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Outliers: A Jewish Perspective

Outliers: A Jewish Perspective

Malcolm Gladwell and The Ten Thousand Hour Rule.


In his latest book, Outliers, bestselling author Malcolm Gladwell answers a question we've all asked ourselves: What does Bill Gates have that we don't? Why did he succeed so spectacularly where others, equally smart, rich, and talented fizzled out early on?

Gladwell claims there is no such thing as "instant," "overnight" success or a "lucky" break. Truly successful people, he says, are not necessarily so because they are the smartest, strongest, or wealthiest, although these things can enter the picture somewhere along the way. Real winners are more often than not the happy victims of fortuitous circumstance. Born in the right place at the right time, and provided with the exact correct recipe of opportunity and persistence, anyone who is merely smart enough can break through that invisible barrier and truly excel.

Real winners are more often than not the happy victims of fortuitous circumstance.

But there's one key caveat that separates the men from the boys. True ‘outliers,' whom Gladwell defines as those whose value is remarkably different from others with similar characteristics, distinguish themselves by the Ten Thousand Hour Rule. This means that all other circumstances being equal, the one who is going to break rank and pull ahead of the pack is the one who puts in the most time towards achieving his goal.

So what was the secret of Bill Gates success? According to Gladwell, while Gates' intelligence and privileged upbringing could certainly not be denied, that's not what put him over the top. Gates' leg up actually came when, at the age of ten, the private school he was attending at the time installed a computer terminal that was connected to a mainframe in nearby Seattle, Washington, providing Gates with, what was then nearly unheard of, virtually unlimited access and opportunity to learn, practice, and master the complexities of computer programming.

This was back when computers occupied entire rooms and took hours to complete simple operations. By the time everyone else woke up and realized what a brave new world computers were going to herald, Gates was already way ahead of the game, having long ago logged in his ten thousand hours of practice makes perfect. He was able to hit the ground running before anyone even knew how to turn the thing on.


Gladwell is hitting on something true, but from a Jewish perspective, there is a crucial difference. First of all, there is no such thing as coincidence. What may appear to be a random string of events is actually an exquisitely tuned life symphony composed and orchestrated especially for us by the Maestro Creator. Every pause, nuance and crescendo has been intelligently designed in order for us to realize and actualize our potential.

And it's up to us to reach out and touch it, to recognize the unique opportunities that come our way and take advantage of them. That means being committed to putting in ten thousand hours -- a huge amount of time.

Ten thousand hours is a little more than 416 days straight, without eating, sleeping, or anything else. Someone putting in an average six hours a week practicing the piano would need to keep at it for more than 1600 weeks in order to get very far, according to Gladwell -- that's about 30 years. Gladwell checks out the figure with other successful professionals, and they all seem to concur that ten thousand hours is the magic number.

Anyone can be an outlier if we have a burning desire to excel and are willing to put in the time and effort to get there.

This is not a new idea. Jewish tradition teaches that no obstacle can stand up to someone's burning desire to reach a goal. It assures us that anyone can be an outlier -- if we have a burning desire to succeed or excel and are willing to put in the time and effort to get there. Whether we choose to view the ‘ten thousand hours' literally or as a litmus test of how willing we are to do our part, it's clear that commitment and motivation are the first giant step towards success.

The Sages teach that God assists a person to go in the way that he chooses. That means once we are deeply committed to a goal or direction, God will ‘assist' us to get there by creating the perfect circumstances and opportunities for maximum success. You will just ‘happen' to meet that exact right person, or be in that exact right place at the right time --all those ‘lucky breaks' that create an outlier. If you're so dedicated that you're willing to put in ten thousand hours, God promises He will give you a hand to reach your goal.

Gladwell doesn't tell us which of the varied opportunities set before us on the smorgasbord of life should be the one we pursue. We need to look inside ourselves for that, and see what we're drawn to and what we're good at. And whatever it is, if you have that burning desire propelling you to invest ten thousand hours, you're on the path to becoming an outlier.

