Malcolm Gladwell on the Secret of Success

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Why do some people succeed, while others never reach their full potential? Malcolm Gladwell talks about how luck, skill, and hard work affect your chances at success. His new book is Outliers.


Malcolm Gladwell

Comments [17]


I agree with Gladwell. Too many privileged people are born on third base yet think they hit a triple.

Nov. 19 2008 03:54 PM


seems to me that tcp/ip is successful by any standard. IIRC it was invented, implemented, and popularized by kahn and cert, neither of whom were 50's kids.

Nov. 19 2008 01:48 PM

Perhaps what's missing here are clear criteria for "success". Are Jobs, Joy and Berners-Lee (50's kids) more "successful" than Kay, Thompson, and Nelson (not 50's kids) because the the former were involved in products that well commercially? or were the latter just as "successful" because the concepts they developed became pervasive?

Nov. 19 2008 12:48 PM
Bill Mullen from New Rochelle

I have worked as a highly skiled electronic technician for 38 years at the telephone company.

Years ago, I made the observation that it takes 5 years (40 hour/ week) to learn to do my job well...

40 hours x 50 weeks = 2000 hours/year.
200 x 5 = 10,000 hours

I couldn't agree more, Malcolm.

Nov. 19 2008 12:36 PM
Melinda Hunt from East Village

I thought the school year was the product of an agrarian culture. Children were needed to work on the family farm during the summer months.

Nov. 19 2008 12:35 PM
eric j from new york

the idea of correcting for artificially embedded opportunity would actually yield well beyond the investment in any one place. for example, what kind of return would we get on simultaneous investment in teaching excellence, parental involvement, child health. it would go far beyond the kids themselves to the things the kids will contribute to neighborhoods and cities. we have examples but they remain just that, examples, when we need to generalize this. i think mr. gladwell's thought is progress. the backside is to continue to lean on the legacy advantage which, by definition, discounts qualifications.

Nov. 19 2008 12:34 PM
Listener from Queens from Queens

Does he think there should be affirmative action at his own office? Because the New Yorker-- even though it has some writers of color-- seems to come from a very ivy league perspective.

Nov. 19 2008 12:34 PM

Oops. Left out a host of others, but the obvious one is Ken Thompson. If Joy was important, then Thompson was more so. Born 1943.

Nov. 19 2008 12:33 PM

Joy, Gates, Jobs? sure. But howzabout Douglass Engelbart (born 1925), Alan Kay (born 1940), Don Estridge (born 1937), etc., etc. ?

Nov. 19 2008 12:28 PM
LM from Union Square

I grew up in Washington Heights in the 1980's and dreaded the summer months. My sisters and I wished for summer activities and looked forward to september... completely agree with the guest.

Nov. 19 2008 12:28 PM
jennifer from manhattan

my really smart son has dyslexia and I would appreciate your guest speaking about the subject of learning disabilities and what impact that can have

Nov. 19 2008 12:26 PM
Hugh from Crown Heights

Largely agree with Gladwell (meaning, it sounds intuitively obvious, or that it sounds comforting to us supposed early stars who have never hit).

One point about Nobel Prize winners. There is also a lot of lobbying for the prize, which is why one school will have several prize winners in chemistry while another may have a lot in physics. Also the prize is political. Vocal opponents can damn their colleagues by pissing off the committee.

Since lobbying is possible, it's at least possible that a mentor, having one, can then lobby for student.

This doesn't in any way count against Gladwell's point.

Nov. 19 2008 12:23 PM
David Hume from Staten Island, NY

This is terrible logic. It would be more informative to study the people who worked at something 10,000 hours and did not make it. Instead of cherry Picking the "winners" and then reflecting backwards on why they made it.

Study the people that did not make it would be better.

But, Studying Tiger Woods, Bill Gates and other celebrities insures better sales for you book.

Faulty logic here.

Nov. 19 2008 12:19 PM
Hedeer El-Showk

On the # of hrs for success...can't we say learning for a child is more accelerated? learning something between 20 to 30 is different than learning it from 10 to 20 unfortunately...

Nov. 19 2008 12:18 PM
David Hume from Staten Island, NY


Can Malcolm give us a breakdown of Success? Is it 90% Luck, 5% Hard work and 5% Skill?

How much of skill and talent are simply based on luck? Born at the right time with a gift?

Also, at some level every works equally hard, how come they don't all much the same income? Is Hard Work actually a very low factor? There are only so many hours in the day, you can only work so hard! Thanks.


Nov. 19 2008 12:00 PM
Mark James from Arlington, VA

Typically authors miss the mark on this topic for those who could use some guidance. As for "why others never reach their full potential", I do hope Mr Gladwell comes around to offering strategies and a mechanism for those caught up in redundant mediocrity while trying to move beyond. "Take risks!" is one mantra out there, but that's not the heart of the matter. All the best.

Nov. 19 2008 11:56 AM
Charles Lukoba from Newark, NJ

Has order of birth any correlation to this? I find that first born of a mother are more successful than others.

Nov. 19 2008 10:27 AM

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