“Formula for success: Rise early, work hard, strike oil,” American industrialist Jean Paul Getty once said. While it certainly worked for legendary oil magnet Getty–who at the time of his death was worth $2 billion–most people just don’t have that kind of luck. But what is it that separates people like Getty and other successful individuals from those dreaming of success?
In “Outliers: The Story of Success” (Little, Brown and Company), author Malcolm Gladwell explores how certain people were able to rise above their peers, despite having the same amount of talent and ambition.
While extraordinary talent surely can help in making someone successful, little-known aspects such as one’s birth date and good timing also play part in making someone go from wannabe to winner. As Gladwell points out, people don’t rise from nothing:
“We do owe something to parentage and patronage. The people who stand before kings may look like they did it all by themselves. But in fact they invariably the beneficiaries of hidden advantages and extraordinary opportunities and cultural legacies that allow them to learn and work hard and make sense of the world in ways others cannot,” he writes.
Culture, especially, can break and make one’s success. Take a look at Asian children: Why do they often excel in math? Well, there’s a perfectly logical reason for that, Gladwell explains: The Asian culture demands its young citizen to be good at arithmetic. Also, speaking from a linguistically-based perspective as well, Gladwell notes that the Asian number system is much simpler than the one used in the United States.
Because the number system in English is highly irregular, it’s hard for English speakers to memorize long sequences of numbers. China, Japan and Korea, on the other hand, have a logical counting system: Eleven is ten one. Twelve is ten two. Twenty-four is two ten four, and so on, Gladwell writes.
“That difference means that Asian children learn to count much faster,” he writes. “Four-year-old Chinese children can count, on average, up to forty. American children, at that age, can only count to fifteen, and don’t reach forty until they’re five: by the age of five, in other words, American children are already a year behind their Asian counterparts in the most fundamental of math skills.”
From peculiar discoveries on how most professional hockey players were born in January to an uncanny connection between good pilots and where they were raised, Gladwell illuminates secret patterns that aid the making of outliers’ success. This may not be a researcher’s to-go book for original research, deep analysis, or the support of other writers on the topic, but as a complication of anecdotes and morsels of information it serves the purpose well.
And if you were ever worried about your shortcomings (like being mathematically challenged), just blame it on being born on the wrong continent.