Comments on Outliers

It was interesting reading this book. The entire idea behind it is what are the elements of success, presumably with the idea of being able to mimic them. As far as I could figure out, the list includes: cultural inheritance, family culture, chance/opportunity, and 10,000 hours of practice. However, he did not really emphasize the individual’s participation in success. It is incredibly important to make the choice to take advantage of your opportunities and the focus to put in those many hours of practice.

I found several ideas about this very provocative, and it definitely leaves me with a great appreciation of the foundation that my parents gave me. Because of them, I had a great education, a strong spiritual foundation, and lots of opportunities, many of which I took advantage of. I also have an attitude of “can-do” in approaching any topic that is clearly a result of the family and cultural legacy that they gave me. And from this book, I can appreciate it all the more.

However, I am still left with several problems. On of the first problems that occurred to me as I read through the concept of 10,000 hours of practice as one of the criteria of success — how to count those 10,000 hours? All three examples that the author gave: Bill Gates, Bill Joy, and the Beatles, had a concentrated focus of 10,000 hours of practice within a fairly confined time period. My question, however, was: does it have to be that focused a time period? I have a work/life balance that I try to achieve, yet the implication of his anecdotes is that these people so totally focused on their practice that the rest of their life took a back seat. In my life, crafting is obviously important to me, yet it is not something I want to be my source of income. I want it to remain the thing I do for pleasure and not for necessity, which means that I must have a job, which means that I don’t have time to devote those 10,000 hours within that confined space of time. Does that mean I can’t develop the level of expertise that his examplars did? Or can I achieve it over a lengthier amount of time? And what is included in that practice time? Does is have to be just one craft upon which I must focus, or is it possible for me to achieve a modicum of mastery in all of the fiber crafts in which I am interested, so that my field is not just weaving or quilting or knitting, but rather the fiber arts in general? Does it include all the time I spend thinking about those crafts, reading about them, preparing for them, shopping for the tools, evaluating a pattern, or does it focus specifically on the moment when I am doing that one part of the process which is weaving or knitting, etc.? I have my own thoughts, but the author does not even open the question, and that is a lack.

The other problem I had with his approach is that he never even discussed, not even in the intro, a definition of success. Yes, many of the individuals he cited can be considered successful, but only in a specific context. Bill Gates is successful in the computer world, the Beatles were successful in the music world. But are they successful in other contexts? Before you can decide if someone is successful, you must first figure out what successful is, and the author never addresses that question. Yet that is an important premise of his entire work. I don’t want Gates’ type of success. I’m even less interested in the Beatles’ type of success. I want a happy life, balanced between work and play, with constantly deepening spiritual growth and the enjoyable challenge of becoming a master in my vocation as a fiber artist while still enjoying my career as librarian, about which I do care. How do I achieve that according to his definitions?

And then, of course, as I already mentioned, he did not note the importance of the decision made by the individuals to pursue their success. The stories he offers make it clear that there were others in the same locations, with the same background and the same opportunities, yet they did not take advantage of them. The individual’s choices are still very important.

So, while I greatly enjoyed this book — it is well-written — and I found ideas of value in it, I was still frustrated by the underlying assumptions that the author never addresses.


1 Comment

  1. April 18, 2009 at 6:46 pm

    I think he is talking about success in some kind of professional pursuit. There are people in the world of fiber who are also successful in their careers. Peter Collingwood immediately leaps to mind and he certainly gave his life to weaving. To achieve the kind of successes that Collingwood, Mozart and their ilk achieved, tons and tons of very hard and focused hard work is reequired. And so it is their work we remember them for, not their lives, which might have been successful, might have been disastrous, might have been somewhere inbetween. The author of Outliers is clearly talking about success in one context only, and he has clearly defined it by the people he cites. Not many people want this kind of success. They might think they do, but they don’t.

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