Main Outliers: The Story of Success
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Very interesting. But quality of this epub is bad. more punctuation errors.
31 March 2018 (07:43)
The book tittle "No Excuse Self-Discipline" very nice. I am learn many thinking from this book. Its very nice specially on self-discipline on different direction.
29 June 2020 (16:28)
This comment is refering on "Outliers", it's a very intersing books, it point some factors of success related to specifict possitions in times that add up to successed in some activities
03 May 2021 (17:44)
Outliers, The Story of Success Outliers, The Story of Success Outliers, The Story of Success 6. Before the Memorial Cup final, Gord Wasdenthe father of one of the Medicine Hat Tigersstood by the side of the ice, talking about his son Scott. He was wearing a Medicine Hat baseball cap and a black Medicine Hat T-shirt. “When he was four and five years old,” Wasden remembered, “his little brother was in a walker, and he would shove a hockey stick in his hand and they would play hockey on the floor in the kitchen, morning till night. Scott always had a passion for it. He played rep hockey throughout his minor-league hockey career. He always made the Triple A teams. As a first-year peewee or a firstyear bantam, he always played on the [top] rep team.” W asden was clearly nervous: his son was about to play in the biggest game of his life. “He's had to work very hard for whatever he's got. I'm very proud of him.” Those were the ingredients of success at the highest level: passion, talent, and hard work. But there was another element. When did Wasden first get the sense that his son was something special“You know, he was always a bigger kid for his age. He was strong, and he had a knack for scoring goals at an early age. And he was always kind of a standout for his age, a captain of his team ” Bigger kid for his ageO f course he was. Scott W asden was born on January 4, within three days of the absolute perfect birthday for an elite hockey player. He was one of the lucky ones. If the eligibility date for Canadian hockey were later in the year, he might have been watching the Memorial Cup championship from the stands instead of playing on the ice. Outliers, The Story of Success CHAPTER TWO The 10,000-Hour Rule “IN HAMBURG, WE HAD TO PLA; Y FOR EIGHT HOURS.” Outliers, The Story of Success 1. The University of Michigan opened its new Computer Center in 1971, in a brand-new building on Beal Avenue in Ann Arbor, with beige-brick exterior walls and a dark-glass front. The university's enormous mainframe computers stood in the middle of a vast white room, looking, as one faculty member remembers, “like one of the last scenes in the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey” Off to the side were dozens of keypunch machineswhat passed in those days for computer terminals. In 1971, this was state of the art. The University of Michigan had one of the most advanced computer science programs in the world, and over the course of the Computer Center's life, thousands of students passed through that white room, the most famous of whom was a gawky teenager named Bill Joy. Joy came to the University of Michigan the year the Computer Center opened. He was sixteen. He was tall and very thin, with a mop of unruly hair. Fie had been voted “Most Studious Student” by his graduating class at North Farmington High School, outside Detroit, which, as he puts it, meant that he was a “no-date nerd.” He had thought he might end up as biologist or a mathematician. But late in his freshman year, he stumbled across the Computer Centerand he was hooked. From that point on, the Computer Center was his life. He programmed whenever he could. Joy got a job with a computer science professor so he could program over the summer. In 1975, he enrolled in graduate school at the University of California at Berkeley. There, he buried himself even deeper in the world of computer software. During the oral exams for his PhD, he made up a particularly complicated algorithm on the fly that, as one of his many admirers has written, “so stunned his examiners [that] one of them later compared the experience to 'Jesus confounding his elders/ ” Working in collaboration with a small group of programmers,Joy took on the task ofrewriting UNIX, which was a software system developed by A T&T for mainframe computers. Joy's version was very good. It was so good, in fact, that it becameand remainsthe operating system on which literally millions of computers around the world run. “If you put your Mac in that funny mode where you can see the code,” Joy says, “I see things that I remember typing in twenty-five years ago.” And do you know who wrote much of the software that allows you to access the InternetBill Joy. After graduating from Berkeley, Joy cofounded the Silicon Valley firm Sun Microsystems, which was one of the most critical players in the computer revolution. There he rewrote another computer languageJavaand his legend grew still further. Among Silicon Valley insiders, Joy is spoken of with as much awe as someone like Bill Gates of Microsoft. He is sometimes called the Edison of the Internet. As the Yale computer scientist David Gelernter says, "Bill Joy is one of the most influential people in the modern history of computing/' The story of Bill Joy's genius has been told many times, and the lesson is always the same. Here was a world that was the purest of meritocracies. Computer programming didn't operate as an old-boy network, where you got ahead because of money or connections. It was a wide-open field in which all participants were judged solely on their talent and their accomplishments. It was a world where the best men won, and Joy was clearly one of those best men. It would be easier to accept that version of events, however, if we hadn't just looked at hockey and soccer players. Theirs was supposed to be apure meritocracy as well. Only it wasn't. It was a story of how the outliers in a particular field reached their lofty status through a combination of ability, opportunity, and utterly arbitrary advantage. Is it possible the same pattern of special opportunities operate in the real world as wellLet's go back over the story of Bill Joy and find out. Outliers, The Story of Success 2. For almost a generation, psychologists around the world have been engaged in a spirited debate over a question that most of us would consider to have been settled years ago. The question is this: is there such a thing as innate talentThe obvious answer is yes. Not every hockey player born in January ends up playing at the professional level. Only some dothe innately talented ones. Achievement is talent plus preparation. The problem with this view is that the closer psychologists look at the careers of the gifted, the smaller the role innate talent seems to play and the bigger the role preparation seems to play. Exhibit A in the talent argument is a study done in the early 1990s by the psychologist K. Anders Ericsson and two colleagues at Berlin's elite Academy of Music. With the help of the Academy's professors, they divided the school's violinists into three groups. In the first group were the stars, the students with the potential to become world-class soloists. In the second were those judged to be merely “good.” In the third were students who were unlikely to ever play professionally and who intended to be music teachers in the public school system. All of the violinists were then asked the same question: over the course of your entire career, ever since you first picked up the violin, how many hours have you practiced? Everyone from all three groups started playing at roughly the same age, around five years old. In those first few years, everyone practiced roughly the same amount, about two or three hours a week. But when the students were around the age of eight, real differences started to emerge. The students who would end up the best in their class began to practice more than everyone else: six hours a week by age nine, eight hours a week by age twelve, sixteen hours a week by age fourteen, and up and up, until by the age of twenty they were practicingthat is, purposefully and single-mindedly playing their instruments with the intent to get betterwell over thirty hours a week. In fact, by the age of twenty, the elite performers had each totaled ten thousand hours of practice. By contrast, the merely good students had totaled eight thousand hours, and the future music teachers had totaled just over four thousand hours. Ericsson and his colleagues then compared amateur pianists with professional pianists. The same pattern emerged. The amateurs never practiced more than about three hours a week over the course of their childhood, and by the age of twenty they had totaled two thousand hours of practice. The professionals, on the other hand, steadily increased their practice time every year, until by the age of twenty they, like the violinists, had reached ten thousand hours. The striking thing about Ericsson's study is that he and his colleagues couldn't find any “naturals,” musicians who floated effortlessly to the top while practicing a fraction of the time their peers did. Nor could they find any “grinds,” people who worked harder than everyone else, yet just didn't have what it takes to break the top ranks. Their research suggestes that once a musician has enough ability to get into a top music school, the thing that distinguishes one performer from another is how hard he or she works. That's it. And what's more, the people at the very top don't work just harder or even much harder than everyone else. They work much, much harder. The idea that excellence at performing a complex task requires a critical minimum level of practice surfaces again and again in studies of expertise. In fact, researchers have settled on what they believe is the magic number for true expertise: ten thousand hours. “The emerging picture from such studies is that ten thousand hours of practice is required to achieve the level of mastery associated with being a world-class expertin anything,” writes the neurologist Daniel Levitin. “In study after study, of composers, basketball players, fiction writers, ice skaters, concert pianists, chess players, master criminals, and what have you, this number comes up again and again. O f course, this doesn't address why some people get more out of their practice sessions than others do. But no one has yet found a case in which true worldclass expertise was accomplished in less time. It seems that it takes the brain this long to assimilate all that it needs to know to achieve true mastery.” This is true even of people we think of as prodigies. Mozart, for example, famously started writing music at six. But, writes the psychologist Michael Howe in his book Genius Explained, by the standards of mature composers, Mozart's early works are not outstanding. The earliest pieces were all probably written down by his father, and perhaps improved in the process. Many of Wolfgang's childhood compositions, such as the first seven of his concertos for piano and orchestra, are largely arrangements of works by other composers. Of those concertos that only contain music original to Mozart, the earliest that is now regarded as a masterwork (No. 9, K. 271) was not com- posed until he was twenty-one: by that time Mozart had already been composing concertos for ten years. The music critic Harold Schonberg goes further: Mozart, he argues, actually “developed late,” since he didn't produce his greatest work until he had been composing for