similar to his other books, Malcolm Gladwell presents a somewhat revolutionary idea. The examples and the evidence he offers are indeed compelling and convincing. The notion that success is not achieved in isolation is intuitively true. As the author notes, “no one–not rock stars, not professional athletes, not software billionaires, and not even geniuses–eve makes it alone.” Success is a function of persistence and doggedness, and the willingness to work harder than the rest. It is not the brightest that make it to the top. It is not simply a sum of all our choices. Rather, Malcolm Gladwell says, it is a gift. A gift to be able to spot the opportunities that are presented to you and to seize them. Because most often, all we need to reach our stars is to simply be given the chance to do so. Then, our personality, talents and skills will prove if we have what it takes to stay at the top.
Finally, we wise people tell is–success is like an iceberg. Others only see the tip of it and feel jealous at our “luck.” In fact, they don’t realize that the body of the iceberg is what matters–it is the tremendous amount of work, efforts and sacrifices that made it possible for the tip to rise…And a bit of luck.