Outliers Summary: Malcolm Gladwell

Outliers Summary

Outliers Summary provides a free book summary, key takeaways, review, best quotes and author biography of Malcolm Gladwell’s book regarding the secrets of success. How to get to Carnegie Hall? Be born at the right time in the right place. And practice.

Malcolm Gladwell is the author of this book Outliers. He writes so well that the classic appears to race along. It’s also more influencing than the proofs he offers. He incredibly challenges existing theories of success. Gladwell does a great job of proposing new theories that consider social context. He highlights many details contributing to success which go unnoticed. Plus, he offers likely ways for professional excellence and social change. But as nice as it is, Outliers is not all perfect. It’d have been great to see Gladwell handle successful people who don’t fit his theory. Or areas where his model doesn’t apply. But, regardless of this, Outliers is fun, original and useful. This is a great read for people seeking fresh thinking. Also, if you want to understand wide social trends, this is a book for you.

“This is a book about outliers, about men and women who do things that are out of the ordinary.”

This Summary Will Help You Learn

  • Why is the common understanding about success incorrect?
  • What are the factors leading to success?
  • How can an understanding of these factors aid the society do better?


  • The common theory of success speaks only half the story.
  • People who become experts put in 10,000 hours of work and practice.
  • Genius mind alone isn’t enough. You should mix it with practical knowledge.
  • Intelligence is only the beginning. You ought to be smart enough to succeed. Beyond this, intelligence has a small effect on final achievement.
  • When personalizing success, you neglect key cultural and social factors.
  • Family background molds practical smartness and influences success.
  • Your ethnic, regional and cultural backgrounds influence your response to the crisis. They also shape how you communicate.
  • Such influence lasts even after you move away from your roots.
  • A culture’s agricultural customs mold how its members see work and education after they’ve left farms.
  • If you recognize the cultural factors ruling success, you can teach them to others.

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Outliers Summary

What Is the Secret of Success?

People who wish to succeed should work hard. But, not everyone who works hard becomes successful. Hence, successful people must’ve some unique gift or talent, right? This is the common mindset of why some people do well while some don’t. But, this reasoning is incorrect. Or at least, only tells half the story. This model neglects other factors leading to success. Hence, it twists the reality dangerously. It personalizes a process, which is also cultural and social. Thus, it leaves people seeking talent in the wrong areas.

Does Date of Birth Matters?

Consider the Canadian Hockey League for example. Its late-teen athletes are great players. They’re skilled and fit, and most become professionals. But, though all of them put in all their energy, it’s only half the story. The other half lies in what biologist term the “ecology” of living beings. A mighty oak tree standing tall didn’t come only from a good acorn. This seed also landed on the great soil in the right place. Plus, there was enough sunlight. And many other factors like this. Similarly, the athletes are great partly because of their talent and work. But, they’re great part due to the joining of random social choice and chance.

The date which defines athletes in leading Canadian hockey teams is Jan 1. A high number of champions are born in the starting few months. Fewer months make a huge difference in a kid’s development. Hence, when children with early birthdays in the year start competing, they’re already larger. Plus, they’re more promising and coordinated than who are born later the same year. So, they’re picked up early as having higher potential. They get more time on the ice and more training. Thus, they become better players than somewhat younger kids.

Elders direct resources toward them early on. But, it’s not their skills getting rewarded. Instead, it’s their date of birth. To nurture real talent, it may be better to have two hockey systems. Same is true for schools. Schools mustn’t group children by age alongside older peers. This creates an uneven field. Instead, schools should make two or more tracks.

Practice Time

Such an early process of selection highly matters. Mainly, due to another factor which shapes superior performance, i.e., practice time. Consider tracking a team of capable professionals in an area like music. Track them from childhood to their adulthood. You’ll find a noticeable pattern. Their final stage relies on the amount they practice. Good amateurs collect around 2,000hrs of practice till adulthood. Potential music teachers amass nearly 4,000 hours. Very bright students build about 8,000 hours. But, the elite ones invest around 10,000hrs in practice. This 10,000hrs standard applies to other fields like sports, arts and so on.

Practice Matters Even in Tech-World

People who led the tech-world, like Bill Joy, put in equal practice hours. This is what took him to incredible tech feats. But, it wasn’t only his dedication which made him successful. The right situation was also a factor.

Joy joined the University of Michigan in the 1970s. That time, it was among the few places in the USA that had enough resources. Especially, to enable many students to practice programming at once. Joy hadn’t joined Michigan for studying computers. He only came across the computer division by accident. But, when he did, he was able to program all day. This was mainly because of two reasons. First, due to the extensive access. Second, there was a loophole in the system. This glitch allowed students more than assigned computer time. Bill Gates was also similarly lucky. He was talented and great with computers. But, he joined a Seattle private school. This school had a computer club in the 1960s. Hence, Gates could “steal” time on the computers of the surrounding university.