more than twenty years. To become a chess grandmaster also seems to take about ten years. (Only the legendary Bobby Fischer got to that elite level in less than that amount of time: it took him nine years.) And what's ten yearsWell, it's roughly how long it takes to put in ten thousand hours of hard practice. Ten thousand hours is the magic number of greatness. Here is the explanation for what was so puzzling about the rosters of the Czech and Canadian national sports teams. There was practically no one on those teams born after September 1, which doesn't seem to make any sense. You'd think that there should be a fair number of Czech hockey or soccer prodigies born late in the year who are so talented that they eventually make their way into the top tier as young adults, despite their birth dates. But to Ericsson and those who argue against the primacy of talent, that isn't surprising at all. That late-born prodigy doesn't get chosen for the all-star team as an eight-year-old because he's too small. So he doesn't get the extra practice. And without that extra practice, he has no chance at hitting ten thousand hours by the time the professional hockey teams start looking for players. And without ten thousand hours under his belt, there is no way he can ever master the skills necessary to play at the top level. Even Mozartthe greatest musical prodigy of all time couldn't hit his stride until he had his ten thousand hours in. Practice isn't the thing you do once you're good. It's the thing you do that makes you good. The other interesting thing about that ten thousand hours, of course, is that ten thousand hours is an enormous amount of time. It's all but impossible to reach that number all by yourself by the time you're a young adult. You have to have parents who encourage and support you. You can't be poor, because if you have to hold down a part-time job on the side to help make ends meet, there won't be time left in the day to practice enough. In fact, most people can reach that number only if they get into some kind of special programlike a hockey all-star squador if they get some kind of extraordinary opportunity that gives them a chance to put in those hours. Outliers, The Story of Success 3. So, back to Bill Joy. It's 1971. He's tall and gawky and sixteen years old. He's the math whiz, the kind of student that schools like M I T and Caltech and the University of Waterloo attract by the hundreds. “When Bill was a little kid, he wanted to know everything about everything way before he should've even known he wanted to know,” his father, William, says. “We answered him when we could. And when we couldn't, we would just give him a book.” When it came time to apply to college, Joy got a perfect score on the math portion of the Scholastic Aptitude Test. “It wasn't particularly hard,” he says matter-of-factly. “There was plenty of time to check it twice.” He has talent by the truckload. But that's not the only consideration. It never is. The key to his development is that he stumbled across that nondescript building on Beal A venue. In the early 1970s, when Joy was learning about programming, computers were the size of rooms. A single machine (which might have less power and memory than your microwave now has) could cost upwards of a million dollarsand that's in 1970s dollars. Computers were rare. If you found one, if was hard to get access to it; if you managed to get access, renting time on it cost a fortune. What's more, programming itself was extraordinarily tedious. This was the era when computer programs were created using cardboard punch cards. Each line of code was imprinted on the card using a keypunch machine. A complex program might include hundreds, if not thousands, of these cards in tall stacks. Once a program was ready, you walked over to whatever mainframe computer you had access to and gave the stack of cards to an operator. Since computers could handle only one task at a time, the operator made an appointment for your program, and depending on how many people were ahead of you in line, you might not get your cards back for a few hours or even a day. And if you made even a single erroreven a typographical errorin your program, you had to take the cards back, track down the error, and begin the whole process again. Under those circumstances, it was exceedingly difficult for anyone to become a programming expert. Certainly becoming an expert by your early twenties was all but impossible. When you can “program” for only a few minutes out of every hour you spend in the computer room, how can you ever get in ten thousand hours of practice“Programming with cards,” one computer scientist from that era remembers, “did not teach you programming. It taught you patience and proofreading.” It wasn't until the mid-1960s that a solution to the programming problem emerged. Computers were finally powerful enough that they could handle more than one “appointment” at once. If the computer's operating system was rewritten, computer scientists realized, the machine's time could be shared; the computer could be trained to handle hundreds of tasks at the same time. That, in turn, meant that programmers didn't have to physically hand their stacks of computer cards to the operator anymore. Dozens of terminals could be built, all linked to the mainframe by a telephone line, and everyone could be workingonlineall at once. Here is how one history of the period describes the advent of time-sharing: This was not just a revolution. It was a revelation. Forget the operator, the card decks, the wait. With time-sharing, you could sit at your Teletype, bang in a couple of com mands, and get an answer then and there. Time-sharing was interactive: A program could ask for a response, wait for you to type it in, act on it while you waited, and show you the result, all in “real time.” This is where Michigan came in, because Michigan was one of the first universities in the world to switch over to time-sharing. By 1967, a prototype of the system was up and running. By the early 1970s, Michigan had enough computing power that a hundred people could be programming simultaneously in the Computer Center. “In the late sixties, early seventies, I don't think there was anyplace else that was exactly like Michigan,” Mike Alexander, one of the pioneers of Michigan's computing system, said. “Maybe MIT. Maybe Carnegie Mellon.Maybe Dartmouth. I don't think there were any others.” This was the opportunity that greeted Bill Joy when he arrived on the Ann Arbor campus in the fall of 1971. He hadn't chosen Michigan because of its computers. He had never done anything with computers in high school. He was interested in math and engineering. But when the programming bug hit him in his freshman year, he found himselfby the happiest of accidentsin one of the few places in the world where a seventeen-year-old could program all he wanted. “Do you know what the difference is between the computing cards and time-sharing?” Joy says. “It's the difference between playing chess by mail and speed chess.” Programming wasn't an exercise in frustration anymore. It was fun. “I lived in the north campus, and the Computer Center was in the north campus,” Joy went on. "How much time did I spend thereOh, a phenomenal amount of time. It was open twenty-four hours. I would stay there all night, and just walk home in the morning. In an average week in those years, I was spending more time in the Computer Center than on my classes. A ll of us down there had this recurring nightmare of forgetting to show up for class at all, of not even realizing we were enrolled. “The challenge was that they gave all the students an account with a fixed amount of money, so your time would run out. When you signed on, you would put in how long you wanted to spend on the computer. They gave you, like, an hour of time. That's all you'd get. But someone figured out that if you put in 'time equals' and then a letter, like t equals k, they wouldn't charge you,“ he said, laughing at the memory. ”It was a bug in the soft ware. You could put in t equals k and sit there forever.” Just look at the stream of opportunities that came Bill Joy's way. Because he happened to go to a farsighted school like the University of Michigan, he was able to practice on a time-sharing system instead of with punch cards; because the Michigan system happened to have a bug in it, he could program all he wanted; because the university was willing to spend the money to keep the Computer Center open twenty-four hours, he could stay up all night; and because he was able to put in so many hours, by the time he happened to be presented with the opportunity to rewrite UNIX, he was up to the task. Bill Joy was brilliant. He wanted to learn. That was a big part of it. But before he could become an expert, someone had to give him the opportunity to learn how to be an expert. “At Michigan, I was probably programming eight or ten hours a day,” he went on. “By the time I was at Berkeley I was doing it day and night. I had a terminal at home. I'd stay up until two or three o'clock in the morning, watching old movies and programming. Sometimes I'd fall asleep at the keyboard”he mimed his head falling on the keyboard“and you know how the key repeats until the end, and it starts to go beep, beep, beepAfter that happens three times, you have to go to bed. I was still relatively incompetent even when I got to Berkeley. I was proficient by my second year there. That's when I wrote programs that are still in use today, thirty years later.“ He paused for a moment to do the math in his headwhich for someone like Bill Joy doesn't take very long. Michigan in 1971. Programming in earnest by sophomore year. Add in the summers, then the days and nights in his first year at Berkeley. ”So, so maybe... ten thousand hours?“ he said, finally. ”That's about right.” Outliers, The Story of Success 4. Is the ten-thousand-hour rule a general rule of successIf we scratch below the surface of every great achiever, do we always find the equivalent of the Michigan Computer Center or the hockey all-star teamsome sort of special opportunity for practice? Let's test the idea with two examples, and for the sake of simplicity, let's make them as familiar as possible: the Beatles, one of the most famous rock bands ever; and Bill Gates, one of the world's richest men. The BeatlesJohn Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, and Ringo Starrcame to the United States in February of 1964, starting the so-called British Invasion of the American music scene and putting out a string of hit records that transformed the face of popular music. The first interesting thing about the Beatles for our purposes is how long they had already been together by the time they reached the United States. Lennon and McCartney first started playing together in 1957, seven years prior to landing in America. (Incidentally, the time that elapsed between their founding and their arguably greatest artistic achievementsSgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band and The Beatles [White Album]is ten years.) And if you look even more closely at those long years of preparation, you'll find an experience that, in the context of hockey players and Bill Joy and world-class violinists, sounds awfully familiar. In i960, while they were still just a struggling high school rock band, they were invited to play in Hamburg, Germany. “Hamburg in those days did not have rock-and-roll music clubs. It had strip clubs,” says Philip Norman, who wrote the Beatles biography Shout! "There was one particular club owner called