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Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell.
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When we learn about someone extremely successful, we often want to know what that person is like—what gifts she was born with, what kind of personality she has, what her lifestyle is like. We assume these personal qualities are the keys to her success.

This assumption is part of the myth of the self-made man (or woman), someone who earned his successes through hard work and innate talent. We call these people outliers—their achievements are so extraordinary that they fall well outside the norm.

But in Outliers, Gladwell pokes holes in this myth. Is anyone really “self-made”? Talent and hard work are clearly important, but are they the only factors that contribute to success?

Gladwell argues that success (or failure) depends more heavily on luck than we’d like to admit. This luck comes from external factors and their hidden advantages that are often out of your control, including where and when you were born, what kind of family you were born into, how you were parented, and how much money your family has. Let’s take a look at some of these external factors to see how they contribute to your success.

External Factor #1: When You Were Born

Your birthday, in relation to the birthdays of your peers, may be an advantage or disadvantage, depending on the situation.

For example, children born toward the beginning of the calendar year tend to perform better academically than their younger peers who are born near the end of the year.

  • If you’re older and more mature than your peers in the first grade (and have developed skills that are easier the older you are, like reading), your teachers will see you as smarter, too. You’re more likely to be funneled into gifted programs which further encourage your intellectual development.
  • Over time, the initially subtle advantage of being a bit older snowballs until your academic ability is significantly higher than that of your peers.
  • This age-based leveling system in schools creates a self-fulfilling prophecy: Teachers believe that older students are smarter, even if their advanced skills are due more to their stage of development than to superior intellects. Teachers believe these “smart” students have more academic potential, so they give them more attention and resources. This makes older kids truly academically superior to their peers.

Your birth year, in relation to historical events, may also provide advantages.

  • For example, many of the most successful computer programmers were born in the mid-1950’s. In 1975, these individuals were the perfect age to take full advantage of the invention of the personal computer. If they had been a little older, they would have been established in their lives and careers and not as invested in understanding new technology. If they had been a little younger, their time would have been taken up with meeting high school requirements.

External Factor #2: How You Were Parented (And How Much Money Your Parents Had)

**Wealthy parents tend to practice...

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Outliers Summary Outliers Guide Shortform Introduction

Outliers is a collection of stories, each exploring a variety of external factors that contribute to success. Gladwell tells these stories through the lenses of various disciplines,...

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Outliers Summary Outliers Guide Introduction: Defining an Outlier

In Part 1, Gladwell explores the importance of opportunity in setting the stage for success. These opportunities come in many different forms, as we’ll explore below. But before we start breaking down the components of the outlier’s success, let’s look at what an outlier is.

The Myth of the Outlier

The people who reach a level of success so extraordinary that it’s statistically improbable are called outliers.

We love stories about outliers because outliers’ achievements are so far outside ordinary experience. We assume that in order to reach outlier status, you must be exceptionally gifted, intelligent, or passionate.

These stories promote the idea of the self-made man, someone who relies on his innate intelligence and perseverance to succeed. The self-made man is in control of his destiny. He has earned his success, entirely on his own. Natural talent + hard work = success.

Talent and Hard Work—That’s All It Takes?

The argument of Outliers is that these explanations of success are incomplete. Success depends just as much on factors that lie beyond the individual and the individual’s control.

Our cultures, communities, and families all...

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Outliers Summary Outliers Guide Part 1: Opportunity | Chapter 1: The Opportunities of Accumulative Advantage

Part 1 (Chapters 1–5) looks at the opportunities that come from circumstance and luck rather than individual attributes like talent and drive.

Successful individuals must receive the opportunity to be successful. If you’re not given the opportunity to succeed, you can’t, no matter how much intelligence and talent you have. For example, you might be a fantastic artist who paints every day, but if you don’t live near a city that values art or has a strong creative community, your art may never be seen. You might have a gift and the work ethic, but you lack money for gas or a plane ticket to a town where you can exhibit your work. You don’t have the opportunity to be successful as an artist.

