“Outlier” is a scientific term to describe things or phenomena that lie outside normal experience. In the summer, in Paris, we expect most days to be somewhere between warm and very hot. But imagine if you had a day in the middle of August where the temperature fell below freezing. That day would be outlier. And while we have a very good understanding of why summer days in Paris are warm or hot, we know a good deal less about why a summer day in Paris might be freezing cold. In this book I’m interested in people who are outliers—in men and women who, for one reason or another, are so accomplished and so extraordinary and so outside of ordinary experience that they are as puzzling to the rest of us as a cold day in August.
Gladwell talks a lot about how environment, culture, and other circumstances breed success. On his web site again:
I do think that we vastly underestimate the extent to which success happens because of things the individual has nothing to do with. Outliers opens, for example, by examining why a hugely disproportionate number of professional hockey and soccer players are born in January, February and March. I’m not going to spoil things for you by giving you the answer. But the point is that very best hockey players are people who are talented and work hard but who also benefit from the weird and largely unexamined and peculiar ways in which their world is organized.
What Gladwell is saying is that we do have to work hard to be successful, but we also have to give credit to other circumstances beyond our control. It is an interesting idea, to say the least, and he offers many great and interesting insights as well.
One really interesting story is about the Beatles, probably one of the greatest bands ever. Gladwell tells their story in his chapter entitled, “The 10,000 Hour Rule.” In it, Gladwell positst that you have to spend 10,000 hours practicing something before you become a real master at it. The Beatles performed 1,200 times live in Hamburg before they ever made it to the USA and became superstars. They played 8-hour sessions in strip clubs in Hamburg to develop their talents.
President Howard Hunter said, True greatness “always requires regular, consistent small, and sometimes ordinary and mundane steps over a long period of time.” Ten thousand hours is truly a long time. How can a person get that much time in anything that they don’t do over the course of many, many years?
Gladwell also writes the story of the world’s smartest man, Chris Langan. He lives in Missouri and writes about theories of the universe. He gets up in the morning, takes care of his animals and gets to working on what he was working on the night before. He says, “I found if I go to bed witha question on mind, all I have to do is concentrate on the question before I go to sleep and I virtually always have the answer in the morning” (113). Langan does what we would call pondering or meditation. We know from scripture that pondering is what leads us to the answers that we need.
In 1 Nephi 11:1, Nephi wanted to understand the vision of the Tree of Life that Lehi had explained to him:
For it came to pass after I had desired to know the things that my father had seen, and believing that the Lord was able to make them known unto me, as I sat pondering in mine heart I was caught away in the Spirit of the Lord, yea, into an exceedingly high mountain, which I never had before seen, and upon which I never had before set my foot. (emphasis added)
Nephi not only wanted to understand the vision, but he took the steps necessary to see it for himself. He was not interested in merely having a general idea of the vision. He wanted to know it for himself. He did that when he pondered out the problem.
Another example of the blessing of pondering takes place in modern times. Joseph Smith was pondering the resurrection as he was translating John 5:29, “And shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation.” He wanted to know more about the resurrection, for this verse caused him to “marvel.” He also pondered on that scripture and received one of the most glorious revelations in these modern times, D&C 76. He and Sydney Rigdon “…meditated upon these things, [and] the Lord touched the eyes of our understandings and they were opened, and the glory of the Lord shone round about” (verse 19). When we ponder about things, we can receive revelation that we need to solve a problem. Sadly, it is not something that most of us do often enough. If it is good enough for prophets and the smartest man in the world, it should be good enough for us.
Finally, tying this back to Outliers, Gladwell’s real point is that “no one–not rock stars, not professional athletes, not software billionaires, [not prophets], and not even geniuses–ever makes it alone” (115). There are many scriptures which remind us that we cannot do it alone. We must rely on our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. He is mighty to save. As we read in D&C 3:20, “…and that they may believe the gospel and rely upon the merits of Jesus Christ, and be glorified through faith in his name, and that through their repentance they might be saved…”
It is true as Gladwell states that we need to spend time to become masters at something. We need to rely on others to become something more than just a human. We need to rely on our Savior.