Bruno, who was originally a fairground showman. He had the idea of bringing in rock groups to play in various clubs. They had this formula. It was a huge nonstop show, hour after hour, with a lot of people lurching in and the other lot lurching out. And the bands would play all the time to catch the passing traffic. In an American redlight district, they would call it nonstop striptease. “Many of the bands that played in Hamburg were from Liverpool,” Norman went on. “It was an accident. Bruno went to London to look for bands. But he happened to meet an entrepreneur from Liverpool in Soho who was down in London by pure chance. And he arranged to send some bands over. That's how the connection was established. And eventually the Beatles made a connection not just with Bruno but with other club owners as well. They kept going back because they got a lot of alcohol and a lot of sex.” And what was so special about HamburgIt wasn't that it paid well. It didn't. Or that the acoustics were fantastic. They weren't. Or that the audiences were savvy and appreciative. They were anything but. It was the sheer amount of time the band was forced to play. Here is John Lennon, in an interview after the Beatles disbanded, talking about the band's performances at a Hamburg strip club called the Indra: We got better and got more confidence. We couldn't help it with all the experience playing all night long. It was handy them being foreign. We had to try even harder, put our heart and soul into it, to get ourselves over. In Liverpool, we'd only ever done one-hour sessions, and we just used to do our best numbers, the same ones, at every one. In Hamburg, we had to play for eight hours, so we really had to find a new way of playing. Eight hours? Here is Pete Best, the Beatles' drummer at the time: “Once the news got out about that we were making a show, the club started packing them in. W e played seven nights a week. At first we played almost nonstop till twelve-thirty, when it closed, but as we got better the crowds stayed till two most mornings.” Seven days a week? The Beatles ended up traveling to Hamburg five times between i960 and the end of 1962. On the first trip, they played 106 nights, five or more hours a night. On their second trip, they played 92 times. On their third trip, they played 48 times, for a total of 172 hours on stage. The last two Hamburg gigs, in November and December of 1962, involved another 90 hours of performing. All told, they performed for 270 nights in just over a year and a half. By the time they had their first burst of success in 1964, in fact, they had performed live an estimated twelve hundred times. Do you know how extraordinary that isMost bands today don't perform twelve hundred times in their entire careers. The Hamburg crucible is one of the things that set the Beatles apart. “They were no good onstage when they went there and they were very good when they came back,” Norman went on. “They learned not only stamina. They had to learn an enormous amount of numberscover versions of everything you can think of, not just rock and roll, a bit of jazz too. They weren't disciplined onstage at all before that. But when they came back, they sounded like no one else. It was the making of them.” Let's now turn to the history of Bill Gates. His story is almost as well known as the Beatles'. Brilliant, young math whiz discovers computer programming. Drops out of Har vard. Starts a little computer company called Microsoft with his friends. Through sheer brilliance and ambition and guts builds it into the giant of the software world. That's the broad outline. Let's dig a little bit deeper. Gates's father was a wealthy lawyer in Seattle, and his mother was the daughter of a well-to-do banker. As a child Bill was precocious and easily bored by his studies. So his parents took him out of public school and, at the beginning of seventh grade, sent him to Lakeside, a private school that catered to Seattle's elite families. Midway through Gates's second year at Lakeside, the school started a computer club. “The Mothers' Club at school did a rummage sale every year, and there was always the question of what the money would go to,” Gates remembers. “Some went to the summer program, where inner-city kids would come up to the campus. Some of it would go for teachers. That year, they put three thousand dollars into a computer terminal down in this funny little room that we subsequently took control of. It was kind of an amazing thing.” It was an “amazing thing,” of course, because this was 1968. Most colleges didn't have computer clubs in the 1960s. Even more remarkable was the kind of computer Lakeside bought. The school didn't have its students learn programming by the laborious computer-card system, like virtually everyone else was doing in the 1960s. Instead, Lakeside installed what was called an ASR-33 Teletype, which was a time-sharing terminal with a direct link to a mainframe computer in downtown Seattle. “The whole idea of time-sharing only got invented in nineteen sixty five,” Gates continued. “Someone was pretty forwardlooking.” Bill Joy got an extraordinary, early opportunity to learn programming on a time-share system as a fresh man in college, in 1971. Bill Gates got to do real-time programming as an eighth grader in 1968. From that moment forward, Gates lived in the computer room. He and a number of others began to teach themselves how to use this strange new device. Buying time on the mainframe computer the ASR was hooked up to was, of course, expensiveeven for a wealthy institution like Lakesideand it wasn't long before the $3,000 put up by the Mothers' Club ran out. The parents raised more money. The students spent it. Then a group of programmers at the University of Washington formed an outfit called Computer Center Corporation (or C-Cubed), which leased computer time to local companies. As luck would have it, one of the founders of the firmMonique Ronahad a son at Lakeside, a year ahead of Gates. W ould the Lakeside computer club, Rona wondered, like to test out the company's software programs on the weekends in exchange for free programming time Absolutely! After school, Gates took the bus to the C-Cubed offices and programmed long into the evening. C-Cubed eventually went bankrupt, so Gates and his friends began hanging around the computer center at the University of Washington. Before long, they latched onto an outfit called ISI (Information Sciences Inc.), which agreed to let them have free computer time in exchange for working on a piece of software that could be used to automate company payrolls. In one seven-month period in 1971, Gates and his cohorts ran up 1,575 hours of computer time on the ISI mainframe, which averages out to eight hours a day, seven days a week. “It was my obsession,” Gates says of his early high school years. “I skipped athletics. I went up there at night. We were programming on weekends. It would be a rare week that we wouldn't get twenty or thirty hours in. There was a period where Paul Allen and I got in trouble for stealing a bunch of passwords and crashing the system. We got kicked out. I didn't get to use the computer the whole summer. This is when I was fifteen and sixteen. Then I found out Paul had found a computer that was free at the University of Washington. They had these machines in the medical center and the physics department. They were on a twenty-four-hour schedule, but with this big slack period, so that between three and six in the morning they never scheduled anything.“ Gates laughed. ”I'd leave at night, after my bedtime. I could walk up to the University of Washington from my house. Or Fd take the bus. That's why I'm always so generous to the University of W ashington, because they let me steal so much computer time.“ (Years later, Gates's mother said, ”We always wondered why it was so hard for him to get up in the morning.”) One of the founders of ISI, Bud Pembroke, then got a call from the technology company TRW, which had just signed a contract to set up a computer system at the huge Bonneville Power station in southern Washington State. TRW desperately needed programmers familiar with the particular software the power station used. In these early days of the computer revolution, programmers with that kind of specialized experience were hard to find. But Pembroke knew exactly whom to call: those high school kids from Lakeside who had been running up thousands of hours of computer time on the ISI mainframe. Gates was now in his senior year, and somehow he managed to convince his teachers to let him decamp for Bonneville under the guise of an independent study project. There he spent the spring writing code, supervised by a man named John Norton, who Gates says taught him as much about programming as almost anyone he'd ever met. Those five years, from eighth grade through the end of high school, were Bill Gates's Hamburg, and by any measure, he was presented with an even more extraordinary series of opportunities than Bill Joy. Opportunity number one was that Gates got sent to Lakeside. How many high schools in the world had access to a time-sharing terminal in 1968Opportunity number two was that the mothers of Lakeside had enough money to pay for the school's computer fees. Number three was that, when that money ran out, one of the parents happened to work at C-Cubed, which happened to need someone to check its code on the weekends, and which also happened not to care if weekends turned into weeknights. Number four was that Gates just happened to find out about ISI, and ISI just happened to need someone to work on its payroll software. Number five was that Gates happened to live within walking distance of the University of W ashington. Number six was that the university happened to have free computer time between three and six in the morning. Number seven was that T R W happened to call Bud Pembroke. Number eight was that the best programmers Pembroke knew for that particular problem happened to be two high school kids. And number nine was that Lakeside was willing to let those kids spend their spring term miles away, writing code. A nd what did virtually all of those opportunities have in commonThey gave Bill Gates extra time to practice. By the time Gates dropped out of Harvard after his sophomore year to try his hand at his own software company, he'd been programming practically nonstop for seven consecutive years. He was way past ten thousand hours. How many teenagers in the world had the kind of experience Gates had“ I f there were fifty in the world, I'd be stunned,” he says. “There was C-Cubed and the payroll stuff we did, then TRWall those things came together. I had a better exposure to software development at a young age than I think anyone did in that period of time, and all because of an incredibly lucky series of events.” If we put the stories of hockey players and the Beatles and Bill Joy and Bill Gates together, I think we get a more complete picture of the path to success. Joy and Gates and the Beatles are all undeniably talented. Lennon and McCartney had a musical gift of the sort that comes along once in a generation, and Bill Joy, let us not forget, had a mind so quick that he was able to make up a complicated algorithm on the fly that left his professors in awe. That much is obvious. But what truly distinguishes their histories is not their extraordinary talent but their extraordinary opportunities. The Beatles, for the most random of reasons, got invited to go to Hamburg. Without Hamburg, the Beatles might well have taken a different path. “I was very lucky,” Bill Gates said at the beginning of our interview. That doesn't mean he isn't brilliant or an extraordinary entrepreneur. It just means that he understands what incredible good fortune it was to be at Lakeside in 1968. All the outliers we've looked at so far were the beneficiaries of some kind of unusual opportunity. Lucky breaks don't seem like the exception with software billionaires and rock bands and star athletes. They seem like the rule. Let me give you one final example of the hidden opportunities that outliers benefit from. Suppose we do another version of the calendar analysis we did in the previous chapter with hockey players, only this time looking at birth years, not birth months. To start with, take a close look at the following list of the seventy-five richest people in human history. The net worth of each person is calculated in current US dollars. As you can see, it includes queens and kings and pharaohs from centuries past, as well as contemporary billionaires, such as Warren Buffett and Carlos Slim. Outliers, The Story of Success 6. Outliers, The Story of Success THE 10,000-HOUR RULE Do you know what's interesting about that list f the seventy-five names, an astonishing fourteen are Americans born within nine years of one another in the midnineteenth century. Think about that for a moment. Historians start with Cleopatra and the pharaohs and comb through every year in human history every since, looking in every corner of the world for evidence of extraordinary wealth, and almost 20 percent of the names they end up with come from a single generation in a single country. 