Being in the Right Place at the Right Time

But, such match of effort, time and accessibility doesn’t pay-off alone. The bigger context also needs to work in the tally. 75 wealthiest people to ever live include people from throughout history. But, around 20% of them belong to a “single era in a single nation.” That is the mid-19th century in the USA. Jay Gould, John Rockefeller, Andrew Carnegie, etc. were the wealthiest men of that time. They became so wealthy because they were born at the correct time. Hence, they were able to reap the benefits from the economic boom of the US.

You’ll notice a similar age-group for Joy, Gates and leading tech players. Gates and Jobs were born in 1955, Joy in 1954, and Steve Ballmer in 1956. They led their areas because they entered at the correct time. The timing was early enough to have a huge impact. But, it was also late enough to receive practice time on computers.

“Ex­tra­or­di­nary achievement is less about talent than it is about opportunity.”

Even Negative Factors May Shape Success

Such historic placement is hardly deliberate. Also, it may not look like a great thing at the time. It may occur in an accident. Or, through negative social factors, and yet give enormous success. Consider Joseph Flom, a Harvard Law graduate’s example. When he began, he was among the few grads to not get hired. He was an awkward, fat Jewish kid. Especially, in an age when the NY legal system comprised socially elegant WASPs. Rejected by the white law firm, Flom began his firm with two partners. They took up any case that came there way.

One case was offered because Flom was Jewish. He was thus considered an outsider to the law profession. Big names were wary of touching the harsh sides of the co-operating law. For example, acquisitions involving ugly battles. Hence, they passed these cases to Flom. But then, the business climate changed, and takeovers were a common thing. Flom had already become an expert by them. He had more experience than any other lawyer in the field. Thus, demand for his services increased, and he became successful.

Genius Is Not Enough

Christopher Langan won $250,000 on one vs. 100, a quiz show. Through this show, he became popular for his amazing IQ. His IQ is considered to be too high to be measured accurately. Langan’s IQ achievements during his childhood were stunning. He talked when he was six months old. By age three, he learned how to read. At 16, he read Principia Mathematica. Besides, he got the ideal SAT score, despite falling asleep in the exam. But, Langan wasn’t successful until he won the show. Why? Because only intellectual genius isn’t enough. It has to be mixed with practical smartness. And this, Langan’s life had omitted.

Langan’s mother was separated from her family and had four sons. They were all by different men. Langan’s dad was an alcoholic and abusive. As he was a social misfit, Langan lost his 1st college scholarship. He couldn’t attend his classes at Montana State because of car trouble. Langan scraped clams, even worked in factories. He took up many odd jobs. So, Langan never actually used his genius professionally.

Wonders of Mixing Genius with Practical Intelligence

Robert Oppenheimer is a counterexample of the wonders of a combination of genius and practical smartness. Like Langan, Robert showed his talent at an early age. He performed science experiments when he was in 3rd grade. By age 9, Robert started speaking Greek and Latin. He also suffered some self-created issues at the college. Robert suffered deep depression and even planned on killing his advisor. Langan left college because of social issues and car troubles. But, Robert was just put on probation for planning a murder.

The difference here was Robert’s practical smartness. He was able to talk his way into opportunities. This was mainly because of his background. His family put him in special schools. These schools poured extra attention on him when he displayed potential. They appreciated his interest and encouraged him to rise to the top. And he proved them right by being a successful physicist.

These men show what formal studies of high IQ people have shown. That is, family background greatly influences success. This is true even for a genius. To succeed, even intelligent people need praise and guidance.

The Social Roots of Conflict and Math Ability

For years, fatal family disputes interrupted life in Harlan County, Kentucky. Family members killed one another. Bravely facing the violence and accepting disputes became a culture of Appalachian. But why do such a great extent? The answer lies in the roots of the British immigrants who settled in Harlan in 1819. With them, they brought a culture of honor. One which needed a man to react violently to insults and threats.

These cultures are common in rocky regions where herding is key. Shepherd’s are always at risk. Hence, they ought to act fast to save their livelihood. This isn’t like farming. Farming relies on community involvement. But, in herding, a single insult could define a person’s character. Thus, they need to respond to it. These features extend to regional cultures, even after roots are left. Men from the South of US are likely to be warm during the first meeting. The culture there is one of honor. But, they’re also more likely to react to an insult with anger. North Americans are unlikely to react this way.

“Because we so profoundly personalize success, we miss op­por­tu­ni­ties to lift others onto the top rung.”

Culture and Math Skills

Another example is of Asian excellence in math. This also has obvious cultural origins. Asian have language advantages. The Chinese terms for figures are shorter than English words. Thus, it’s easier to process fast. China, Korea, and Japan’s counting method are also more logical. They don’t use new words for numbers above ten. Instead, they make combinations. For example, Eleven becomes ten-one, and twelve becomes ten-two. Hence, addition and subtraction become natural. Speak the numbers, and you’re adding them.

Some Asian mathematical prowess comes from historical differences between Asian and European farming. Especially rice farming. During the 1900s, European farmers worked hard to plant fields in spring. They worked slightly hard during summer to weed them. And in the fall, they’d again work hard to harvest. Sometimes they did nothing during winters due to how plants grew.

