Book Report Time! “Outliers”

Don’t cringe, this is a good one. I just finished Malcolm Gladwell’s book titled “Outliers”, which discusses the notion of success and points out the common denominators his research revealed about those people and groups who have achieved rare, extreme success .

As you would imagine, the facts behind the story aren’t always obvious, and more importantly I found some very interesting parallels to the principles promoted here at Achieving Personal Goals.

There were plenty of examples of success in the book, but I’ll focus on 3 that, together, reveal an interesting message. Since this is, after all, a blog post it will have to be really brief but I wanted to hit the high spots because the message is important. If you want to learn more about this fascinating research, I encourage you to get the book at the link below.


In 1980, a study was published called Relative Age. This study related to the Ontario Junior hockey league, and it revealed a statistic that showed nearly 5 ½ times as many players on the elite teams in that league born in January as any other month. In fact overall, it was determined that 40% (nearly half) of all elite hockey players are born in the months of Jan, Feb and March. Here’s why….

In this league, they get the kids started early and the cutoff age for eligibility each year is Jan 1. So if a kid turns 9 years old on Jan 2, he has to wait nearly a full year before he’s eligible to play in the 9 year old league. At that age, a year obviously makes a big difference in their physical and skills development. Kids tend to be more developed, stronger, faster, etc. so they’re generally better athletes. Consequently they are more likely to get picked to play on the all star teams and in the elite leagues, where the coaching is better, the equipment is better, the competition is more intense, etc, and it starts this irreversible process where those who get a head start just continue to have advantages over their peers that are hard to overcome.

Bill Gates

Because of a series of unusual, extremely rare opportunities at that time in history to get access to program on mainframe computers between the 7th grade and graduation from high school, he was able to develop his programming skills and software knowledge to a level well beyond most people anywhere near his age, and at a time when software was just emerging as a huge industry. By the time he enrollled at Harvard, he was a great programmer and had a depth of knowledge of software development and design far beyond his years.

The Beatles

Prior to coming to America, when the Beatles were still in high school, they got the opportunity to played in Hamburg, Germany. The nature of the gigs in Hamburg at that time called for extremely long sets (up to 8 hours at a time), sometimes for 7 days a week. During a 22 month period, they played 1200 hrs. They not only honed their skills as musicians, they also developed their ability to write their own music, perfect their stage prescense and generally develop into professional musicians.

My takeaway

In each of these cases, there was an opportunity to put in a significant number of hours to develop their skill and work toward a goal. Regardless of talent, opportunity, aptitude or anything else, without putting in that substantial amount of work none of their success would have occurred. See Action Plan Checklist #6 – Execute Your Plan. See also “Key Traits of Achievers“. Any way we cut it, we have to take action, put in the work toward a focused, specific goal.

This pattern emerges over and over again, from the research studies to the quotes of great leaders:

  • Continuous effort – not strength or intelligence – is the key to unlocking our potential. Sir Winston Churchill
  • There are no secrets to success. It is the result of preparation, hard work, learning from failure. Colin Powell
  • You have to put in many, many, many tiny efforts that nobody sees or appreciates before you achieve anything worthwhile. Brian Tracy
  • Energy and persistence conquer all things. Benjamin Franklin


Do the work. Find what you love, set a goal large enough to fill you with enthusiasm and do the work. Talent and natural ability are fine things to have, but the thing that makes the difference and sets people apart is putting in the work.

If you’d like to get the book, click here: Outliers: The Story of Success. Full disclosure: If you purchase it through my link Amazon will pay me a commission.

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