2. 28. 33. 34. 35. 36. 44. 54. 57. 58. 62. 64. 65. John D. Rockefeller, 1839 Andrew Carnegie, 1835 Frederick Weyerhaeuser, 1834 Jay Gould, 1836 Marshall Field, 1834 George F. Baker, 1840 Hetty Green, 1834 JamesG.Fair,1831 HenryH.Rogers,1840 J. P . Morgan, 1837 Oliver H. Payne, 1839 George Pullman, 1831 Peter Arrell Brown Widener, 1834 Philip Danforth Armour, 1832 Here's the list of those Americans and their birth years: What's going on hereThe answer becomes obvious if you think about it. In the 1860s and 1870s, the American economy went through perhaps the greatest transformation in its history. This was when the railroads were being built and when Wall Street emerged. It was when industrial manufacturing started in earnest. It was when all the rules by which the traditional economy had functioned were broken and remade. What this list says is that it really matters how old you were when that transformation happened. If you were born in the late 1840s you missed it. You were too young to take advantage of that moment. If you were born in the 1820s you were too old: your mind-set was shaped by the pre-Civil War paradigm. But there was a particular, narrow nine-year window that was just per- feet for seeing the potential that the future held. All of the fourteen men and women on the list above had vision and talent. But they also were given an extraordinary opportu nity, in the same way that hockey and soccer players born in January, February, and March are given an extraordinary opportunity.'1" Now let's do the same kind of analysis for people like Bill Joy and Bill Gates. If you talk to veterans of Silicon Valley, they'll tell you that the most important date in the history of the personal computer revolution was January 1975. That was when the magazine Popular Electronics ran a cover story on an extraordinary machine called the Altair 8800. The Altair cost $397. It was a do-it-yourself contraption that you could assemble at home. The headline on the story read: “PROJECT BREAKTHROUGH! World's First Minicomputer Kit to Rival Commercial Models.” To the readers of Popular Electronics, in those days the bible of the fledgling software and computer world, that headline was a revelation. Computers up to that point had * The sociologist C . Wright Mills made an additional observation about that special cohort from the 1830s. He looked at the backgrounds of the American business elite from the Colonial Era to the twentieth century. In most cases, not surprisingly, he found that business leaders tended to come from privileged backgrounds. The one exceptionThe 1830s group. That shows how big the advantage was of being born in that decade. It was the only time in American history when those born in modest circumstances had a realistic shot at real riches. He writes: “The best time during the history of the United States for the poor boy ambitious for high business success to have been born was around the year 1835.” been the massive, expensive mainframes of the sort sitting in the white expanse of the Michigan Computer Center. For years, every hacker and electronics whiz had dreamt of the day when a computer would come along that was small and inexpensive enough for an ordinary person to use and own. That day had finally arrived. If January 1975 was the dawn of the personal computer age, then who would be in the best position to take advantage of itThe same principles apply here that applied to the era of John Rockefeller and Andrew Carnegie. “If you're too old in nineteen seventy-five, then you'd already have a job at IBM out of college, and once people started at IBM, they had a real hard time making the transition to the new world,” says Nathan Myhrvold, who was a top executive at Microsoft for many years. “You had this multibillion-dollar company making mainframes, and if you were part of that, you'd think, Why screw around with these little pathetic computersThat was the computer industry to those people, and it had nothing to do with this new revolution. They were blinded by that being the only vision of computing. They made a nice living. It's just that there was no opportunity to become a zillionaire and make an impact on the world.” If you were more than a few years out of college in 1975, then you belonged to the old paradigm. You had just bought a house. You're married. A baby is on the way. You're in no position to give up a good job and pension for some pie-in-the-sky $397 computer kit. So let's rule out all those born before, say, 1952. At the same time, though, you don't want to be too young. You really want to get in on the ground floor, right in 1975, and you can't do that if you're still in high school. So let's also rule out anyone born after, say, 1958. The perfect age to be in 1975, in other words, is old enough to be a part of the coming revolution but not so old that you missed it. Ideally, you want to be twenty or twenty-one, which is to say, born in 1954 or 1955. There is an easy way to test this theory. When was Bill Gates born? Bill Gates: October 28,1955 That's the perfect birth date! Gates is the hockey player born on January 1. Gates's best friend at Lakeside was Paul Allen. He also hung out in the computer room with Gates and shared those long evenings at ISI and C-Cubed. Allen went on to found Microsoft with Bill Gates. When was Paul Allen born? Paul Allen: January 21, 1953 The third-richest man at Microsoft is the one who has been running the company on a day-to-day basis since 2000, one of the most respected executives in the software world, Steve Ballmer. Ballmer's birth date? Steve Ballmer: March 24,1956 Let's not forget a man every bit as famous as Gates: Steve Jobs, the cofounder of Apple Computer. Unlike Gates, Jobs wasn't from a rich family and he didn't go to Michigan, like Joy. But it doesn't take much investigation of his upbringing to realize that he had his Hamburg too. He grew up in Mountain View, California, just south of San Francisco, which is the absolute epicenter of Silicon Valley. His neighborhood was filled with engineers from Hewlett-Packard, then as now one of the most important electronics firms in the world. As a teenager he prowled the flea markets of Mountain View, where electronics hobbyists and tinkerers sold spare parts. Jobs came of age breathing the air of the very business he would later dominate. This paragraph horn Accidental Millionaire, one of the many Jobs biographies, gives us a sense of how extraordinary his childhood experiences were. Jobs attended evening talks by Hewlett-Packard scientists. The talks were about the latest advances in electronics and Jobs, exercising a style that was a trademark of his personality, collared Hewlett-Packard engineers and drew additional information from them. Once he even called Bill Hewlett, one of the company's founders, to request parts. Jobs not only received the parts he asked for, he managed to wrangle a summer job. Jobs worked on an assembly line to build computers and was so fascinated that he tried to design his own... Wait. Bill Hewlett gave him spare partsThat's on a par with Bill Gates getting unlimited access to a time-share terminal at age thirteen. It's as if you were interested in fashion and your neighbor when you were growing up happened to be Giorgio Armani. And when was Jobs born? Steve Jobs: February 24, 1955 Another of the pioneers of the software revolution was Eric Schmidt. He ran Novell, one of Silicon Valley's most important software firms, and in 2001, he became the chief executive officer of Google. Birth date? Eric Schmidt: April 27, 1955 I don't mean to suggest, of course, that every software tycoon in Silicon Valley was born in 1955. Some weren't, just as not every business titan in the United States was born in the mid-i830s. But there are very clearly patterns here, and what's striking is how little we seem to want to acknowledge them. We pretend that success is exclusively a matter of individual merit. But there's nothing in any of the histories we've looked at so far to suggest things are that simple. These are stories, instead, about people who were given a special opportunity to work really hard and seized it, and who happened to come of age at a time when that extraordinary effort was rewarded by the rest of society. Their success was not just of their own making. It was a product of the world in which they grew up. By the way, let's not forget Bill Joy. Had he been just a little bit older and had he had to face the drudgery of programming with computer cards, he says, he would have studied science. Bill Joy the computer legend would have been Bill Joy the biologist. And had he come along a few years later, the little window that gave him the chance to write the supporting code for the Internet would have closed. Again, Bill Joy the computer legend might well have been Bill Joy the biologist. When was Bill Joy born? Bill Joy: November 8, 1954 Joy would go on, after his stint at Berkeley, to become one of the four founders of Sun Microsystems, one of the oldest and most important of Silicon Valley's software compa nies. And if you still think that accidents of time and place and birth don't matter all that much, here are the birthdays of the three other founders of Sun Microsystems: Scott McNealy: November 13,1954 Vinod Khosla: January 28,1955 Andy Bechtolsheim: September 30, 1955 Outliers, The Story of Success CHAPTER THREE The Trouble with Geniuses, Part 1 “KNOWLEDGE OF A BOY'S IQ IS OF LITTLE HELP IF YOU ARE FACED WITH A FORMFUL OF CLEVER BOYS.” Outliers, The Story of Success 1. In the fifth episode of the 2008 season, the American television quiz show / vs. 100 had as its special guest a man named Christopher Langan. The television show 1 vs. 100 is one of many that sprang up in the wake of the phenomenal success of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire. It features a permanent gallery of one hundred ordinary people who serve as what is called the “mob.” Each week they match wits with a special invited guest. At stake is a million dollars. The guest has to be smart enough to answer more questions correctly than his or her one hundred adversariesand by that standard, few have ever seemed as superbly qualified as Christopher Langan. “Tonight the mob takes on their fiercest competition yet,” the voice-over began. “Meet Chris Langan, who many call the smartest man in America.