Outliers Summary
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Outliers Summary and Review | Malcolm Gladwell

The Story of Success

Life gets busy. Has Outliers been gathering dust on your bookshelf? Instead, pick up the key ideas now.

We’re scratching the surface here. If you don’t already have the book, order it here or get the audiobook for free to learn the juicy details.


What do you think about successful people who are ‘self-made’? Are they truly self-made or are they a product of their circumstances, families and external environment? 

Is success a product of innate talent, preparation, or opportunity? Or a blend of all the above?

Malcolm Gladwell explores this and more in his book called Outliers. Through his life experiences, Gladwell discovered that successful people have a few commonalities.

Outliers teaches us about the definition of success and how to become successful. It’s a handbook for those hoping to succeed in life and work.

If you’re still wondering, “What is Outliers about?”, stay with us:

About Malcolm Gladwell

Malcolm Gladwell is a Canadian journalist, author, and public speaker who has worked as a staff writer for The New Yorker since 1996. He had years of experience in non-fiction writing before expanding his repertoire to include novels.

Along with Outliers, Gladwell has six other New York Times bestsellers. These include The Tipping Point, Blink, What the Dog Saw, David and Goliath, Talking to Strangers, and The Bomber Mafia.

His books focus on social sciences and any unexpected implications he finds in his research. Often, he follows an academic approach through sociology and psychology.

Along with writing, Gladwell also podcasts. He is a co-founder of Pushkin Industries. Through this company, he interviews musicians in the podcast Broken Record. In another podcast, Revisionist History, he evaluates overlooked and misunderstood things.

TIME Magazine included Gladwell on the TIME 100 Most Influential People list in 2005. In 2007, the American Sociological Association gave him their first Award for Excellence. He received this distinction for his reporting of social issues.

In 2007 and 2011, he received honorary degrees from the University of Waterloo and the University of Toronto. He also joined the Order of Canada in 2011 and is one of Foreign Policy’s Top Global Thinkers.

Malcolm Gladwell was born in Hampshire, England. His mother was a Jamaican psychotherapist, and his father was a British math professor. He immigrated to Ontario, Canada at 6 and was a national track and field champion at the high school level. 

StoryShot #1: Success Isn’t Linear

Success doesn’t come from one factor. There is a multitude of things that go into making someone successful. 

Grit and determination aren’t the only factors to consider. Someone’s environment or upbringing also doesn’t predict success. 

There’s no way for you to predict or guess what may make you successful. Several factors are working in harmony for someone to become successful.

Success doesn’t just hinge on having one thing that sets you apart from others. It’s about having many things that set you apart from the rest of your peers.

If you’re trying to become one of the successful people referred to as ‘outliers’ in the book, you may not have as much control as you think. That doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t try, but you should also not get upset about failing occasionally.

Success isn’t as linear as we may think it is. There may be other barriers externally that are preventing you from reaching the success you’re looking for.

StoryShot #2: It Takes 10,000 Hours To Become An Expert at Something

We need 10,000 hours of experience in any undertaking before we can become experts. We can argue that effort doesn’t correlate to success, but it has something to do with it. While no one can succeed at an elite level without having innate talent, there is a point where preparation outweighs talent. Based on observations of top chess players, music composers, and other industry leaders, 10,000 hours is that threshold. 

Don’t stop giving it your best just because other factors are at play. Your preparation and practice are essential too.

It is equally important to put the required 10,000 hours of practice into things we care about. Love what you do to become an expert at it.

If you put 10,000 hours into something you are not truly passionate about, you wouldn’t get the same experience or expertise.

Find the things you love and stick to them. The more effort you put into a particular subject/skill, the more you will get out of it.

If you focus on the long-run benefits of your practice, you’ll be more likely to succeed.

StoryShot #3: Understand Your Culture

Our cultures shape our personalities and capabilities. For example, a tailor will pass down his knowledge of materials and sowing techniques to their children. Similarly, an entrepreneur will encourage their children to start businesses.

Because of the values taught within each culture, its members may lean toward becoming experts in one thing or another.

To lean into your culture, learn more about it. What are its advantages? What about its limitations?

Outliers presents many examples of how culture can affect one’s performance. One such example discusses how the ethnicities of pilots can impact airline safety.

Once you understand your culture, learn to embrace it if you haven’t already.

You’ve likely entangled yourself within your culture since birth. For some of us, that may be a turnoff. That said, we should challenge these thoughts.

It may be a great idea to stick with your culture and all it offers. Your culture may advance your skill development in the field of your choice.

For example, Gladwell talks about how East European immigrants started a clothing business in New York City. Their culture played a significant role in the success of their business venture.

Whether you realize it, culture plays a significant role in who you are. It is also a determinant of your success.

