Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell: Achieving the True Success
Malcolm Gladwell argues throughout his book, Outliers, that success is earned and not born through talent or innate abilities alone. It must be strived for and achieved through hard work and dedication. One such claim that Gladwell makes is that ten thousand hours worth of practice is needed for mastery at a particular skill. He also argues that intelligence has a threshold, meaning that IQ stops mattering at a certain point. Gladwell makes these claims effective by including expert-written studies, stories, analogies, and multiple other English tools, including his style of writing to help back up said claims.
Gladwell begins the excerpts by describing Lewis Terman and his “Termites,” otherwise known as geniuses. Terman selected some 1500 kids as having IQs above 140 and ranging to almost 200. He called this group the “Termites.” He watched them closely as they grew up, believing that they would be the future elite of the United States with” heroic stature.” They were geniuses who he then thought were outliers who couldn’t be held back by anything. The more they grew up, the more Terman realized that they had no “measurable real-world advantage” (79). Once someone reaches an IQ of around 120 it stops mattering. Someone with an “IQ of 130 is as likely to win a Nobel Prize as is one whose IQ is 180” (80). IQ is also like height in basketball; once you reach a certain height, height stops mattering so much because someone who’s six-eight isn’t necessarily better than someone who is six-six. This is one of Gladwell’s claims in this book, “Intelligence has a threshold” (80). He includes a lot of evidence to back this up including the Terman story and the basketball analogy, both mentioned above. Gladwell also writes how Einstein had an IQ of 150 while Chris Langan had an IQ of 195. “Langan’s IQ is 30 percent higher than Einstein’s. But that doesn’t mean Langan is 30 percent smarter than Einstein”(80). They were “both clearly smart enough” (80). Einstein was incredibly smart as many know and he accomplished probably more than Langan, proving that although Langan had a higher IQ, they were both equally “smart enough.” Gladwell’s examples are generally kept simple and easy to understand and help tremendously to back up his claim that “intelligence has a threshold.” Another big example is when Gladwell lists the colleges from which students had earned Nobel Prizes. The schools are good schools, not all of them great. “To be a Nobel Peace Prize winner, apparently, you have to be smart enough to get into a college at least as good as Notre Dame or the University of Illinois. That’s all” (83). You don’t have to go to a highly prestigious school like Harvard to win a Nobel Prize even though they do have more students that have won Nobel prizes than any other school on the list. However, this is because they are the richest and most prestigious school in history, so of course they get a pick at the most brilliant undergraduates around the world. Gladwell is an excellent writer who effectively conveys his supporting details for his claim that “intelligence has a threshold.”
Gladwell makes another claim in the excerpts that “ten thousand hours of practice is required to achieve the level of mastery associated with being a world class-expert” (40). He backs up this claim as well, explaining a study done by psychologist K. Anders Ericsson in which Ericsson recorded how many hours a week different level violinists played at different ages. There were three different groups of violinists based on skill: one being great, another good, and the last one was not good. They all started playing around the same age of five and practiced a similar number of hours a week: roughly two to three hours. Real differences began to become clear around the age of eight or nine when they were practicing six hours a week, then “eight hours a week at age twelve, sixteen hours a week by age fourteen, and up and up, until the age of around twenty” (38) when they hit ten thousand hours total of practice. The same results were seen with pianists. Professionals all seemed to hit the same number of hours practiced before becoming “professionals”: ten thousand hours. Gladwell supports this claim well with Ericsson’s study. Gladwell also writes how Mozart developed his first masterpiece at age twenty one after composing music for ten years, although his best works didn’t come “until he had been composing for more than twenty years” (41) so he was considered a “late development.” Bobby Fischer, one of the greatest chess players ever took only nine years to become elite but ten years seems to be the rough average it takes someone to put in ten thousand hours worth of practice into something. These examples are really well chosen and drastically help to improve how well his claim that “ten thousand hours of practice is needed for mastery” is supported.
To wrap up, Gladwell makes two very believable claims in the excerpts from his book, Outliers. One is that “intelligence has a threshold,” which Gladwell excellently conveys with the IQ examples, such as the Einstein-Langan comparison. The other is that “ten thousand hours of practice is necessary for mastery,” which Gladwell also conveys well with the Ericsson study and the Mozart example. Gladwell makes many claims in the full book, all of which are surely supported like the two claims in these excerpts. One really well-written quote by him which I am going to leave off with is, “Practice isn’t the thing you do once you’re good. It’s the thing you do that makes you good” (42).
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