“ The camera did a slow pan of a stocky, muscular man in his fifties. ”The average person has an IQ of one hundred,“ the voice-over continued. ”Einstein one fifty. Chris has an IQ of one ninety-five. He's currently wrapping his big brain around a theory of the universe. But will his king-size cranium be enough to take down the mob for one million dollarsFind out right now on One versus One Hundred” Out strode Langan onto the stage amid wild applause. “You don't think you need to have a high intellect to do well on One versus One Hundred, do you?” the show's host, Bob Saget, asked him. Saget looked at Langan oddly, as if he were some kind of laboratory specimen. “Actually, I think it could be a hindrance,” Langan replied. He had a deep, certain voice. “To have a high IQ, you tend to specialize, think deep thoughts. You avoid trivia. But now that I see these people”he glanced at the mob, the amusement in his eyes betraying just how ridiculous he found the proceedings “I think I'll do okay.” Over the past decade, Chris Langan has achieved a strange kind of fame. He has become the public face of genius in American life, a celebrity outlier. He gets invited on news shows and profiled in magazines, and he has been the subject of a documentary by the filmmaker Errol Morris, all because of a brain that appears to defy description. The television news show 20/20 once hired a neuropsychologist to give Langan an IQ test, and Langan's score was literally off the chartstoo high to be accurately measured. Another time, Langan took an IQ test specially designed for people too smart for ordinary IQ tests. He got all the questions right except one.“” He was speaking at six months of age. When he was three, he would listen to the radio on Sundays as the announcer read the comics aloud, and he would follow along on his own until he had taught himself to read. At five, he began questioning his grandfather about the existence of Godand remembers being disappointed in the answers he got. In school, Langan could walk into a test in a foreignlanguage class, not having studied at all, and if there were two or three minutes before the instructor arrived, he could skim through the textbook and ace the test. In his early teenage years, while working as a farmhand, he started to read widely in the area of theoretical physics. A t sixteen, he made his way through Bertrand Russell and Alfred North Whitehead's famously abstruse masterpiece Principia Mathematica. H e got a perfect score on his SA T, even though he fell asleep at one point during the test. “He did math for an hour,” his brother Mark says of Langan's summer routine in high school. “Then he did French for an hour. Then he studied Russian. Then he would read philosophy. He did that religiously, every day.” Another of his brothers, Jeff, says, "You know, when Christopher was fourteen or fifteen, he would draw things just as a joke, and it would be like a photograph. When he was fifteen, he could match Jimi Hendrix lick for lick on a guitar. Boom. Boom. Boom. Half the time, Christopher didn't attend school at all. He would just show up for tests * The super IQ test was created by Ronald K. Hoeflin, who is himself someone with an unusually high IQ. Here's a sample question, from the verbal analogies section. “Teeth is to Hen as Nest is to ?” If you want to know the answer, I'm afraid I have no idea. and there was nothing they could do about it. To us, it was hilarious. He could brief a semester's worth of textbooks in two days, and take care of whatever he had to take care of, and then get back to whatever he was doing in the first place."* On the set of / vs. zoo, Langan was poised and confident. His voice was deep. His eyes were small and fiercely bright. He did not circle about topics, searching for the right phrase, or double back to restate a previous sentence. * To get a sense of what Chris Langan must have been like growing up, consider the following description of a child named “L,” who had an IQ in the same 200 range as Langan's. It's from a study by Leta Stetter Hollingworth, who was one of the first psychologists to study exceptionally gifted children. As the description makes obvious, an IQ of 200 is really, really high: "Young L's erudition was astonishing. His passion for scholarly accuracy and thoroughness set a high standard for accomplishment. H e was relatively large, robust and impressive, and was fondly dubbed 'Professor.' His attitudes and abilities were appreciated by both pupils and teachers. He was often allowed to lecture (for as long as an hour) on some special topic, such as the history of timepieces, ancient theories of engine construction, mathematics, and history. He constructed out of odds and ends (typewriter ribbon spools, for example) a homemade clock of the pendular type to illustrate some of the principles of chronometry, and this clock was set up before the class during the enrichment unit on 'Time and Time Keeping' to demonstrate some of the principles of chronometry. His notebooks were marvels of scholarly exposition. “Being discontented with what he considered the inadequate treatment of land travel in a class unit on 'Transportation,' he agreed that time was too limited to do justice to everything. But he insisted that 'at least they should have covered ancient theory.' A s an extra and voluntary project, 'he brought in elaborate drawings and accounts of the ancient theories of engines, locomotives etc'... He was at that time 10 years of age.” For that matter, he did not say um, or ah, or use any form of conversational mitigation: his sentences came marching out, one after another, polished and crisp, like soldiers on a parade ground. Every question Saget threw at him, he tossed aside, as if it were a triviality. When his winnings reached $250,000, he appeared to make a mental calculation that the risks of losing everything were at that point greater than the potential benefits of staying in. Abruptly, he stopped. "I'll take the cash/' he said. He shook Saget's hand firmly and was finishedexiting on top as, we like to think, geniuses invariably do. Outliers, The Story of Success INTRODUCTION Outliers, The Story of Success 2. Just after the First World War, Lewis Terman, a young professor of psychology at Stanford University, met a remarkable boy named Henry Cowell. Cowell had been raised in poverty and chaos. Because he did not get along with other children, he had been unschooled since the age of seven. He worked as a janitor at a one-room schoolhouse not far from the Stanford campus, and throughout the day, Cowell would sneak away from his job and play the school piano. And the music he made was beautiful. Terman's specialty was intelligence testing; the standard IQ test that millions of people around the world would take during the following fifty years, the StanfordBinet, was his creation. So he decided to test CowelPs IQ. The boy must be intelligent, he reasoned, and sure enough, he was. He had an IQ of above 140, which is near genius level. Terman was fascinated. How many other diamonds in the rough were therehe wondered. He began to look for others. He found a girl who knew the alphabet at nineteen months, and another who was reading Dickens and Shakespeare by the time she was four. He found a young man who had been kicked out of law school because his professors did not believe that it was possible for a human being to precisely reproduce long passages of legal opinions from memory. In 1921, Terman decided to make the study of the gifted his life work. Armed with a large grant from the Commonwealth Foundation, he put together a team of fieldworkers and sent them out into California's elementary schools. Teachers were asked to nominate the brightest students in their classes. Those children were given an intelligence test. The students who scored in the top 10 percent were then given a second IQ test, and those who scored above 130 on that test were given a third IQ test, and from that set of results Terman selected the best and the brightest. By the time Terman was finished, he had sorted through the records of some 250,000 elementary and high school students, and identified 1,470 children whose IQs averaged over 140 and ranged as high as 200. That group of young geniuses came to be known as the “Termites,” and they were the subjects of what would become one of the most famous psychological studies in history. For the rest of his life, Terman watched over his charges like a mother hen. They were tracked and tested, measured and analyzed. Their educational attainments were noted, marriages followed, illnesses tabulated, psychological health charted, and every promotion and job change dutifully recorded. Terman wrote his recruits letters of recommen- dation for jobs and graduate school applications. He doled out a constant stream of advice and counsel, all the time recording his findings in thick red volumes entitled Genetic Studies of Genius. “There is nothing about an individual as important as his IQ, except possibly his morals,” Terman once said. And it was to those with a very high IQ, he believed, that “we must look for production of leaders who advance science, art, government, education and social welfare generally.” As his subjects grew older, Terman issued updates on their progress, chronicling their extraordinary achievements. “It is almost impossible,” Terman wrote giddily, when his charges were in high school, “to read a newspaper account of any sort of competition or activity in which California boys and girls participate without finding among the winners the names of one or more...members of our gifted group.” He took writing samples from some of his most artistically minded subjects and had literary critics compare them to the early writings of famous authors. They could find no difference. All the signs pointed, he said, to a group with the potential for “heroic stature.” Terman believed that his Termites were destined to be the future elite of the United States. Today, many of Terman's ideas remain central to the way we think about success. Schools have programs for the “gifted.” Elite universities often require that students take an intelligence test (such as the American Scholastic Aptitude Test) for admission. High-tech companies like Google or Microsoft carefully measure the cognitive abilities of prospective employees out of the same belief: they are convinced that those at the very top of the IQ scale have the greatest potential. (At Microsoft, famously, job applicants are asked a battery of questions designed to test their smarts, including the classic “Why are manhole covers round?” If you don't know the answer to that question, you're not smart enough to work at Microsoft.