Getting opportunities to practice your skills (Chapter 2), being raised in a way that fosters practical intelligence (Chapter 4), and reaping the benefits of seemingly unfavorable environments (Chapter 5) are all external factors over which we have little control.

Analogy to a Successful Seed

One way to understand how our environments impact our success is to compare ourselves to seeds.

Seeds can’t grow into successful trees if the conditions aren’t right. The...

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Shortform Exercise: Acknowledge Accumulative Advantage and Self-fulfilling Prophecies in Your Life

Think about the role of accumulative advantage and self-fulfilling prophecy in your own life.


When did someone have a first impression of you that changed the way he or she treated you and became a self-fulfilling prophecy? It could be positive or negative. Describe the first impression and how this caused you to behave, and how this grew on itself over time.

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Outliers Summary Outliers Guide Chapter 2: The Opportunity to Practice 10,000 Hours

It may seem obvious that we need to work hard to succeed, but too often we attribute success solely to talent and forget that the hours we put in matter just as much as, if not significantly more than, the natural gifts we start with.

You need a certain level of natural talent to get your foot in the door in a particular field. But after you are “good enough,” practice becomes the determining factor in how successful you are.

The Opportunity of Time (And Timing)

What’s not so obvious is that having the time to practice is a luxury. We tend to think of practice as an equalizer—anyone who is a hard worker can succeed. But in reality, only a privileged few have the time necessary to master a skill set.

Some studies show that the most masterful individuals in their fields have practiced their craft for at least 10,000 hours. Even The Beatles, who seemed to come out of nowhere, were seasoned musicians, having logged their 10,000 hours at a strip club in Hamburg, Germany. By 1964, they had played an estimated 1,200 times. (Few bands play as many shows in their entire careers.) Their thousands of practice hours in Germany were a key to their success.

(Shortform...

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Shortform Exercise: Clocking Your 10,000 Hours

How can you achieve your 10,000 hours?


Think of a skill or craft that you wish to master. What can you do to get to your 10,000 hours?

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Outliers Summary Outliers Guide Chapter 3: The Limits of Intelligence

If outliers are people whose abilities and experiences are statistically far outside the norm, then geniuses are the ultimate outliers. We may understand that talent can only take you so far, but we place intelligence on a different plane than mere talent. We assume that the more intelligent you are, the more successful you will be.

However, just as with other personal attributes, IQ only determines success up to a certain point. After meeting the threshold of “smart enough,” differences in achievement based on IQ tend to level out.

The advantage of IQ can be likened to the advantage of height on a basketball court. A 6’3” player has a clear advantage over a player who is 5’6”. But a player who’s 6’3” and a player who’s 6’5” are probably pretty equally matched. When the height difference is so small, other factors, such as speed, agility, and strength, more heavily impact success.

It turns out that their IQ does not make some geniuses outliers, although a high IQ helps. As we’ve seen in previous chapters, what truly turns someone into an outlier are the opportunities he’s offered.

The IQ Threshold

Again, it’s not that IQ is irrelevant—in order to...

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Shortform Exercise: Take the Divergence Test

Are you a divergent or convergent thinker?


Set a timer for 2 minutes. Answer the question: How many uses can you think of for a blanket?

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Outliers Summary Outliers Guide Chapter 4: The Opportunities Created by the Way You Were Raised

The kind of intelligence measured by IQ tests is called analytic intelligence. But extraordinary success in life is often the result of practical intelligence. Let’s look at what distinguishes the two:

Analytical Intelligence

  • Measured by IQ tests
  • Good for solving intellectual puzzles
  • Genetic and innate, at least in part

Practical Intelligence

  • Not measured by IQ tests
  • Good for knowing how to express yourself, and to whom, in order to get what you want
  • Learned rather than innate
  • Knowledge-based rather than skills-based
  • Also known as social savvy

Practical intelligence enables you to accurately read other people and situations and adjust accordingly. It helps you get what you want.

Having analytical intelligence does not necessarily mean you’ll have practical intelligence.

If practical intelligence is learned, where do we learn it from? Here’s where we return to the book’s theme of external factors contributing to our success.

