This is a book of success stories, and true to his usual style, Gladwell draws on a diverse and interesting set of examples and presents a unique thesis on the ingredients it takes to make a person a success. The first half of the equation is much like Carol Dweck’s thesis in Mindset: The New Psychology of Success . Hard work matters much more than raw talent. In the chapter called “10,000 Hours” he cites a study of music students which shows that the number of hours spent practicing is the key determinant in mastery. I found that very encouraging. If you want to succeed, spend your time practicing.
But it’s the second half of the equation that makes his thesis unique, even though this part is somewhat discouraging. True, successful people have to put in many hours to master their craft, but they can only do that when the circumstances of their lives allow it. Now sometimes seemingly adverse circumstances can turn out to be an incredible advantage (Woo hoo! A whole chapter on the history of Jewish immigrants to America), but a genius in non-nurturing circumstances won’t make it no matter how talented he is (hence the depressing chapter on Chris Langsam, the man with the highest IQ in America.)
As with The Tipping Point, I read this book to help me advance my career, but the main lesson it taught me was about parenting. Whatever opportunities I may have had or not had, used or not used, made me what I am today. And in many ways, I do feel I haven’t lived up to my potential, so I have to remedy the situation by putting in my 10,000 hours of practice, by becoming as efficient as a Chinese rice farmer (another particularly inspiring chapter). But the area in which I can make the biggest difference is for my kids. My job as a parent is to create practice opportunities for my kids to exercise their talents and interests. And if they become the people they can be, then all of us will be success stories.