Malcolm Gladwell has a new book: Outliers. In it, he lays out his theory on how Bill Gates got to be Bill Gates and, more generally, what it takes to be fabulously successful:
- Good fortune to be in right place at right time with right tools
- 10,000 hours of practice.
Malcolm in the WSJ:
At one point you suggest that the difference between a professional and a talented amateur is 10,000 hours of practice. How did this become the magic number?
A group of psychologists who study expertise looked at a variety of fields. There is a threshold of preparation for greatness. Nobody has been a chess grandmaster without having played for 10 years, or composed great classical music without having composed for 10 years. When classical musicians were asked when they felt they achieved a level of expertise, the answer was 10,000 hours. It’s an empirically-based finding that seems consistent across a number of different fields. It also helps you understand why opportunities are so important. An opportunity is basically a chance to practice…
In your musings on Bill Gates, you emphasise that he was remarkably fortunate to have access to a computer. But doesn’t serendipity play a significant role in many lives?
Yes it does. But by its very nature, some get a lot more than others. The thing about Bill was that he was lucky over and over and over again. And he’d be the first to say that. Serendipity doesn’t happen quite the same way in the South Bronx. The idea is that lucky breaks come from certain circumstances. You get the computer if you are at an elite private school. There is always an if. And that’s an important thing to understand in appreciating success.
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