What sets outliers apart

There is a famous quote from Einstein that goes “genius is 1% talent and 99% hard work”, and the book Outliers: the story of success proves it correct. As many knows that Einstein has an IQ of around 150, however, IQ is not the definite factor towards success, but rather, IQ is not important at all once it reaches a threshold — as long as you have an adequate intelligence, it’s other aspects that really matters. Those aspects include hard work, social savvy, upbringing and the culture one comes from.

This book tells a story of a man named Chris Langan with an IQ of 195, but he ended as as a bouncer at a bar for the most of his life. He is smart, so smart that he understands Principia Mathematica at the age of 16. But he never knows how to deal with people. He lost his scholarship because his mother forgot to fill a form for him and after he confronted his dean he concluded that the professors do not care about the students. And so he quitted. By contrast, the father of atomic bombs, Oppenheimer is not as smart, but he processes a great practical knowledge. He knows how to get away with punishment after trying to poison his tutor at  Cambridge. He also persuaded General Groves to let him participate in the Manhattan Project, despite his poisoning record and affiliations with Communists. It’s obvious that both Langan and Oppenheimer are smart, but in a way they could not be more different in aspects other than intelligence.

The author also elaborates how important diligence is. It’s known that for one to become good at something, he/she has to spend at least 10,000 hours on it. Bill Gates had more than 10,000 hours of experience with computers before he dropped out; the Beatles had more than 10,000 hours of practice before they made a real hit; the same with Steve Jobs, Bill Joy (cofounder of Sun Microsystems), Eric Schemidt, etc. As the book puts it, “no one who can rise before dawn 360 days a year fails to make his family rich”.

However, as important as diligence is, it’s equivalently important to have the ability of seizing opportunities. The computer gurus are typically born in mid 1950s (Bill Gates 1955, Paul Allen 1953, Steve Ballmer 1956, Steve Jobs 1955, Eric Schemidt 1955, Bill Joy 1954);If you look at Chinese Internet gurus, same intersting facts: year in which the founder is born: Baidu 1968, Alibaba 1964, Tecent 1971, Netease 1971, Sina 1969, Sohu 1964, why? Because they all had their 10,000 hours of practice when the personal computer revolution began in 1975 (or internet starts to become popular in China in mid 1990s). It did not happen only in computer industry, but also in other industries such as law, manufacturing, and so on.

The culture you are from and the upbringing shape your thinking and behaviours and in the end how successful you are. It takes three generations for Jews to transform from tailors and garment industry workers to doctors and lawyers. Success is not magic; it’s the hard work passed along generations to generations. Asians are better at mathematics because our ancestors have to calculate carefully when growing rice; and asians are more diligent because our ancestors have to put the hours in hard work so as to survive.

Next time when someone asks how could Chinese economy grow so fast, show him how Chinese work.

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