In contrast, rice growing took steady, tough work. Asian farmers were consistently on the move. Rice crops gave two yearly produce from same farms. Farmers could pick from a broad range of seeds, switching rice strains. This led to a deeply rooted cultural tendency to work long hours. All this, while keeping the focus on many factors. And this is what we need to excel in math.

In the Air

Social factors influence individual responses. This is true even in the specific area of commercial airplane crashes. Commercial airplanes are advanced machines. They’ve highly reliable technology. Hence, accidents don’t occur due to a sudden fire. Instead, they occur because pilots face complications. For example, bad weather. These are cases when one mistake leads to another. A typical crash has seven serial human mistakes. These don’t stem from a lack of skills. Instead, they result from weak communication and stress.

Differences in National Culture

Country cultures vary in many relevant features. For example, the “Power Distance Index.” The more a culture respects authority, the less its members are likely to challenge seniors. Or to inform them about an unpleasant occurrence. For example, that a crash is about to happen. Cultures also vary in how free they want their members to be. Some cultures wish to their people to conform to norms. Others want their people to be very individualistic.

In some cases, like a stress-filled airplane cabin, people from individualistic culture work better. They can focus better on missed details. Thus, crews from hierarchical cultures like Korea are more likely to crash airplanes.

This is true unless they’ve special training to counter the influences. Hence, businesses need to identify that many factors shaping performance are cultural. This way, they can build training programs to modify cultural habits. Korean Air did this when it hired consultant David Greenberg to retrain its staff. He taught the crew English. This helped lighten the burden of their nation’s cultural heritage. He even taught them new behaviors about hierarchy. David showed them that it’s possible to be reformed.

“The idea that excellence at performing a complex task requires a critical minimum level of practice surfaces again and again in studies of expertise.”

Revising Cultural Norms

A New-York based initiative “Knowledge is Power Program” (KIPP) is working on same lines. It is trying to revise cultural norms. KIPP strives to improve the education of low-income students. For this, it teaches cultural habits which aid middle-class students to succeed educationally. One such protocol is “SSLANT”. It means “smile, sit-up, listen, ask, nod when being talked to, and track. KIPP also expands the school week, day and year. Such steps tackle a socio-economic truth. That is, outside of school, upper- and middle-class children are more active intellectually. Many activities inspire their minds over holidays when lower-class children lose ground. KIPP challenges long-established models of education. But, it is producing excellent results. Students who performed poorly earlier, now have a better chance at success.

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Outliers Review

Outliers is a book written by Malcolm Gladwell on the topic of success. In this book, Malcolm provided a comprehensive overview of the factors that contribute to the success of a person. He also discussed the wrong perception of the people towards the success of supporting factors. By the author-date of birth contributes to success achievement. He claims that children born in the early months of the year get more opportunities and show more potential in their life. The early month children usually have competitive advantages in the sports fields as they practice more on the ice that makes them a better player than the younger children born in the later month of the same year. The similarity in the field of education they take advantage while taking admissions in the schools. Malcolm suggested that to overcome on such issues two tracks should be offered by the schools. By the author of the book, genius is not enough.

To illustrate his point of view he shared a fine example of Langan who was enough genius but got the failure in life because of lack of professional knowledge and uncertainties of his life. Malcolm elaborated that Langan was a genius student with the highest IQ level. His low-income family conditions and lack of education contributed as the major factors to ensure his failure in life. By the author, if a person is intelligent and highly genius, it does not ensure that he will get success in his life. That person also needs efforts, knowledge, and practice to be successful in his life. Malcolm said that intelligent people also need admiration and guidance of the elders to be successful in life.

Outliers Quotes

“This is a book about outliers, about men and women who do things that are out of the ordinary.”

“Ex­tra­or­di­nary achievement is less about talent than it is about opportunity.”

“Because we so profoundly personalize success, we miss op­por­tu­ni­ties to lift others onto the top rung.”

“The idea that excellence at performing a complex task requires a critical minimum level of practice surfaces again and again in studies of expertise.”

“The idea that IQ has a threshold, I realize, goes against our intuition.”

“The particular skill that allows you to talk your way out of a murder rap, or convince your professor to move you from the morning to the afternoon section, is what the psy­chol­o­gist Robert Sternberg calls ‘practical in­tel­li­gence’.”

“Successful people don’t do it alone. Where they come from matters. They’re products of particular places and en­vi­ron­ments.”

“Cultural legacies are powerful forces. They have deep roots and long lives.”

“Autonomy, complexity and a connection between effort and reward – are, most people agree, the three qualities that work has to have if it is to be satisfying.”

“The plain truth of the [Lewis] Terman study, however, is that in the end almost none of the genius children from the lowest social and economic class ended up making a name for themselves.”

“What if coming from a culture shaped by the demands of growing rice also makes you better at math?”

“Our ability to succeed at what we do is powerfully bound up with where we’re from, and being a good pilot and coming from a high-power distance culture is a difficult mix.”

“Virtually every success story we’ve seen in this book so far involves someone or some group working harder than their peers.”

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About the Author

Malcolm Gladwell writes for The New Yorker. He also wrote Blink and The Tipping Point.


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