In his book, Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell explores success. Why are some people successful? Is it luck? Is it timing? Is it practice? Is it finances? Is it talent?
To answer these questions, Gladwell explores people like Bill Gates and the Beatles. What made them so wildly successful?
I read Outliers when it was first released (2009). Interestingly, it was Gladwell and his theory on success that I couldn’t shake while listening to David McCullough’s book on Orville and Wilbur Wright.
The Wright brothers are most known for their famous first powered flight at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, but their story goes far beyond that first flight. Kitty Hawk was just an early part of their story.
Kitty Hawk was the Beatles bursting onto the scene in 1964. It was Bill Gates releasing Windows in 1985. Kitty Hawk was far from the end, but it definitely wasn’t the beginning.
Why Is Anyone Successful?
This was so clear to me in the words Wilbur Wright shared in a speech after that first flight to a group of aviation enthusiasts in Chicago. His words triggered my memory of Malcolm Gladwell’s theory on success. Like Gladwell, Wright asks (and answers) the same question.
Why is anyone successful?
Addressing these men, Wilbur Wright shared with them the secret to he and Orville’s accomplishment. Referring to other known aviation experts of the day, Wilbur compared he and Orville to these men. In the end, he said, the difference was the amount of time they gave not to theory but practice.
Where others gave minutes (literal minutes) to the practice of flying, Wilbur and Orville committed hour after hour of trial and error.
What is Gladwell’s key to success? 10,000 hours of practice. He estimates most people become truly proficient at anything after 10 years of work. It’s not talent, finances, timing or luck – though all of these things play a part.
Success comes because we practice.
My sons (11 and 8) came in the house the other day from playing catch with a ball and gloves. My 8 year old said to me, “I’m getting good at catching!” To this point in his life, he has given minutes to baseball. He’s just learning to catch and throw a ball (as the consistent banging of the ball on the garage door proves).
On the other hand, he has given hours to soccer. He can pass, trap and even juggle a soccer ball without a lot of thought.
After his comment to me (“I’m learning to catch!”), I responded the way many parents would. “That’s great! Practice makes perfect.”
Saying and Believing
We say a lot of things we don’t truly believe.
Most of us have said that same line – to ourselves or others – “Practice makes perfect.” I don’t know if we truly believe it.
We comprehend that practice makes us better. We don’t really understand practice and repetition makes us successful.
In fact it might be the very most important key to our success.
What do you want to be good at? Where do you want to be successful?
As Wilbur told the crowd in Chicago…Stop making theories. Start practicing. Yes, you will fail. Yes, it will be hard. No, it won’t be easy. No, you won’t always like it.
It may change the world.
What About Genius?
Thinking about this idea of practice and success, I watched some interviews with Malcolm Gladwell just after he wrote Outliers. Most interesting was a 30 minute conversation with Charlie Rose.
In the interview, they discuss the importance of inherent talent, IQ or genius. Gladwell suggests that our culture tends to believe talent plays a majority of role in determining “genius.” The truth is inherent ability is a minor player.
Gladwell went on to tell a story about a young Bill Gates. As a teenager, Gates discovered the nearby University of Washington had a mainframe computer. This super computer sat unused between the hours of 2AM and 6AM every night.
In his passion for programing, Gates would wake himself up every night at 1:30AM, get out of bed, walk 2 miles to the university and program for 4 hours. He would then go on with his day.
Gates had both ability and access others didn’t. Those didn’t make him successful. Others had that same ability and access. What made Bill Gates a success was his passion and desire to program. His passion drove him out of bed in the middle of the night to walk 2 miles and sit a computer. His drive created Microsoft, a massive fortune and now the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation which finances education and world health initiatives among other things.
Do you want to change the world? The most important thing you can possess isn’t money, talent, a vast network. You need desire.
It was true with the Wright brothers. Neither brother were college graduates. Both boys became proficient in complex physics. By all accounts, they were geniuses. Talent and timing played only a minor role. Their desire and hours of practice gave birth to an entirely new world, which we can’t imagine not living in.
Desire leads to practice (10,000 hours/10 years). Combine desire and practice with your natural talent and a little luck and you will unlock your genius.
Genius lies within you.
Do you want it?