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Outliers - Factors that Contribute to High Levels of Success

In Outliers, Gladwell examines the factors that contribute to high levels of success.



In statistics, an outlier is a data point that differs significantly from other observations.


Outliers highlights many details governing success that often go unnoticed; it also provides routes for social change and professional excellence.


the biggest misconception about success is that we do it solely on our smarts, ambition, hustle and hard work.

What is the secret of success?


People who succeed must work hard but a lot of people who work hard don't succeed.


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


Canadian hockey players are fit and talented and many turn professional. The vast majority of them pour all of their energy into becoming professionals. However, half of their success lies in what biologists referred to as “ecology” of a specific living thing.


A tall oak tree did not just come from a good acorn, that acorn landed in the right place, with good soil and no other trees blocking the sun, etc. Similarly these athletes are at the top of their game because of hard work and gifts and partly because of the intersections of random chance and arbitrary social choices.


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

An overwhelming percentage of professional Canadian hockey players are born in the first few months of the year (Jan, Feb, March). This makes a big difference in a child's development as when a kid's birthday is early in the year they are already larger, more coordinated and more promising than those born later in the same year, hence they get singled out early as having more potential than their counterparts. This results in more resources being focused on them.


Another factor that determines superior performance is the amount of practice time. Strong amatures accumulate around 2,000 hours of practice by adulthood, for really good students that's around 8,000 hours and elite performers rest about 10,000 hours of practice. The 10,000 hour mark applied to all fields.


Bill Gates was lucky as he was bright and talented, but he also attended a Seattle private school that had access to computers in the 1960s.


For such an incredible tally of time, effort and proximity to pay off the larger context still has to work. Being born at just the right time to take advantage of opportunities is also very important. Gates, Joy, Paul Allen and Steve Ballmer and Steve Jobs were all born in the 1950s and they shape their fields because they entered it at the right time. Early enough to have a major impact but late enough to get practice time on computers.


Historical positioning is rarely a conscious decision and it doesn't always seem like a good thing at the time. Take Joseph Flom, a Harvard Law graduate as an example. When he started he was ungainly, awkward, a fat kid and Jewish. He was excluded from white glove firms which led him to start his own firm which handled any cases that went his way. This led to Flom getting work related to takeovers, involving ugly proxy battles. The larger firms shied away from this type of work so demand for Flom’s legal services boomed and he prospered.


Genius is not enough


Christopher Langan won $250,000 on a quiz show called 1 VS. 100. He became famous for his IQ which was "too high to be accurately measured" (Langan's estimated IQ was 195 - Gladwell claims that Einstein's was 150). His intellectual accomplishments were stunning, he took that 6-months old, taught himself to read by 3 and got a perfect score on his sats even though he fell asleep during the exam, however, he achieved little success until he won the quiz show. This shows that pure intellectual genius alone is not enough; it must be paid with practical intelligence.



Robert Oppenheimer provides a vivid counterexample. Like Langan he also showed intelligence at an early age and spoke Latin and Greek for age 9. Oppenheimer got serious depression he planted his adviser and dropped out of college however he was nearly put on probation for planning a homicide. The difference with Oppenheimer was practical intelligence who could talk his way into opportunities in large part due to his background.


Family background influences success even for a genius. To succeed, brilliant people need praise for their intellectual gains, guidance through human society’s complexities and practicality.


"It's not enough to ask what successful people are like. [...] It is only by asking where they are from that we can unravel the logic behind who succeeds and who doesn't."

The Social Roots of Conflict and Math Ability


British immigrants who migrated to Harlan county in 1890 for a “culture of Honour” required a man to respond violently to threats, insults and economic pressure.


Cultures of honour are common in Rocky areas where herding is pivotal as Shepherds recycling lives and must act quickly in isolation to protect their livelihoods. unlike farming which depends on community involvement, in herding cultures it's single insult might define a man's character so he must respond to it and characteristics carry into regional cultures long after their roots are forgotten.


Men from America's South are more likely to be gracious on first meeting but more likely to respond to an insult with violent anger than US northerners.


Asian superiority in maths has clear cultural roots as Asians have linguistic advantages. Chinese words for numbers are shorter than English words and easier to process quickly. Korea, Japan and Chinese counting system is more logical as rather than using new words for numbers greater than 10 it makes combinations 11 is 10 & 1 and 12 is 10 & 2 thus adding and subtracting is a lot easier. European peasants work hard in the spring to plant their feels and harder in the summer to read them and laboured hard again to harvest in The Fall. They were idle in the winter because of how their crops grow. Compared to rice farmers, Asian presents had to constantly monitor the water flow of their rice paddies, rice crops what time for 2 annual yellow and farmers had to to work very long hours while maintaining focused attention on multiple factors. This was ingrained in cultural predisposition.


In the Air


Social influences affect individuals in specific fields even in commercial plane crashes. These happen because pilots encounter complications, in fact the typical accident involved seven consecutive human errors which stem from stress, poor communication and a crew's social morale.


The more a “culture values and respects authority,” the less likely its members are to challenge their superiors or to tell them unpleasant information e.g. that a plane crash is impending.



From cultures expect numbers to be individualistic and others expect people to align with the group. In highly stressful fields, members of individualistic cultures function better at focusing attention on missed information, hence. crew from hierarchical cultures such as Korea are more likely to crash planes than those from individualistic cultures. Once a business realises that performance is based on culture, they can develop training programs and reshape habits to generate greater levels of success. Korean airlines did exactly that when they ask consultant David Greenberg to retrain their crew members. He taught them English, new attitudes about hierarchy and the possibility of being “re-normed”.


The Knowledge Is Power Program (KIPP) teaches some of the cultural practices that help middle-class students succeed academically. One “protocol,” called “SSLANT,” stands for “smile, sit up, listen, ask questions, nod when being spoken to and track with your eyes.”


These actions address a socioeconomic reality: Outside school, middle- and upper-class kids are more intellectually active.


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