It’s important to remember the term “cultural legacy”. This legacy is what we leave behind for our children, their children, and so on.

The cultural legacy you’re a part of can persist for generations.

Your actions within your culture and how you present that culture to your children matter. As they grow up within their cultures, they may find success with the talents that they have gained from their cultural gifts.

StoryShot #4: Success Lies At The Nexus of Both Luck and Talent

Luck and talent both play critical roles in determining someone’s level of success.

The so-called outliers all enjoyed an element of good luck because they were born in the right place and at the right time to pursue their interests. Timing plays a significant role.

Pursuing acting in the 1500s was significantly less lucrative than it is now. On the other hand, pursuing soap-making now is less lucrative than it was in the 1500s.

You are lucky if you are born at a time when other people value your interests. The level of riches and greatness you achieve is contingent on how much other people appreciate your skills or knowledge. Also, you are even luckier if you have the resources to pursue your expertise.

With or without luck, talent matters too. The 10,000 hours of practice is essential to becoming an expert, but you must also have some natural aptitude.

If you lack musical talent, 10,000 hours of practice isn’t enough to become renowned for your work. There may not be enough hours in a lifetime to get you where you need to be.

Those who can achieve success with the 10,000 hours rule likely already have a natural talent in their chosen field. Identifying your talent area can help determine which field you should consider for your future.

There’s no guarantee you’ll become a success when you hit your 10,000 hours, but it can get you a lot closer. You can also use the practice time to get ahead.

StoryShot #5: Start Early and Be Patient

Early success is an essential indicator of later success. Cultivating your talents and skills early can help you reach your potential faster.

You’re more likely to become successful by the time you hit the prime of your life.

You can achieve success at any age. Starting later isn’t the end of the world, either. But, it can deter the traditional idea of success by a certain age that we are conditioned to seeing.

Small things done today have significant repercussions in the future. Small, but regular progressions can build up to transformative change over time.

There’s an example that compares the English and Chinese numerical system. Chinese numbers are brief as compared to English numbers. Because of this slight difference, people who speak Chinese can recite digits more quickly than people who speak English.

This slight difference is why many Chinese speakers excel in mathematics. They likely perform arithmetic problems quickly and more easily than English speakers.

These differences may account for the schooling advantages that students who speak Chinese have.

Even this slight difference in language can account for differences in success rates. 

Don’t uproot your entire language, although learning several languages may be beneficial. Instead, consider the systems you use to do your daily tasks.

Are you making simple things more complicated? Are there ways to make complex things simpler?

StoryShot #6: Discern Between Practical and Analytical Intelligence

There are two types of intelligence: practical intelligence and analytical intelligence.

Analytical intelligence is well-revered in society. We can measure this kind of intelligence using an IQ test.

Society understands and celebrates this intelligence more because it is concrete and measurable.

Practical intelligence is harder to measure. People may also refer to practical intelligence as “street smarts”.

This kind of intelligence is also vital for people who want to become successful. Having practical intelligence can help you maximize social opportunities while avoiding social problems. 

No matter which subject you’re interested in, this intelligence can go a long way. Many opportunities present themselves through connections and communication.

Practical intelligence may even be more important. Traditional intelligence can get you closer to becoming an expert faster. Yet, that is not the type of intelligence that helps you navigate social expectations as you advance in your area.

In a perfect world, you should have a mix of both. Together, both these intelligence components can help you advance towards success.

If you lack one kind of intelligence, it isn’t easy to learn enough to become successful. Analytical intelligence is easier to cultivate than practical intelligence. Practical intelligence is more nuanced and rare than analytical intelligence. This notion may also explain why practical intelligence is more critical in most fields.

There is a case study of a Japanese soap manufacturing company that faced the problem of empty soap boxes. To remedy the issue, their engineers decided to build an expensive X-ray system that scanned each box on the assembly line. But, when the managers asked a worker to solve the problem, his solution was to simply place an industrial fan that would blow empty boxes away.

In this scenario, the engineers revealed analytical intelligence. The worker is a great example of practical intelligence.

StoryShot #7: Your IQ Doesn’t Guarantee Success

IQ is a separate issue from analytical and practical intelligence. There is a belief that our IQ can determine how successful we are.

We think about geniuses like Einstein and Hawkins and become fixated on this belief that IQ alone can make you successful.

Think about it.

There are plenty of intelligent people in the world who don’t meet the traditional definition of success. Instead, we regularly see social butterflies without the same IQ gifts become successful.

We see people who dared to introduce themselves to a business executive at a party. We see people who knew the right connections to start their show or star in their movie.

High analytical intelligence does not guarantee success in life.

Those banking on analytical intelligence for success need to also cultivate practical intelligence. 

It’s not enough to be smart. We must learn how to use those smarts to our advantage. That comes through practical intelligence.