*) If I had magical powers and offered to raise your IQ by 30 points, you'd say yesrightYou'd assume that would help you get further ahead in the world. And when we hear about someone like Chris Langan, our instinctive response is the same as Terman's instinctive response when he met Henry Cowell almost a century ago. We feel awe. Geniuses are the ultimate outliers. Surely there is nothing that can hold someone like that back. But is that true? So far in Outliers, we've seen that extraordinary achievement is less about talent than it is about opportu nity. In this chapter, I want to try to dig deeper into why that's the case by looking at the outlier in its purest and most distilled formthe genius. For years, we've taken our cues from people like Terman when it comes to understanding the significance of high intelligence. But, as we shall see, Terman made an error. He was wrong about his Termites, and had he happened on the young Chris Langan working his way through Principia Mathematica at the age of sixteen, he would have been wrong about him * The answer is that a round manhole cover can't fall into the manhole, no matter how much you twist and turn it. A rectangular cover can: All you have to do is tilt it sideways. There: now you can get a job at Microsoft. for the same reason. Terman didn't understand what a real outlier was, and that's a mistake we continue to make to this day. Outliers, The Story of Success 3. One of the most widely used intelligence tests is something called Raven's Progressive Matrices. It requires no language skills or specifie body of acquired knowledge. It's a measure of abstract reasoning skills. A typical Raven's test consists of forty-eight items, each one harder than the one before it, and IQ is calculated based on how many items are answered correctly. Here's a question, typical of the sort that is asked on the Raven's. Did you get thatI'm guessing most of you did. The correct answer is C. But now try this one. It's the kind of really hard question that comes at the end of the Raven's. The correct answer is A. I have to confess I couldn't figure this one out, and I'm guessing most of you couldn't either. Chris Langan almost certainly could, however. When we say that people like Langan are really brilliant, what we mean is that they have the kind of mind that can figure out puzzles like that last question. Over the years, an enormous amount of research has been done in an attempt to determine how a person's performance on an IQ test like the Raven's translates to reallife success. People at the bottom of the scalewith an IQ below 70are considered mentally disabled. A score of ioo is average; you probably need to be just above that mark to be able to handle college. To get into and succeed in a reasonably competitive graduate program, meanwhile, you probably need an IQ of at least 115. In general, the higher your score, the more education you'll get, the more money you're likely to make, andbelieve it or notthe longer you'll live. But there's a catch. The relationship between success and IQ works only up to a point. Once someone has reached an IQ of somewhere around 120, having additional IQ points doesn't seem to translate into any measurable real-world advantage.* “It is amply proved that someone with an IQ of 170 is more likely to think well than someone whose IQ is 70,” the * The “IQ fundamentalist” Arthur Jensen put it thusly in his 1980 book Bias in Mental Testing (p. 113): “The four socially and personally most important threshold regions on the I Q scale are those that differentiate with high probability between persons who, because of their level of general mental ability, can or cannot attend a regular school (about IQ 50), can or cannot master the traditional subject matter of elementary school (about IQ 75),can or cannot succeed in the academic or college preparatory curriculum through high school (about IQ 105), can or cannot graduate from an accredited four-year college with grades that would qualify for admission to a professional or graduate school (about IQ 115). Beyond this, the IQ level becomes relatively unimportant in terms of ordinary occupational aspirations and criteria of success. That is not to say that there are not real differences between the intellectual capabilities represented by IQs of 115 and 150 or even between IQs of 150 and 180. But IQ differences in this upper part of the scale have far less personal implications than the thresholds just described and are generally of lesser importance for success in the popular sense than are certain traits of personality and character.” British psychologist Liam Hudson has written, “and this holds true where the comparison is much closerbetween IQs of, say, 100 and 130.But the relation seems to break down when one is making comparisons between two people both of whom have IQs which are relatively high....A mature scientist with an adult IQ of 130 is as likely to win a Nobel Prize as is one whose IQ is 180.” What Hudson is saying is that IQ is a lot like height in basketball. Does someone who is five foot six have a realistic chance of playing professional basketballNot really. You need to be at least six foot or six one to play at that level, and, all things being equal, it's probably better to be six two than six one, and better to be six three than six two. But past a certain point, height stops mattering so much. A player who is six foot eight is not automatically better than someone two inches shorter. (Michael Jordan, the greatest player ever, was six six after all.) A basketball player only has to be tall enoughand the same is true of intelligence. Intelligence has a threshold. The introduction to the / vs. 100 episode pointed out that Einstein had an IQ of 150 and Langan has an IQ of 195.Langan's IQ is 30percent higher than Einstein's. But that doesn't mean Langan is 30percent smarter than Einstein. That's ridiculous. All we can say is that when it comes to thinking about really hard things like physics, they are both clearly smart enough. The idea that I Q has a threshold, I realize, goes against our intuition. We think that, say, Nobel Prize winners in science must have the highest IQ scores imaginable; that they must be the kinds of people who got perfect scores on their entrance examinations to college, won every scholar- ship available, and had such stellar academic records in high school that they were scooped up by the top universities in the country. But take a look at the following list of where the last twenty-five Americans to win the Nobel Prize in Medicine got their undergraduate degrees, starting in 2007. Antioch College Brown University UC Berkeley University of Washington Columbia University Case Institute of Technology MIT Caltech Harvard University Hamilton College Columbia University University of North Carolina DePauw University University of Pennsylvania University of Minnesota University of Notre Dame Johns Hopkins University Yale University Union College, Kentucky University of Illinois University of Texas Holy Cross Amherst College Gettysburg College Hunter College N o one would say that this list represents the college choices of the absolute best high school students in America. Yale and Columbia and MIT are on the list, but so are DePauw, Holy Cross, and Gettysburg College. It's a list of good schools. A long the same lines, here are the colleges of the last twenty-five American Nobel laureates in Chemistry: City College ofNew York City College ofNew York Stanford University University of Dayton, Ohio Rollins College, Florida MIT Grinnell College MIT McGill University Georgia Institute of Technology Ohio Wesleyan University Rice University Hope College Brigham Young University University of Toronto University ofNebraska Dartmouth College Harvard University Berea College Augsburg College University of Massachusetts Washington State University University of Florida University of California, Riverside Harvard University To be a Nobel Prize winner, apparently, you have to be smart enough to get into a college at least as good as Notre Dame or the University of Illinois. That's all.* This is a radical idea, isn't itSuppose that your teenage daughter found out that she had been accepted at two universities Harvard University and Georgetown University, in Washington, DC. Where would you want her to goI'm guessing Harvard, because Harvard is a “better” school. Its students score a good 10 to 15 percent higher on their entrance exams. But given what we are learning about intelligence, the idea that schools can be ranked, like runners in a race, makes no sense. Georgetown's students may not be as smart on an absolute scale as the students of Harvard. But they are all, clearly, smart enough, and future Nobel Prize winners come from schools like Georgetown as well as from schools like Harvard. The psychologist Barry Schwartz recently proposed that elite schools give up their complex admissions process and simply hold a lottery for everyone above the * Just to be clear: it is still the case that Harvard produces more Nobel Prize winners than any other school. Just look at those lists. Harvard appears on both of them, a total of three times. A school like Holy Cross appears just once. But wouldn't you expect schools like Harvard to win more Nobels than they doHarvard is, after all, the richest, most prestigious school in history and has its pick of the most brilliant undergraduates the world over. threshold. “Put people into two categories,” Schwartz says. “Good enough and not good enough. The ones who are good enough get put into a hat. And those who are not good enough get rejected.” Schwartz concedes that his idea has virtually n o chance o f being accepted. But he's absolutely right. A s Hudson writes (and keep in mind that he did his research at elite all-male English boarding schools in the 1950s and 1960s), “Knowledge of a boy's IQ is of little help if you are faced with aformful of clever boys.”'' Let me give you an example of the threshold effect in action. The University of Michigan law school, like many elite US educational institutions, uses a policy of affirmative action when it comes to applicants from disadvantaged backgrounds. Around 10 percent of the students Michigan enrolls each fall are members of racial minorities, and if the law school did not significantly relax its entry requirements for those studentsadmitting them with lower undergraduate grades and lower standardized-test scores than everyone elseit estimates that percentage would be less than 3 percent. Furthermore, if we compare the grades that the minority and nonminority students get in * To get a sense of how absurd the selection process at elite Ivy League schools has become, consider the following statistics. In 2 0 0 8 , 2 7 , 4 6 2 of the most highly qualified high school seniors in the world applied to Harvard University. Of these students, 2,500 of them scored a perfect 800 on the SAT critical reading test and 3,300 had aperfect score on the SAT math exam. More than 3,300 were rankedfirstin their high school class. How many did Harvard acceptAbout 1,600, which is to say they rejected 93 out of every 100 applicants. Is it really possible to say that one student is Harvard material and another isn't, when both have identicaland perfectacademic recordsOf course not. Harvard is being dishonest. Schwartz is right. They should just have a lottery. law school, we see that the white students do better. That's not surprising: if one group has higher undergraduate grades and test scores than the other, it's almost certainly going to have higher grades in law school as well. This is one reason that affirmative action programs are so controversial. In fact, an attack on the University of Michigan's affirmative action program recently went all the way to the US Supreme Court. For many people it is troubling that an elite educational institution lets in students who are less qualified than their peers. A few years ago, however, the University of Michigan decided to look closely at how the law school's minority students had fared