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Forum Home > Book reviews > Outliers - secrets of highly successful people or top performers

Luther Gwaza
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As I continue to search and read about success – what is it that is secret to the high achievers or exceptional people? Is it an inborn innate ability or there is something more? Is it that some people are simply born wired to succeed and others born to fail?

If you can see it, you can have it. Most of us we cannot see into the future – we are short sighted and often then wonder how achievers manage to be successful. Everyone has got something and no one was given everything – the only difference is that that “something” in others is discovered and put to good use, in others, that “something” is discovered but abandoned or misused and invariable in most of us, that “something” is never discovered. The Book Outliers, specifically sought to identify the secret to high achievers or people who are exceptionally successful. What he highlights in the well written book is that our beliefs and notions about successful people are misguided. Some of the interesting things that I picked from this book are summarized below:

1. It matters where (the place) and when (the time) we grew up. The “from” is important and shapes our future.

2. Society plays a significant role in determining who succeeds or not.

3. Concept of the Sociologist Robert Merton’s “Matthew Effect” – “For unto everyone that hath shall be given, and he shall have abundance. But from him that hath not shall be taken away even than which he hath” It is not hard to notice how those with a lot seem to continue to have abundance of everything and those who have little, the little seems to get less and less every time. It is high time, each and everyone realizes what they have and to start to work on it and make it multiply- otherwise, we will lose even the little we have.

4. Contrary to what many of us believe, innate talent or ability plays a small role for highly successful people, much comes from preparation, & working hard, which everyone has the ability to do. How much preparation is required for you to be successful or to be an expert is summed up by Neurologist Daniel Levitin “The emerging picture from such studies is that 10, 000 hours of practice is required to achieve the level of mastery associated with being a world-class expert in anything”. To support this notion of preparation and putting enough time into what you do to be successful, he highlights studies of high achievers and top performers which showed that:

a. There are NO “naturals’ – people who put minimum effort or coast through and still made it to the top

b. And there are No “grinds” – worked harder than anyone else and just failed to make it to the top, simply did not have what it takes

5. When you look at people who have the same ability or potential, the only factor that distinguishes one from the other is hard work.

6. “Practice is the thing you do that makes you good, not something you do once you are good” Malcom Gladwell

7. Social savvy is knowledge – set of skills that have to be learned

8. Practical intelligence, a decisive factor on success when you look at people with comparable IQ. Practical intelligence as he puts it, is the procedure of knowing how to do something without necessary knowing why you know it or being able to explain it. It is knowledge that helps you read situations correctly and get what you want. This is something I have realized is not taught, some people are good at it and others need a lot of learning to be able to read situations and know the right thing to do.

9. Contrast in the way rich and poor people raise children - becomes one single factor that he shows in his book explains how children from poor families fair badly compared to those from wealthier families. Rich people are actively involved in their children’s activities and growth, which Lareau termed “concerted cultivation”. On the other hand the poor parents are passively involved using a strategy he termed “accomplishment of natural growth”.

Coming from an economically disadvantaged background, I could relate with some of the things that he mentions in his book. My father never attended any parent’s day or any school functions such as prize giving day even when I received something throughout my whole education. He seemingly was too busy to attend such things and these were left to my mother. This is typically of many poor African families at least from what I have observed with my relatives. Most are from a poor background and do not pay much attention to their children’s education. I have relatives who never bothered to have their kids collect their results, neither do they check whether their children have done homework or not – it is all left up to the child. In such an environment, for you to succeed especially in school has much to do with self motivation, otherwise to rely on external support and motivation from parents is disappointing. On the other hand, some sacrifice everything just to send their children to school and this is as far as their sacrifice and contribution goes - the rest is up to the child to take it up and finish the rest.

10. He raises family background as an important factor in determining how successful an individual becomes in life. Background and environment can act as that single factor that gives other a head start or comparative advantage of acquiring the 10, 000 hours of practice to be experts. This reminds me of a video clip of one of the greatest tennis players in Zimbabwe – Wayne Black. He talks about how at the age of 3 years, his father handed then tennis rackets and they would practice faithful 3 hours every day. The black brothers and their sister all went to become professional tennis players and won major world tennis championships.

11. Successful people had enough preparation than the rest, well before the opportunity arises. Realize most of us are never prepared for anything and as Ecclesiastes states, “The race is not to the swift or the battle to the strong nor does food come to the wise or wealth to the brilliant or favour to the learned, but time and chance happen to them all” Unfortunately, some of us are never prepared for anything and opportunities pass us by whilst we are watching and still complain how others seem to have everything their way.

12. The book highlights 3 most important things for work to be satisfying

a. Autonomy

b. Complexity

c. Connection between effort and reward

13. “ if you work hard enough and assert yourself and use your mind and imagination – you can shape your future to your liking”

14. Cultural legacies shape our future. Reflecting back on my own culture – realize how we respect elders and authority and collectivism which has been exploited by others and end up showing as dependence syndrome and entitlement mentality. It is fascinating to see the huge differences in the way students and professors relate in Zimbabwe and in the US and interestingly this has significant bearing on what we achieve in the end. The moment I got married and had a child, everyone stopped calling me with my 1st name – invariably this does exactly what this intended to do, shift the way you relate with people and we become distant and very respectful, level of interaction is automatically changed. The use of titles in workplaces – has its own advantages but changes the relations – in built respect for elders and not questioning authority.

15. Chinese proverb “No one who can rise before dawn three hundred and sixty five days a year fails to make his family rich” Highlights how certain cultures succeed more than others. Being relative young and having worked with students and other young people – one cannot fail to notice the erosion of work ethic and need to make quick money and getting results whilst putting minimum effort. Unfortunately, the decade long economic crisis has also painted a different picture that it is difficult to do honest work and still expects to be successful. There are stories of quick rags to riches stories overnight and now the greatest challenge is to fight that mentality and attitude in our young people. But one can never go wrong with hard honest work. We forget the 10, 000 hour rule – it takes time and effort and the right mindset.

16. “Success is a function of persistence and doggedness and willingness to work hard for 22 mins to make sense of something that most people would give up after 30secs”


To sum everything up in this well written book “Successful people or exceptional achievers are neither the brightest nor simply the sum of their decisions and efforts but people who were given an opportunity and had strength and presence of mind to seize them” what Paruware is all about is to give opportunities to those that are smart enough to seize them – I hope you are one of them!


Luther Gwaza
Paruware Trust
6281 Nicoz Diamond Road, Zimre Park

Skype name: lgwaza

May 30, 2010 at 4:39 AM Flag Quote & Reply

Posts: 22

Excellent insights there. Its particularly comforting to know that hard work is always rewarded and you can not fail when you have worked harder than anyone else. The only challenge is when you look at our economy that has distorted some of these principles that you found people getting rich overnight and making quick money. This has resulted in some people losing the work ethic because they think it does not really pay to work hard. But when you want lasting change, long term wealth and success, hard work pays. A lot of the people who got rich quick during the economic challenges in Zim are now struggling and realising that they have lost a lot of time and still need to do things the right way to have long term success.

I also can relate to the point that of social savvy as knowledge. I learnt at a mission school and we were always bitter because when the global accounting firms went on their recruiting spree, they always skirted around our school and went to the private school, a few metres away. The reason given when somebody ventured to ask was that our school did not teach any social skills except read and pray. At that point i certainly did not think it mattered but as i have grown and travelled to different places and grown wiser, i realise how critical social savvy is especially when it comes to networking and other social gatherings. Its definitely worth learning and something you can learn even if your parents and school never taught you.

June 2, 2010 at 7:33 AM Flag Quote & Reply

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