What if I told you that Wayne Gretzky has a perfect birthday for hockey? How does that make any sense? How did being born on January 26 as a hockey player in Canada give Gretzky an advantage?
Simple, really. The cutoff date for youth hockey leagues in Canada is December 31. Therefore, young players who start when they are 5 or 6 who are born earlier in the year have nearly an entire year’s advantage of, not only practice, but also speed and size. Although that doesn’t offer much of a competitive edge as an adult, when you’re very young, it’s a pretty huge difference. From that team, the kids with birthdays in the first three months of the year are therefore more likely to be picked for select or advanced teams the following year, gaining better coaching and more practice hours than the more casual teams. This advantage carries on throughout their career… and it all starts randomly, as children, for an arbitrary reason.
“Outliers” by Malcolm Gladwell examines how culture, situation, generation, and even birthday can greatly contribute to the potential for success of an individual. He dissects a number of different “rags to riches” type tales and finds that one of the biggest common dominators is the opportunity to do work circumstantially leading to success, sometimes in very odd ways.
Among the case studies presented in the book offer insight on why Asians are better at math, how New York Jews became leaders in the fashion world, and how entitlement in perpetuated in upper class families.
This is the kind of book that makes you think. What are my opportunities? How did I get to where I am? And how can I best leverage what I have for future success.
I would definitely recommend this book. It makes for a great road trip audio book since most of the sections are explained through the analysis of short stories and the ideas presented are broader concepts rather than great soundbites that you wish you could stop and write down.
Book Review: “Outliers” by Malcom Gladwell