December 13, 2008

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Visitor Comments: 7

(7) SusanE, December 28, 2009 4:16 AM

I Read "The Outliers".

Malcolm Gladwells book The Outliers makes sense. It's very easy reading, and gives me another way of looking at how opportunities unfold. It shows how ripe conditions can form mens fortunes and fame when the men have been already working at that for years. The Carnegies, the Mellons, and the Hearsts couldn't make that same fortune today. Right place at the right time and being ready. Silicon Valley happened at just the right time. Free thinkers and forward thinkers should be able to form their own paths in this upheaval of a time. We are restructuring our ways of doing things in health, education, and industry. - - - - - - - - - - - - - - We have a new government and are coming together with other nations to lessen our footprints here. We need clean air and water. Those two things alone are life sustaining. I suppose Green thinkers who have been studying green living and practicing being eco friendly for the past 10 years might have their 10,000 hours under their belt now that this green revolution may be underway. They will be ready for it and already know how to integrate it into society and have already made the expensive mistakes. They might be the newest Outliers. I am quite certain if anyone of us works to cleanse and restore the Earth, we would have G-ds help every step of the way.

(6) Refik, May 9, 2009 10:19 AM

Response to fifth comment.

It is important not to confuse time spent with time spent well. For example, sure you can spend 10,000 hours on learning information about current events. However, if by learning information you mean becoming the master of knowing everything they write in the Weekly Globe (is that the name of the hoax magazine? I meant the hoax magazine), then your time has not been well spent. You have not learned anything pertinent. Now let's apply this to dating. If you are going about this (noble) endeavour of finding your perfect mate and not reaching success, you are doing something wrong. This is not condescending or being ignorant of your case. It is logic. I believe Einstein coined the phrase "insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results". Dating, I have found, is as simple as holding fast to the Law of Averages. Go into a bar, or a library, or a museum, swallow your fear and start talking to someone. If you are liking the conversation and really hitting it off, ask them out on a date with you. If no, go to the next person. If yes, still go to the next person. If dating is truly your goal, your passion, then every calender hour you have free should be spent on either initiating these conversations or following through on dates. If you did this for 10,000 hours I am confident that you would not be single at the end. This works. Although it may seem like doing the same thing over and over agian, even if you haven't garnished results in the first 1,000,000 tries, it really isn't. Every encounter is a new chance. Ummm, hope this helps. I am 19 and this works 100% of the time for me and should work with older singles as well. Becuase if there is another constant in this world, it is that highschool never ends.

(5) Anonymous, December 15, 2008 2:15 AM

What about outliers in the dating world??

This article suggests that just by applying oneself without regard to time one may succeed where others, of equal talent and characteristics, have not. How then, do you explain, older singles who have valiantly tried - through shadchanim, through online dating sites, through friends and relatives - to meet their bashert, and have far exceeded the 10,000 hour rule, and find themselves still single?? Being an outlier, in this realm, is not valued - by society, by the Jewish community, or by the person themselves. It is simply not true that the one who puts in the most time will "break rank" and "pull ahead of the pack". Being an outlier in the dating world is nothing to write home about.

(4) Eliyahu, December 14, 2008 9:12 AM

That many hours?

A little math tells us that in order to amass ten thousand hours time doing anything, it would require working at it full time for nearly five years. Investing that much time in a new venture would be virtually impossible for anyone not already independently wealthy or being supported by someone else. The idea isn't as encouraging as you might have hoped.

(3) ruth housman, December 14, 2008 8:56 AM

ten thousand hours

It could be said, that to reach a higher level of consciousness, since I am seeing that life itself is a journey of soul, then one would realize that, looking down the years, the opportunities presented and the many forks in the road travelled and not travelled, were also , part of a divine plan. We are given a learning curve in life. Your article is just that, an opportunity for you to be part of that teaching. Yes, follow your passion, and hopefully it will be positive, and brilliant in that in so doing, you will illuminate the lives of others with whatever you choose that is love. But do not mistake the opportunity we all have to teach and to open others minds and hearts, for anything that is other, than God's will and God's working through us.

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