Think about how you can turn your analytical intelligence into practical intelligence. You may be able to show your intelligence to others or network within your field. Networking can help you find those with both practical and analytical intelligence.

StoryShot #8: Opportunity Grows Exponentially

There’s good news for those with the talent and time necessary to develop skills: opportunity is exponential!

The first few successes and opportunities are hard to gain. Each following opportunity or success is easier to get.

As you gain each achievement, you’ll find that the following one is easier to get. 

It’s almost like there’s a threshold to success. Once you reach the threshold once, it’s easier to reach each subsequent threshold. 

You’ll find the same concept in individuals who have a lot of wealth. Once you’ve accumulated a certain amount of money, you’ll find it easier to make money.

Those who don’t have the riches necessary to make money may struggle to make enough money.

Exponential benefits is not a new concept, but so many of us forget about this as we’re reaching for success. We think that we’ll never be able to make a life for ourselves if we’re struggling.

No matter how society may change, those who set themselves up for success stay successful. 

StoryShot #9: Fulfillment Matters

If you’re not fulfilled by the things you’re doing, it won’t matter how talented or lucky you are. You may think that you can continue working hard in a field you aren’t concerned about, but money and success aren’t enough in the long run.

Once you become successful, you may realize that this existence isn’t what you want for yourself. With the money you make from your success, you may pivot to new things.

We’ve seen this narrative happen so many times in Hollywood. Someone becomes famous for one thing, figures out that they don’t like that thing, and then pivot to something else. Sometimes this change is successful, and every so often it’s not.

Typically, the success of these changes depends on the person and their surrounding community. If you have followers that are loyal to the field rather than to you, you may not find success. On the other hand, followers that are loyal to you may not care what industry you’re in or what you’re doing.

To determine if you’re fulfilled in what you’re pursuing, look at three factors:

  1. Your autonomy in the field
  2. How challenging the subject is for you
  3. Whether there is a clear connection between your efforts and any rewards you may receive

If you’re missing one or more factors, you may need to revisit what you’re doing. You may determine that there is a better choice out there for you.

“If I offered you a choice between being an architect for $75,000 a year and working in a tollbooth every day for the rest of your life for $100,000 a year, which would you take? I’m guessing the former, because there is complexity, autonomy, and a relationship between effort and reward in doing creative work, and that’s worth more to most of us than money. Work that fulfills those three criteria is meaningful. Being a teacher is meaningful. Being a physician is meaningful. So is being an entrepreneur.”

– Malcolm Gladwell

Without complete fulfillment in your subject of choice, you may find it difficult to find success in that field. 

StoryShot #10: Outliers Are Rare

Outliers are rare. In fact, they’re a lot rarer than we think.

We see hundreds of famous people on our televisions and phones who have achieved the traditional definition of success.

Despite this, remember that outliers are rare, as the name itself suggests. 

These are the people who stand out from the rest. 

Many of us want to work hard to become outliers, but we’re distracted by the rewards associated with becoming one. We think about the fame, money, and recognition that we can get by becoming an outlier. In actuality, our wants have nothing to do with our success.

Dreaming does not create success.

If you’re looking to become an outlier, you shouldn’t think about it at all. Focus on cultivating your talents and skills to become the best that you can be in your chosen field.

Focus on getting better. Pay attention to making your practice time as productive as possible. In the digital age, there are plentiful resources out there to help you advance rapidly in your chosen area of study.

Final Summary and Review of Outliers

There is no single formula to success. Outliers provides tangible examples of the similarities between successful people across multiple fields. 

Success isn’t linear and requires a mix of both talent and hard work. Yet, you can increase your probability of success in any endeavor by practicing it for 10,000 hours. It is important to remember that these 10,000 hours need to be spent doing something that you find fulfilling and have a natural aptitude for. In the book, Gladwell also advocates for embracing your culture to optimize your chances of success. 

Overall, Outliers is a thought-provoking read that changes the perceptions that we have on successful people. Here is a recap of the key ideas from this book. Tag us on social media and let us know which you agree or disagree with:

  1. Success isn’t linear
  2. It takes 10,000 hours to become an expert at something
  3. Understand your culture
  4. Success lies at the nexus of both luck and talent
  5. Start early and be patient
  6. Discern between practical and analytical intelligence
  7. Your IQ doesn’t guarantee success
  8. Opportunity grows exponentially
  9. Fulfillment matters
  10. Outliers are rare

Pick up a copy today and see if you can use its principles to pave your own way to success. It may be closer than you think!


We rate this timeless book 4.3/5.

Our Score

Disclaimer: This is an unofficial summary and analysis.

Editor’s Note: This article was first published in June 2022.

PDF, Free Audiobook, Infographic and Animated Book Summary of Outliers

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