The Parenting Philosophies of Rich and Poor Families

Our families have a huge role in cultivating our practical intelligence...or not. We intuitively understand that a wealthy family creates...

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Shortform Exercise: Hone Your Practical Intelligence

Reflect on your upbringing and strategize to fill in any gaps in practical intelligence.


What messages did you receive growing up regarding authority, assertiveness and entitlement? Did you receive “concerted cultivation,” or were you left to your own devices?

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Outliers Summary Outliers Guide Chapter 5: The Opportunities of Unexpected Advantages

So far, we’ve looked at the opportunities provided by privilege and good fortune. For example, a series of clearly advantageous opportunities (being born to wealthy parents, attending a prestigious school, and being parented through concerted cultivation) led to Oppenheimer becoming one of the most important figures of the 20th century. But are privileged circumstances the only beneficial ones?

Chapter 5 examines the life of Joe Flom, a lawyer, to reveal the hidden advantages of situations we often assume are hindrances to success, such as poverty, being discriminated against, and growing up during a difficult era like the Depression.

The story of Joe Flom also encapsulates many of the principles from previous chapters, such as accumulative advantage, the importance of our upbringing, and the necessity of thousands of hours of practice to master a skill.

Who is Joe Flom?

Joe Flom, the last living named partner of one of the largest and most powerful law firms in the world (Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher, and Flom), grew up in poverty in Brooklyn during the Depression. His parents were Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe who worked in the garment industry....

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Shortform Exercise: Find Opportunities in Unexpected Places

Think about your disadvantages and turn them into advantages.


Think of a difficult situation that, in hindsight, was actually an opportunity. Maybe it taught you an invaluable lesson. What was the situation?

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Outliers Summary Outliers Guide Part 2: Cultural Legacy | Chapter 6: The Influence of Cultures of Honor

The cultures of our ancestors (even the aspects we no longer practice or ascribe to) influence our present-day behaviors.

Chapter 5 looked at the way Joe Flom’s Jewish culture provided him with several opportunities that paved his way to extraordinary success. Part Two takes an even deeper dive into the ways the legacies of our cultures foster or impede our success.

Gladwell looks at four distinct cultures: the culture of honor in the American South, the culture of deference in Korea, the culture of hard work in Asian countries, and the challenge to the culture of western education at KIPP schools. Each example shows that it matters where you’re from—not only geographically but also culturally.

The Culture of Honor in the South

A culture of honor is one in which your self-worth (and sometimes your livelihood as well), is based on your reputation. If you come from a culture of honor, you’re more likely to fight someone who challenges you and, therefore, jeopardizes your reputation. Winning or losing your first fight in this culture establishes your reputation.

Whether or not you come from a culture of honor may impact how you respond to certain situations,...

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Outliers Summary Outliers Guide Chapter 7: The Influence of Societal Hierarchies

In the case of Joe Flom, cultural legacy was a source of strength. But culturally legacies can also be a source of weakness.

We don’t like to call cultures out on their weaknesses—it feels too much like stereotyping.

But not acknowledging these cultural weaknesses is dangerous. One that can be dangerous in certain situations is a high “power distance.”

The “Power Distance Index”

The “Power Distance Index” measures how hierarchical a country is and how its citizens value authority.

In high-power distance index countries, employees are often afraid to express disagreement with managers, power in organizations is not equally distributed, and people in power hold special privileges.

In low-power distance index countries, people downplay their power, trying to look less powerful than they really are. There are fewer overt symbols of power, and power in organizations is often more equally distributed.

A culture with a high power distance is not inherently bad. But it is bad in situations in which you don’t feel comfortable disagreeing with your superior when lives are at stake. For instance, the airlines of high-power distance index (high PDI) cultures are...

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Outliers Summary Outliers Guide Chapter 8: The Influence of Inherited Attitudes Toward Work

Another way our inherited culture shapes our success is by informing our attitudes toward work. These attitudes might be passed down directly through legends or proverbs, but they also get passed down indirectly through surprising channels.

