A common theme that appears throughout Outliers is the "10,000-Hour Rule", based on a study by Anders Ericsson. Gladwell claims that greatness requires enormous time, using the source of The Beatles' musical talents and Gates' computer savvy as examples. The Beatles performed live in Hamburg, Germany over 1,200 times from 1960 to 1964, amassing more than 10,000 hours of playing time, therefore meeting the 10,000-Hour Rule. Gladwell asserts that all of the time The Beatles spent performing shaped their talent, "so by the time they returned to England from Hamburg, Germany, 'they sounded like no one else. It was the making of them." Gates met the 10,000-Hour Rule when he gained access to a high school computer in 1968 at the age of 13, and spent 10,000 hours programming on it.On one level this is all good information and one can see why the book debuted at number one on the best-sellers lists. To the obvious objections that it takes a lot more than just putting in the hours, he cites some telling anecdotes of brilliant people who led lives of obscurity because they lacked the social and cultural capital to make use of their talents. But on another level this book, like so many, many others, promises insights that it doesn't really deliver. We probably already know that if you are smart and work a long time in a disciplined way you are likely to achieve success if you have the right contacts. This is not a secret. But by folding in some supposedly novel elements like the precise number of hours required--10,000--and by using a semi-clever statistical concept--outliers--and by mixing in a little autobiography, Mr. Gladwell sold a lot of books. But while he may have re-stated some of the factors underlying success, I think he left the more interesting questions untouched. Take the Beatles, for example. Sure, they became a high-energy, well-coordinated band during those years in the trenches in Hamburg. But there were dozens and dozens of other bands that probably worked just as hard. The Beatles had a certain sound, but so did the Stones and the Yardbirds and others. What the Beatles also had were their own songs--it was songwriting that put them over the top. I doubt anyone has answers to the question where did "Love Me Do" come from, or "I Want to Hold Your Hand" let alone "Strawberry Fields Forever".
What I hate about books like this is that they purport to demystify something. Someone reads the book and as they put it down they muse to themselves, "ah yes, now I understand how some people become successful". Sure, they have been walked through some simple ideas and some anecdotes, but I doubt very much if they have any actual insights into anything. The truth lies in the details. Take that 10,000 hours. I'm pretty sure that if you put 10,000 hours into something you will make some progress. But I think the very number itself is designed to benumb your mind. "Wow" you say, "what a lot of hours". But it is really a meaningless number. There are things that you will not master even in 10,000 hours and others that will come to you in 10 hours. It is more in how you approach the problem than in the sheer amount of time. From many years of teaching guitar I know that most practice time is simply wasted doing the wrong thing in the wrong way.
The main thing wrong with books like this is that genius lies in the details, not the generalities.