What kind of explanation of outliers does Gladwell give in the book?  

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jovip18 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Gladwells essential argument for the existence for social outliers is that the most successful and memorable individuals throughout the course of history were blessed not with extraordinary skill or intelligence, but with a particular circumstance that allowed them to best apply their natural gifts. 


Gladwell’s primary argument for the existence of social outliers is that intelligence or ability, even in the most extreme cases, are not as rare as people believe.  In fact, according to the book, the world is full of extremely intelligent and gifted individuals.  Additionally, the book cites numerous studies that indicate intelligence alone is an extremely unreliable indicator when it comes to an individuals potential for success or achievement.  To be blunt, the book suggests that the world is full of intelligent and talented people who have achieved relatively little. 


Gladwell contends that when examining the lives of the most wildly successful and memorable individuals from throughout history, the “Outliers” about which the book is about, that it is possible to track their success back to events and circumstances outside of their control. 


 A contemporary example that he provides is the success of both Bill Gates and Steve Jobs.  Both Gates and Jobs were extremely intelligent and driven individuals.  However, the largest advantage that both of them had was not their intelligence or drive, but the economic and social situations into which they were born.  They were both born into wealthy families.  They both, by virtue of geographic luck, had access to an almost exclusive level of technology. 


For example, as an adolescent, Jobs and his family moved to Silicon Valley during the blossoming stages of the technological revolution.  This allowed him access to a computer and technology club sponsored by Hewlett Packard.  He was also able to eventually meet William Hewlett who he badgered for advice and spare parts.  Gates of course experienced a similar level of what the book considers luck, as he was able to attend one of the only high schools at the time that provided its students access to a computer.


The book contains numerous additional examples of people, both famous and relatively obscure, who can trace their success to extraordinary geographic, economic, and social circumstances entirely outside of their control.      

Read the study guide:
Outliers: The Story of Success

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