Outliers is the third Malcolm Gladwell book I’ve read. Just like Blink and The Tipping Point, this one presented a lot of great evidence and left me thinking about how to make a positive impact in the world.
Gladwell’s main argument in Outliers is that successful people are not necessarily smarter, faster, or better than everyone else; it’s just that they get more opportunities to practice, and they take advantage of them.
Junior League hockey teams are the example that Gladwell leads with:
If two boys are both age 5 at the start of the hockey season, but one boy is 10 months older, bigger, and more practiced than the other, then regardless of the fact that they are in the same age bracket, one boy is favored with a greater opportunity to stand out and be selected for the junior kids varsity team, the team that spends more time practicing. If that team spends just one hour per week at practice than the non-varsity team, then by the time the boys are both 15 years old, one of them has over 500 more hours of practice time than the other.
People with greater opportunity have greater time to practice, and people with more practice time have more opportunities opened up to them.
As I finished up Outliers, I was left wondering what would be a valuable way to apply what I’d learned about opportunity and practice. I did have one idea come to mind:
Pay poor kids to study and do homework.
Poor kids often get a job during high school to help take care of some of the needs around the home. This cuts into their study time and ultimately leads to lower academic achievement. Lower academic achievement narrows a student’s college choices, leaving them facing blue or no collar employment, which may perpetuate a generational cycle of poverty.
Now if a high school student could be paid minimum wage to stay after school and work on homework, study skills, heck maybe even AP courses, then these students would not feel a need to replace their study time with McDonald’s time, and they wouldn’t have to worry about their families getting by without that McPaycheck. The student could reach a higher academic potential, obtain scholarships, go to college, and turn the tide for the foreseeable future of their family.
I know there are problems with the idea; no idea is perfect, but it’s a start.
Anyways, Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers changed my perspective about human potential. Gladwell continues to craft beautiful stories with his masterful writing, and I would say that his science is more sound here than in The Tipping Point and Blink.
Outliers gets 5 stars. 3 for good writing, one for good science, and a bonus star for inspiring social progress.
I recommend it to anyone who is interested in social studies, how people succeed, how to become successful, and anyone interested in a call to action.