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Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers is somewhat over-reaching in his attempts to ascribe success to practice and special opportunities, but, with reservations, I agree with his message. In the section, Gladwell describes the rise of prominent people in the computer science field- Bill Joy and Bill Gates, tying their huge success- Bill Joy’s version of UNIX and Gates’ work on DOS and founding of Microsoft- to the huge amount of preparation and work they were able to accomplish in relatively short periods of time. Though his chosen qualifier, 10,000 hours of practice, he details the opportunities that, when combined with huge amounts of work, allowed them to become masters of their field.
Malcolm Gladwell, somewhat repetitively, ties excellence in a field to the “10,000 hours” number, describing scenarios such as the practice utilized by aspiring musicians, comparing the hours spent in practice to their later successes. Although I hesitate to so easily compare a numerical value to success, his choices do meet the mark. Picking and choosing studies is a common practice in both the natural sciences and American politics, two fields which I hold great interest in, but Gladwell’s wonderful writing style and earnest zeal for the material tend to hold my cynicism at bay. Adding to this, too, is the introspective style Gladwell adopts in Outliers, particularly later in the book, leading me to more easily take him at his word.
Although Gladwell’s theory- nurture over nature, practice over innate skill, holds up in my opinion, I, particularly as a contrarian, like to think that those who lead themselves to more varied practices and pursuits can find success as well. The book is rather inward-aimed for a non-fiction work, and at points seems like an inner argument within Gladwell, as though he is seeking to justify his own life. As I maintain a wide variety of interests and hobbies, his arguments towards specialization being tied to success hold some merit, but, well, I find solace in the potential successes to be had from the other end of the spectrum. Gladwell’s numerous reminders of the importance of situational aids ring true, in my mind. For example, Gladwell’s continual reminders of the special benefits and opportunities had by Joy, Gates and Steve Jobs serves as an important piece of the puzzle, so to speak. Thankfully, the author does not seek a one-dimensional, singular strategy to quantify success; he introduces a myriad of factors such as innate talent, practice and opportunities to create a believable hypothesis. As such, though the central argument of the chapter- that huge amounts of work, 10,000 hours as an estimation, are required for excellence- is a bit too precise to be completely believable, I greatly appreciate the more reasoned method by which Malcolm Gladwell breaks down success into its components.
Outliers is somewhat of a difficult book for me to judge in the context of my own life; Through my own pursuits, I have aimed towards diversity, in both my schooling (Biology and Political Science majors, Computer Science minor) and hobbies (Orchestra, Debate, computers, etc). I prefer to think that a wide variety of interests and practices lends itself better to an enjoyable life, and, as well, successes in the field of my choosing. Simply put, I dislike anything that will force me to be overly specialized at the expense of a diverse, fulfilling life.
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