Outliers: The Story of Success

I have a habit of re-reading the books I find I like and worthwhile over and over again. Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell is one of those books.

Gladwell talks about how sheer time one spends doing the thing she enjoys are directly tied with achievements and success tied to that activity. The example he used was doing well in math.

Along with other mothers, I hung out at the junior high school gym and watched my 14-year old son’s 3 hours routine basketball practice session yesterday.  At first, one of the mothers pointed out my son and his 2 buddies going to the bathroom together. We laughed that they have so much to talk about that they had to go to the bathroom together. Then they went together again an hour later. Then they hung out at a corner of the gym for a couple of minutes in between sessions.

Around that time, I noticed that 5 team members seemed to only rest during the break time.  Besides that time, they were shooting balls continuously. When my son and his buddies went to the bathroom the second time, I counted how many times one of those 5 members took shots at the hoop. I counted 50 times. So doing general calculation, that means he shoots about 200 more times per day than those who take frequent rests.  They train the average 5 days a week continuously throughout the year in their 7th and 8th grade.  By the time the kids reach the 9th grade, those who do not take frequent rests have shot the ball 100 thousand times more than my son.

Out of 5, 4 of them are starters. One of them shares starting position with my son, but he started playing basketball when he was 7th grade, whereas my son has been playing on elementary school team and practiced for 4 hours every Sunday since he was in the 4th grade.

What Malcolm Gladwell talks about in Outliers fits perfectly here. And in anything we do in life.

The thing is, my son has been recognized to have way above average physical ability. He’s just built that way, having received such kind of DNA from his father’s side of family. Yet he is not interested. It comes easy to him, but he doesn’t love shooting basketball that much.  So with everything else about people’s lives, it is best to have a person do what he loves most, because hard work is enjoyed most of the time. And because he loves to just keep on doing it, he will spend more time doing the task, and therefore improve more than other people. Of course with basketball, competition is fierce, and even if one spends so much time shooting basketball, one must be super competitive and have superior physical ability as well. But if he loves basketball enough, he will find work that keeps him in the world of basketball.

I think what often happens is that a child is talented in a certain task, and she is endowed with natural ability in that field, but when parents have no experience in that field, child is discouraged to pursue this love and pressured to spend time “studying” or engage in some other activities parents are familiar with.  She grows up thinking what she is good at and loves is not worthy, and learns to work diligently at things she will be marginal or mediocre. How sad, not just for her, but for her family, employee, and to the society.

I have three sons, and I think I did this sad thing to my oldest one. Thanking my oldest one for the life lesson he has given me, I hope to do differently with his younger brothers.

2 thoughts on “Outliers: The Story of Success”

  1. Hello Fujiko Suda,

    I am Samuel in Kenya. I am not a parent yet, but I so strongly agree with your sentiments in this post. If only parents learnt to support the areas of strength of their kids. You are doing a great work. Keep it up!


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