Outliers… or how Elvis became Elvis

Outliers: Defined as something or someone that is outside or separate from the norm, be it behaviorally, statistically or geographically.

Let’s just regard a person for a moment who might be labeled an ‘outlier’ from what they have accomplished when compared to the majority of humans. There are many people who take up playing the guitar, but there are very few Eric Claptons and Jimi Hendrixes out there….or Elvis Presleys.

To be different from others is fairly easy to do on the surface. But to be effectively different in a pursuit, occupation or skill takes multiple factors. As Malcolm Gladwell states in his famous book Outliers, there are several components that constitute a successful outlier, or someone who is able to take things to a higher, rarified level of contribution and development.

Opportunity and timing - Being born at a particular time and place. For example, Elvis Presley growing up in the 40’s and 50’s in Mississippi with an intense early exposure to the type of music that was the precursor to Rock & Roll: Gospel, Blues and Country Western.

Early upbringing - Elvis’s family was poor financially but there were extended layers of family that poured love and support upon him, especially when he expressed interest in music after being involved in spiritual and gospel singing in his local church and community. Gladwell says that the quality of upbringing is even more important than pure IQ.

Enough time spent honing that skill - Researchers state that an approximate amount of 10,000 hours of experience, conscious development and practice is what it takes to ‘master’ something. By the time Elvis became a legend, he had his time in.

Meaningful work – If you feel there is real purpose to your work, it’s more likely you will work hard. Elvis knew that he could make others experience profound emotion and connection when he sang. He felt deeply the personal glow, glory and human connection of singing about God, love and the human condition, and what effect his music playing and singing had on his extended family, friends, community - and especially his mother, whom he deeply wanted to please. He could make a difference with his voice and guitar. It spurred him on to work harder and become increasingly better.

Values - Drive our behavior. Our values are often passed down from generation to generation. Elvis was learning to take his place among the many musicians who were venerated and had come before him. He felt there was a place for him if he worked at it.

It’s not just innate talent that sets someone apart from the crowd, but rather several factors when brought together creates a truly unique contribution and a raising of the bar.

Elvis may have left the building, as the old saying goes, but nearly everyone, even 40 years since his death, can still remember their favorite song from the King. That is one effect of an outlier on all of us.