The secret of success

JAM's Rashmi Bansal on why Malcolm Gladwell's Outliers is a favourite re-read

Published 8 years ago on Oct 27, 2012 Read

As a young freelance writer it was my dream to be published in the ‘middle’ column of The Times of India. Every week I would painstakingly tap out 400 words on an electronic typewriter, fold the sheet into an envelope and post it to the editor. Around 10 days later I would receive my self-addressed, self-stamped envelope with a terse note: “The Editor regrets this article cannot be published due to lack of space.” Nevertheless, week after week, I would dispatch another article, in another envelope, hope and wait.

After 40 rejection slips, I opened the newspaper one morning and saw my name. I went on to write and write and write in all possible forms. I became a publisher and editor, columnist and blogger  and, eventually, a ‘best selling author’.

I tell this story at the numerous colleges where I am invited to speak about entrepreneurship, discovering your passion and following your dreams. And I usually start by asking the students, “How many of you have read Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell?”

Hardly anyone. So, I tell them about the “10,000 hour rule”. This rule states that to reach the pinnacle of any profession — whether sports or music or business or politics — you have to put in 10,000 hours of passion and devotion. You do this not out of compulsion or to achieve a particular goal or “result”. You do it simply because you love to, because this is who you are.

Michael Jackson did it, as did The Beatles. So did Bill Gates. That geek started programming computers in 1968, when he was in the 8th grade. He didn’t do it because computers were ‘hot’ or this might have led to a great job but just because it gave him a kick.  In 1975, when he dropped out of Harvard to set up Microsoft, Gates had put in his 10,000 hours.

These are the stories Gladwell uses to make his point in his best-selling book. But Google the life-story of any successful person, and you will see the rule at work.

A good book is read and then retired onto a shelf. A great book is one whose essence stays with you. The ‘10,000 hour rule’ has remained with me long after I read Outliers. And it’s just one of the many great ideas Gladwell has marinated and cooked to perfection in his book.

To be sure, Gladwell does no original research. What he does is weave together existing research with story-telling and insight, to support his argument.  At the time of reading you are enchanted, by the strength of his conviction, and the warp and weft of his words. 

You may later have a sneaking suspicion that he’s only using examples that illustrate his point. But can you really argue with the underlying message of the book? Successful people often admit, “I was lucky”. They were born in the right place at the right time and got the right opportunities. But, remember, they also put in those 10,000 hours.

In India, of course, we have always known this as karmayog.