What does Gladwell say most people believe about those who are deemed successful, versus those who are not as successful? (To what is their success usually attributed?)

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In Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers: The Story of Success, the author discusses what makes certain individuals successful using multiple examples, from Canadian ice hockey players to Bill Gates.

Throughout the book, Gladwell dismantles what he deems misconceptions about what makes someone successful. In modern Western society, most people believe that success is based on an individual’s combination of hard work and talent. People also tend to think that success can only be attributed to the individual, regardless of his or her circumstances in life at birth. Thus, society views success as a meritocratic pursuit whereby only the best of the best will achieve the greatest heights.

Gladwell suggests, however, that this is an oversimplification and that no one achieves astronomical success alone. Instead, he explains how circumstances, luck, and hard work all interact to create a highly successful individual. For example, he discusses how elite professional ice hockey players in Canada all tend to be born in the first couple months of a calendar year. Because of this, they get grouped in youth recreational leagues with players who were born as late as December 31. As a result, these larger, more developed kids get singled out by coaches as having greater athletic potential. This means they are usually selected for extra coaching and mentorship that the other kids do not receive. Because of this, these players become more elite athletes due to refining their skills, likely meeting the 10,000 Hour Rule that Gladwell cites throughout the book.

Gladwell’s thesis on success is best summed up in a quote from the end of the book, when he states that success:

is not exceptional or mysterious. It is grounded in a web of advantages and inheritances, some deserved, some not, some earned, some just plain lucky . . .

Ultimately, Gladwell suggests that success is not the sole result of talent and hard work but rather a complex set of factors.

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