after they graduated. How much money did they makeHow far up in the profession did they goHow satisfied were they with their careersWhat kind of social and community contributions did they makeWhat kind of honors had they wonThey looked at everything that could conceivably be an indication of real-world success. And what they found surprised them. “We knew that our minority students, a lot of them, were doing well,” says Richard Lempert, one of the authors of the Michigan study. “I think our expectation was that we would find a halfor two-thirds-full glass, that they had not done as well as the white students but nonetheless a lot were quite successful. But we were completely surprised. We found that they were doing every bit as well. There was no place we saw any serious discrepancy.” What Lempert is saying is that by the only measure that a law school really ought to care abouthow well its graduates do in the real worldminority students aren't less qualified. They're just as successful as white students. And whyBecause even though the academic credentials of minority students at Michigan aren't as good as those of white students, the quality of students at the law school is high enough that they're still above the threshold. They are smart enough. Knowledge of a law student's test scores is of little help if you are faced with a classroom of clever law students. Outliers, The Story of Success 4. Let's take the threshold idea one step further. If intelligence matters only up to a point, then past that point, other thingsthings that have nothing to do with intelligencemust start to matter more. It's like basketball again: once someone is tall enough, then we start to care about speed and court sense and agility and ballhandling skills and shooting touch. So, what might some of those other things beWell, suppose that instead of measuring your IQ, I gave you a totally different kind of test. Write down as many different uses that you can think of for the following objects: 1. a brick 2. a blanket This is an example of what's called a “divergence test” (as opposed to a test like the Raven's, which asks you to sort through a list of possibilities and converge on the right answer). It requires you to use your imagination and take your mind in as many different directions as possible. With a divergence test, obviously there isn't a single right answer. What the test giver is looking for are the number and the uniqueness of your responses. And what the test is measuring isn't analytical intelligence but something profoundly differentsomething much closer to creativity. Divergence tests are every bit as challenging as convergence tests, and if you don't believe that, I encourage you to pause and try the brick-and-blanket test right now. Here, for example, are answers to the “uses of objects” test collected by Liam Hudson from a student named Poole at a top British high school: (Brick). To use in smash-and-grab raids. To help hold a house together. To use in a game of Russian roulette if you want to keep fit at the same time (bricks at ten paces, turn and throwno evasive action allowed). To hold the eiderdown on a bed tie a brick at each corner. As a breaker of empty Coca-Cola bottles. (Blanket). To use on a bed. As a cover for illicit sex in the woods. As a tent. To make smoke signals with. As a sail for a boat, cart or sled. As a substitute for a towel. As a target for shooting practice for short-sighted people. As a thing to catch people jumping out of burning skyscrapers. It's not hard to read Poole's answers and get some sense of how his mind works. He's funny. He's a little subversive and libidinous. He has the flair for the dramatic. His mind leaps from violent imagery to sex to people jumping out of burning skyscrapers to very practical issues, such as how to get a duvet to stay on a bed. He gives us the impression that if we gave him another ten minutes, he'd come up with another twenty uses.* Now, for the sake of comparison, consider the answers of another student from Hudson's sample. His name is Florence. Hudson tells us that Florence is a prodigy, with one of the highest IQs in his school. (Brick). Building things, throwing. (Blanket). Keeping warm, smothering fire, tying to trees and sleeping in (as a hammock), improvised stretcher. Where is Florence's imaginationHe identified the most common and most functional uses for bricks and blankets and simply stopped. Florence's IQ is higher than Poole's. But that means little, since both students are above the threshold. What is more interesting is that Poole's mind can leap from violent imagery to sex to people jumping out of buildings without missing a beat, and Florence's mind can't. Now which of these two students do you think is better suited to do the kind of brilliant, imaginative work that wins Nobel Prizes? * Here's another student's answers. These might be even better than Poole's: “(Brick). To break windows for robbery, to determine depth of wells, to use as ammunition, as pendulum, to practice carving, wall building, to demonstrate Archimedes' Principle, as part of abstract sculpture, costh, ballast, weight for dropping things in river, etc., as a hammer, keep door open, footwiper, use as rubble for path filling, chock, weight on scale, to prop up wobbly table, paperweight, as firehearth, to block up rabbit hole.” That's the second reason Nobel Prize winners come from Holy Cross as well as Harvard, because Harvard isn't selecting its students on the basis of how well they do on the “uses of a brick” testand maybe “uses of a brick” is a better predictor of Nobel Prize ability. It's also the second reason Michigan Law School couldn't find a difference between its affirmative action graduates and the rest of its alumni. Being a successful lawyer is about a lot more than IQ. It involves having the kind of fertile mind that Poole had. And just because Michigan's minority students have lower scores on convergence tests doesn't mean they don't have that other critical trait in abundance. Outliers, The Story of Success 5. This was Terman's error. He fell in love with the fact that his Termites were at the absolute pinnacle of the intellectual scaleat the ninety-ninth percentile of the ninety-ninth percentilewithout realizing how little that seemingly extraordinary fact meant. By the time the Termites reached adulthood, Terman's error was plain to see. Some of his child geniuses had grown up to publish books and scholarly articles and thrive in busi ness. Several ran for public office, and there were two superior court justices, one municipal court judge, two members of the California state legislature, and one prominent state official. But few of his geniuses were nationally known figures. They tended to earn good incomesbut not that good. The majority had careers that could only be considered ordinary, and a surprising number ended up with careers that even Terman considered failures. Nor were there any Nobel Prize winners in his exhaustively selected group of geniuses. His fieldworkers actually tested two elementary students who went on to be Nobel laureatesWilliam Shockley and Luis Alvarezand rejected them both. Their IQs weren't high enough. In a devastating critique, the sociologist Pitirim Sorokin once showed that if Terman had simply put together a randomly selected group of children from the same kinds of family backgrounds as the Termitesand dispensed with IQs altogetherhe would have ended up with a group doing almost as many impressive things as his painstakingly selected group of geniuses. “By no stretch of the imagination or of standards of genius,” Sorokin con cluded, “is the 'gifted group' as a whole 'gifted.' ” By the time Terman came out with his fourth volume of Genetic Studies of Genius, the word “genius” had all but vanished. “We have seen,” Terman concluded, with more than a touch of disappointment, “that intellect and achievement are far from perfectly correlated.” What I told you at the beginning of this chapter about the extraordinary intelligence of Chris Langan, in other words, is of little use if we want to understand his chances of being a success in the world. Yes,he is a man with a one-in-a-million mind and the ability to get through Principia Mathematica at sixteen. And yes, his sentences come marching out one after another, polished and crisp like soldiers on a parade ground. But so whatIf we want to understand the likelihood of his becoming a true outlier, we have to know a lot more about him than that. Outliers, The Story of Success CHAPTER FOUR The Trouble with Geniuses, Part 2 “AFTER PROTRACTED NEGOTIATIONS, IT WAS AGREED THAT ROBERT WOULD BE PUT ON PROBATION.” Outliers, The Story of Success 1. Chris Langan's mother was from San Francisco and was estranged from her family. She had four sons, each with a different father. Chris was the eldest. His father disappeared before Chris was born; he was said to have died in Mexico. His mother's second husband was murdered. Her third committed suicide. Her fourth was a failed journalist named Jack Langan. “To this day I haven't met anybody who was as poor when they were kids as our family was,” Chris Langan says. “We didn't have a pair of matched socks. Our shoes had holes in them. Our pants had holes in them. We only had one set of clothes. I remember my brothers and I going into the bathroom and using the bathtub to wash our only set of clothes and we were bare-assed naked when we were doing that because we didn't have anything to wear.” Jack Langan would go on drinking sprees and disappear. He would lock the kitchen cabinets so the boys couldn't get to the food. He used a bullwhip to keep the boys in line. He would get jobs and then lose them, moving the family on to the next town. One summer the family lived on an Indian reservation in a teepee, subsisting on governmentsurplus peanut butter and cornmeal. For a time, they lived in Virginia City, Nevada. “There was only one law officer in town, and when the Hell's Angels came to town, he would crouch down in the back of his office,” Mark Langan remembers. “There was a bar there, I'll always remember. It was called the Bucket of Blood Saloon.” When the boys were in grade school, the family moved to Bozeman, Montana. One of Chris's brothers spent time in a foster home. A nother was sent to reform school. “I don't think the school ever understood just how gifted Christopher was,” his brother Jeff says. “He sure as hell didn't play it up. This was Bozeman. It wasn't like it is today. It was a small hick town when we were growing up. We weren't treated well there. They'd just decided that my family was a bunch of deadbeats.” T o stick up for himself and his brothers, Chris started to lift weights. One day, when Chris was fourteen, Jack Langan got rough with the boys, as he sometimes did, and Chris knocked him out cold. Jack left, never to return. Upon graduation from high school, Chris was offered two full scholarships, one to Reed College in Oregon and the other to the University of Chicago. He chose Reed. “It was a huge mistake,” Chris recalls. “I had a real case of culture shock. I was a crew-cut kid who had been working as a ranch hand in the summers in Montana, and there I was, with a whole bunch of long-haired city kids, most of them from New York. And these kids had a whole different style than I was used to. I couldn't get a word in edgewise at class. They were very inquisitive. Asking questions all the time. I was crammed into a dorm room. There were four of us, and the other three guys had a whole different other lifestyle. They were smoking pot. They would