Why Asians Are Good at Math

The idea that Asians are good at math is a stereotype. It’s also true - on international comparison tests, students from Asian countries score in the 98th percentile.

But Gladwell argues it’s not true for the reasons you might think, like genetic predisposition to math. Instead, Gladwell argues it comes from a cultural heritage of rice farming, which created a culture of diligence.

We’ll discuss why diligence, rather than innate ability, may create excellent mathematicians, and why Asians developed a culture of diligence.

The Importance of Diligence in Math

When it comes to math, the best students are the ones willing to spend a lot of time figuring out how to solve a problem.

When kids take the TIMSS, an international math and science test, they also have to fill out a 120-question questionnaire about topics such as their parents’ level of education and their opinions about...

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Shortform Exercise: Identifying Cultural Legacies

Reflect on the lessons, beliefs, and assumptions passed down to you.


Think of lessons your parents explicitly taught you growing up, or values or beliefs you learned from your parents’ example (or the example of another family member). What are they? How have these lessons or beliefs contributed to your success? How might they have hindered it?

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Outliers Summary Outliers Guide Chapter 9: Challenging Cultural Legacies

Success is a gift. True outliers are given opportunities and are smart enough to seize them. This chapter asks, how might we, as a society, build systems that create more opportunities for more individuals so that the Langans of the world might become the next Einsteins?

One way we encourage more success is by gifting people with the opportunity of time. One school system thinks the answer is to increase the length of the school day and academic year.

KIPP Academy

KIPP Academy in the South Bronx is an experimental, public middle school with an astonishing track record. It produces many, many outliers in low-income, underserved communities by creating opportunities for success. KIPP is now a nation-wide school network.

What Makes the KIPP Kids Outliers?

While only 16% of middle school students in the South Bronx are performing at or above their grade level, seventh-grade KIPP students are already learning high school algebra. By eighth grade, 84% of KIPP students are performing at or above their grade level.

What is the Secret to KIPP’s Success?

More time. **Students attend school for longer periods of time both over the course of a day and...

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Outliers Summary Outliers Guide Epilogue: The Cultural Legacies that Contribute to Individual Success

Gladwell’s mother, Joyce, was born in Jamaica in 1931. She received a series of opportunities that enabled her to build a meaningful life out of initially difficult circumstances. In the Epilogue, Gladwell looks at the opportunities that helped his mother become an outlier (which led to Gladwell being an outlier himself).

Opportunity #1: The Timing Was Right

Joyce was born at just the right time to receive a private education. In 1935, historian William M. MacMillian published a popular book arguing that a lack of educational opportunities for the poorest Jamaicans was increasing the class divide and would lead to trouble in the colony for the British government. MacMillian’s writings inspired a series of riots throughout the Caribbean, and **the...

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Shortform Exercise: What is Success?

Reflect on your view of success.


In what ways has your idea of success changed after reading this book? When you look at your own level of success, do you view it any differently?

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Table of Contents

  • 1-Page Summary
  • Shortform Introduction
  • Introduction: Defining an Outlier
  • Part 1: Opportunity | Chapter 1: The Opportunities of Accumulative Advantage
  • Exercise: Acknowledge Accumulative Advantage and Self-fulfilling Prophecies in Your Life
  • Chapter 2: The Opportunity to Practice 10,000 Hours
  • Exercise: Clocking Your 10,000 Hours
  • Chapter 3: The Limits of Intelligence
  • Exercise: Take the Divergence Test
  • Chapter 4: The Opportunities Created by the Way You Were Raised
  • Exercise: Hone Your Practical Intelligence
  • Chapter 5: The Opportunities of Unexpected Advantages
  • Exercise: Find Opportunities in Unexpected Places
  • Part 2: Cultural Legacy | Chapter 6: The Influence of Cultures of Honor
  • Chapter 7: The Influence of Societal Hierarchies
  • Chapter 8: The Influence of Inherited Attitudes Toward Work
  • Exercise: Identifying Cultural Legacies
  • Chapter 9: Challenging Cultural Legacies
  • Epilogue: The Cultural Legacies that Contribute to Individual Success
  • Exercise: What is Success?