In his book Outliers: The Story of Success, what is author Malcolm Gladwell's opinion on what it means to be successful?

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Tamara K. H. eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In his book Outliers: The Story of Success, author Malcolm Gladwell refutes the standard, accepted argument that successful people are so simply because they put in a whole lot of hard work and effort. Alternatively, Gladwell offers the new thesis that "people don't rise from nothing"; instead, successful people are "beneficiaries of hidden advantages and extraordinary opportunities and cultural legacies that allow them to learn and work hard and make sense of the world in ways others cannot" ("The Matthew Effect"). In other words, Gladwell is arguing that successful people have, in a sense, been born lucky in terms of ethnic advantage, socioeconomic advantage, and even just lucky timing; their lucky births coupled with their hard work lead to their success.

In the second chapter, Gladwell points out the age-old argument that successful people all have one similarity in common--they all devoted 10,000 hours to practicing their skill and did not become successful until after those 10,000 hours were completed. However, Gladwell takes the age-old argument one step further by pointing out that even obtaining 10,000 hours of practice, about 10 years of time, requires a lot of luck and advantageous circumstances. Gladwell phrases his point in the following:

It's all but impossible to reach that number all by yourself by the time you're a young adult. You have to have parents who encourage and support you. You can't be poor, because if you have to hold down a part-time job on the side to help make ends meet, there won't be time left in the day to practice enough. In fact, most people can reach that number only if they get into some kind of special program likeĀ  a hockey all-star squad. ("The 10,000-Hour Rule 'In Hamburg, We Had to Play for Eight Hours'")

To illustrate his point, he refers to Bill Joy, who is one of our world's most famous computer programmers and even responsible for the Internet. Gladwell points out that just prior to the time Joy was learning computer programming, programming was an extremely tedious chore due to the fact the computer could only handle one task at a time; therefore, it was back then absolutely impossible to gain 10,000 hours of time practicing computer programming. Yet, in the late 1960s, the concept of time-sharing had been discovered in which scientists realized a computer could be trained to do more than one task at a time and hundreds of programmers could feed programs to the computer from their own terminal using a phone line. Plus, the University of Michigan, Joy's university, was one of the first to implement time-sharing, which placed Joy at a tremendous advantage for learning computer programming, something he wasn't even interested in when he entered the university his freshman year.

Hence, according to Gladwell, being successful means being born with or being given advantages that allow you to achieve the otherwise nearly impossible task of putting in the 10,000 hours worth of work needed to achieve success. In other words, according to Gladwell, being successful is a combination of luck and hard work.

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Outliers: The Story of Success

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