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Chapter 1 of Malcolm Gladwell's Outliers opens with a discussion of a Canadian hockey game, a game for the Memorial Cup championships. Gladwell describes then the Canadian hockey system, explaining that it is a meritocracy, meaning those who show talent and promise are rewarded for their efforts by moving up in the system and becoming part of "an elite league" (16).
In the second section of the Chapter, Gladwell previews for the reader the nature of his inquiry: What is it about strikingly successful people that makes them so successful? Gladwell questions the conventional wisdom that says people rise from "nothing" to become successful. He states his central thesis, which is that "hidden advantages and extraordinary opportunities and cultural legacies" (19) are responsible for the success of the "outliers." He characterizes this as the "ecology of the organism" (19), in this case, the human being.
In the third section, Gladwell provides us with information about the birthdates of successful Canadian hockey players and invites us to see a pattern or trend in the information. In the fourth section, he provides us with the key to the pattern, which is that the most successful players were born early in the year. The implication he points out is that because of the cutoff date for entry into the hockey system, players who have birthdays early in the year are older, stronger, and more skilled than the rest of their cohort, thus leading them to excel.
Gladwell then connects his ideas in the fifth section, presenting us with the "Matthew Effect" (30), which comes from the Gospel of Matthew. That book of the New Testament has a verse that promises abundance to those who already "have" abundance. Gladwell provides other examples of this effect, including the effect upon students who are older than their peers because of their earlier birthdays. He characterizes the advantage conferred as an "accumulative advantage" (30.) Every year, the successful are groomed a bit more, nurtured a bit more, and eventually this advantage accumulates into the creation of an outlier.
In the final section, Gladwell returns to the Canadian hockey players, and a particularly successful player, Gord Waden, who was born early in January.
This is a fascinating book, and I hope my summary persuades you to read and summarize the rest of the story. Gladwell makes it easy to summarize his writing because each chapter is divided into sections and he is good at creating transitions and making connections between his ideas.
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