Outliers

As related last time, I have been reading more lately.  And the best book has been “Outliers”. It is the number 1 bestseller on the New York Times non-fiction list.

The book studies many types of “outliers”.  The first group are individuals like Bill Gates.  And the book makes the point that these people are not so extraordinary as they are people who were in the right places for extended periods of time.  Gates was introduced to computer programming in Junior High School and was able to get individual access to computers in the late 1960s when this was virtually impossible.  So when the Altair came along he and Paul Allen (his friend) were perhaps some of the only young people with sufficient experience to write a computer language for this new “personal computer”.

Over and over you find this same pattern in what appear to be brilliant people.  Let me cite 2 more “outliers” and their books for you to verify.

One is “The Snowball” which is the biography of Warren Buffett.  The most interesting part of this read are the stories of his paper route when he was in Washington DC where he earned more as a teenager than his teachers in school did!  He started early, and dug in deeply to learn about how to efficiently earn money.  He was an outlier from the beginning.

But even more interesting is “Born Standing Up” which is the autobiography of Steve Martin.  He begins his 20 year journey to big time fame as a comedian by working in the parking lot at Knott’s Berry Farm (a Disneyland like place).  Over time he advances to the magic shop and then to doing small performances, etc.  But key again is that fame took 20 years and there were many times that the outcome was in doubt.

The book outliers makes this point. It takes about 10,000 hours of focused effort in one direction to really be an expert.

My experience bears this out.  I worked in fiber optics at Bell Labs in the early 1980s and worked in the area of passive optical components.  And then in 1984, I started my first company and it failed with in one year.  From there I went to another company and did a different part of fiber optics (systems and electronics).  Finisar was founded in 1988 and again I was able to continue as an individual contributor or small group leader for another nearly 10 years.  Over this time I learned about lasers, photodiodes, integrated circuits, manufacturing, quality and so forth from the ground up.

Honestly it took me much longer than 10,000 hours to achieve what success that eventually came.  But I felt a kinship with Steve Martin, Warren Buffett and even Bill Gates.  Our paths were long and not elegant all of the time.  Filled with passion and often more than a fair amount of luck.

I highly recommend the book Outliers …

Posted in Investing, Personal Stories, StartUp Ideas