I just finished reading a new book, called Outliers: The Story of Success. It was written by Malcolm Gladwell, the same person who wrote Blink and The Tipping Point. Outliers is about why some people are successful. His premise is that people who are successful are so not because they are smarter or more talented than everyone else. It’s a combination of talent, intelligence, timing, luck, and hard work. A LOT of hard work.
One of the most interesting points in the book is that most Canadian hockey players were born in the first half of the year. Why would that be? You’d expect to see an equal distribution of birth dates among all 12 months. But that’s not the case. In Canada, youth hockey is organized by age. The cutoff date is Jan. 1. Therefore, a kid who was born Jan. 2, 1989, for example, will be playing in the same age group as a kid born Dec. 31, 1989. Chances are, the kid with the January birthday is going to be bigger and stronger than the one with the December birthday – he’s almost a year older. The bigger and stronger kids tend to be the better players, just because of being bigger and stronger. So the better players are usually the older players within that age group. They get moved up to the next level, where they get more practice and better coaching. The higher they go, the more practice and better coaching they get, until the best make it to the NHL.
That doesn’t mean that a kid born in January is automatically going to move up; he’s still got to have some talent and motivation. Slackers won’t make it, even if they are bigger and stronger than some of their teammates. Hence, the combination effect.
Another of the most interesting points is that it takes someone about 10,000 hours of practice or work to become an expert in that field. It takes youth hockey players about 10,000 hours of practice to get to the NHL. The best athletes, musicians, computer programmers, or whatevers get that way partly because they practice more than their counterparts. In other words, slackers need not apply. No one is going to make it to the Olympics or the concert stage if they don’t do the work.
There’s a lot more to the book. He talks about plane crashes, Bill Gates, math prodigies, the public schools, and more. It’s really fascinating. I definitely recommend it.