bring their girlfriends into the room. I had never smoked pot before. So basically I took to hiding in the library.” He continued: “Then I lost that scholarship My mother was supposed to fill out a parents' financial statement for the renewal of that scholarship. She neglected to do so. She was confused by the requirements or whatever. At some point, it came to my attention that my scholarship had not been renewed. So I went to the office to ask why, and they told me, Well, no one sent us the financial statement, and we allocated all the scholarship money and it's all gone, so I'm afraid that you don't have a scholarship here anymore. That was the style of the place. They simply didn't care. They didn't give a shit about their students. There was no counseling, no mentoring, nothing.” Chris left Reed before the final set of exams, leaving him with a row of Fs on his transcript. In the first semester, he had earned As. He went back to Bozeman and worked in construction and as a forest services firefighter for a year and a half. Then he enrolled at Montana State University. “I was taking math and philosophy classes,” he recalled. “And then in the winter quarter, I was living thirteen miles out of town, out on Beach Hill Road, and the transmission fell out of my car. My brothers had used it when I was gone that summer. They were working for the railroad and had driven it on the railroad tracks. I didn't have the money to repair it. So I went to my adviser and the dean in sequence and said, I have a problem. The transmission fell out of my car, and you have me in a seven-thirty a.m. and eight-thirty a.m. class. If you could please just transfer me to the afternoon sections of these classes, I would appreciate it because of this car problem. There was a neighbor who was a rancher who was going to take me in at eleven o'clock. My adviser was this cowboy-looking guy with a handlebar mustache, dressed in a tweed jacket. He said, 'Well, son, after looking at your transcript at Reed College, I see that you have yet to learn that everyone has to make sacrifices to get an education. Request denied.' So then I went to the dean. Same treatment.” His voice grew tight. He was describing things that had happened more than thirty years ago, but the memory still made him angry. “At that point I realized, here I was, knocking myself out to make the money to make my way back to school, and it's the middle of the Montana winter. I am willing to hitchhike into town every day, do whatever I had to do, just to get into school and back, and they are unwilling to do anything for me. So bananas. And that was the point I decided I could do without the higher-education system. Even if I couldn't do without it, it was sufficiently repugnant to me that I wouldn't do it anymore. So I dropped out of college, simple as that.” Chris Langan's experiences at Reed and Montana State represented a turning point in his life. As a child, he had dreamt of becoming an academic. He should have gotten a PhD; universities are institutions structured, in large part, for people with his kind of deep intellectual interests and curiosity. “Once he got into the university environment, I thought he would prosper, I really did/' his brother Mark says. ”I thought he would somehow find a niche. It made absolutely no sense to me when he left that." Without a degree, Langan floundered. He worked in construction. One frigid winter he worked on a clam boat on Long Island. He took factory jobs and minor civil service positions and eventually became a bouncer in a bar on Long Island, which was his principal occupation for much of his adult years. Through it all, he continued to read deeply in philosophy, mathematics, and physics as he worked on a sprawling treatise he calls the “ C T M U ” t h e “Cognitive Theoretic Model of the Universe.” But without academic credentials, he despairs of ever getting published in a scholarly journal. “I am a guy who has a year and a half of college,” he says, with a shrug. “And at some point this will come to the attention of the editor, as he is going to take the paper and send it off to the referees, and these referees are going to try and look me up, and they are not going to find me. And they are going to say, This guy has a year and a half of college. How can he know what he's talking about?” It is a heartbreaking story. At one point I asked Langan hypotheticallywhether he would take a job at Harvard University were it offered to him. “Well, that's a difficult question,” he replied. "Obviously, as a full professor at Harvard I would count. My ideas would have weight and I could use my position, my affiliation at Harvard, to promote my ideas. A n institution like that is a great source of intellectual energy, and if I were at a place like that, I could absorb the vibration in the air.“ It was suddenly clear how lonely his life has been. Here he was, a man with an insatiable appetite for learning, forced for most of his adult life to live in intellectual isolation. ”I even noticed that kind of intellectual energy in the year and a half I was in college,“ he said, almost wistfully. ”Ideas are in the air constantly. It's such a stimulating place to be. “On the other hand,” he went on, “Harvard is basically a glorified corporation, operating with a profit incentive. That's what makes it tick. It has an endowment in the billions of dollars. The people running it are not necessarily searching for truth and knowledge. They want to be big shots, and when you accept a paycheck from these people, it is going to come down to what you want to do and what you feel is right versus what the man says you can do to receive another paycheck. When you're there, they got a thumb right on you. They are out to make sure you don't step out of line.” Outliers, The Story of Success 2. What does the story of Chris Langan tell usHis explanations, as heartbreaking as they are, are also a little strange. His mother forgets to sign his financial aid form andjust like thatno scholarship. He tries to move from a morning to an afternoon class, something students do every day, and gets stopped cold. And why were Langan's teachers at Reed and Montana State so indifferent to his plightTeachers typically delight in minds as brilliant as his. Langan talks about dealing with Reed and Montana State as if they were some kind of vast and unyielding govern ment bureaucracy. But colleges, particularly small liberal arts colleges like Reed, tend not to be rigid bureaucracies. Making allowances in the name of helping someone stay in school is what professors do all the time. Even in his discussion of Harvard, it's as if Langan has no conception of the culture and particulars of the institution he's talking about. When you accept a paycheck from these people, it is going to come down to what you want to do and what you feel is right versus what the man says you can do to receive another paycheck. WhatOne of the main reasons college professors accept a lower paycheck than they could get in private industry is that university life gives them the freedom to do what they want to do and what they feel is right. Langan has Harvard backwards. When Langan told me his life story, I couldn't help thinking of the life of Robert Oppenheimer, the physicist who famously headed the American effort to develop the nuclear bomb during World War II. Oppenheimer, by all accounts, was a child with a mind very much like Chris Langan's. His parents considered him a genius. One of his teachers recalled that “he received every new idea as perfectly beautiful.” He was doing lab experiments by the third grade and studying physics and chemistry by the fifth grade. When he was nine, he once told one of his cousins, “Ask me a question in Latin and I will answer you in Greek.” Oppenheimer went to Harvard and then on to Cambridge University to pursue a doctorate in physics. There, Oppenheimer, who struggled with depression his entire life, grew despondent. His gift was for theoretical physics, and his tutor, a man named Patrick Blackett (who would win a Nobel Prize in 1948), was forcing him to attend to the minutiae of experimental physics, which he hated. He grew more and more emotionally unstable, and then, in an act so strange that to this day no one has properly made sense of it, Oppenheimer took some chemicals from the laboratory and tried to poison his tutor. Blackett, luckily, found out that something was amiss. The university was informed. Oppenheimer was called on the carpet. And what happened next is every bit as unbe lievable as the crime itself. Here is how the incident is described in American Prometheus, Kai Bird and Martin Sherwin's biography of Oppenheimer: “After protracted negotiations, it was agreed that Robert would be put on probation and have regular sessions with a prominent Harley Street psychiatrist in London.” On probation? Here we have two very brilliant young students, each of whom runs into a problem that imperils his college career. Langan s mother has missed a deadline for his financial aid. Oppenheimer has tried to poison his tutor. To continue on, they are required to plead their cases to authority. And what happensLangan gets his scholarship taken away, and Oppenheimer gets sent to a psychiatrist. Oppenheimer and Langan might both be geniuses, but in other ways, they could not be more different. The story of Oppenheimer's appointment to be scientific director of the Manhattan Project twenty years later is perhaps an even better example of this difference. The gen eral in charge of the Manhattan Project was Leslie Groves, and he scoured the country, trying to find the right person to lead the atomic-bomb effort. Oppenheimer, by rights, was a long shot. He was just thirty-eight, and junior to many of the people whom he would have to manage. He was a theorist, and this was a job that called for experimenters and engineers. His political affiliations were dodgy: he had all kinds of friends who were Communists. Perhaps more striking, he had never had any administrative experience. “He was a very impractical fellow,” one of Oppenheimer's friends later said. “He walked about with scuffed shoes and a funny hat, and, more important, he didn't know anything about equipment.” As one Berkeley scientist put it, more succinctly: “He couldn't run a hamburger stand.” Oh, and by the way, in graduate school he tried to kill his tutor. This was the resume of the man who was trying out for what might be said to bewithout exaggeration one of the most important jobs of the twentieth century. And what happened The same thing that happened twenty years earlier at Cambridge: he got the rest of the world to see things his way. Here are Bird and Sherwin again: “Oppenheimer understood that Groves guarded the entrance to the Manhattan Project, and he therefore turned on all his charm and bril liance. It was an irresistible performance.” Groves was smitten. “'He's a genius,' Groves later told a reporter. 'A real genius.' ” Groves was an engineer by training with a graduate degree from MIT, and Oppenheimer's great insight was to appeal to that side of Groves. Bird and Sherwin go on: "Oppenheimer was the first scientist Groves had met on his tour [of potential candidates] who grasped that building an atomic bomb required finding practical solutions to a variety of cross-disciplinary problems [Groves] found himself nodding in agreement when Oppenheimer pitched the notion of a central laboratory devoted to this purpose, where, as he later testified, 'we could begin to come to grips with chemical, metallurgical, engineering and ordnance prob