What is Malcolm Gladwell's cultural legacy in the book Outliers: The Story of Success?

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durbanville eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Malcolm Gladwell is a firm believer in potential. It is making the most of potential that ensures results. In The Outliers, Gladwell focuses on time, place and opportunity as being crucial in realizing potential. He is a huge believer in the mantra of "practice makes perfect" and refers to the "10 000-Hr Rule," in ensuring mastery of a skill.  

In Part two of his book, Gladwell discusses the effect of culture on success and how a legacy endures, "generation after generation." Passing on beliefs, ideas and methods of doing things all relate to a cultural legacy. This way, special skills are passed down and a unique environment is created and preserved allowing for descendants to acquire and become specialists in the same field of expertise as their parents and grandparents, for example.

A cultural legacy can have either a positive or negative effect on success. Gladwell uses the example of Korean pilots, so affected by the power and control system of their country, that a high failure rate previously prevailed and pilots would crash their planes with regularity and far beyond any norms. Altering their cultural legacy, at least in their immediate environment, allowed them to overcome this legacy of failure by promoting and encouraging a more collaborative and combined atmosphere. It all comes down to expectations. 

Gladwell admits that some of his claims are cliché, when he talks of communities and feelings of belonging but that does not make them any less true.  He strongly advocates the philosophy that, "What we do as a community, as a society, for each other, matters as much as what we do for ourselves." Self-made men are not self-made purely from their own grit and determination but from their circumstances, opportunities and support system. 

chsmith1957 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Malcolm Gladwell ends the book Outliers with his own origin story. He describes how his mother, Joyce Nation, grew up in Jamaica as one of a pair of twin sisters. The two girls were lucky enough to win scholarships so that they could leave the island to get a better education at a boarding school in London, England. Here Joyce met math professor Graham Gladwell. The couple fell in love, got married, and moved to Canada, where eventually their son Malcolm was born. But in order for the author to have come into the world at all, a number of circumstances had to be perfect at each step of the process. Joyce had to leave Jamaica, go to England, and be in the right place at the right time to meet Graham. On Joyce’s end, the story is linked to the history and culture of Jamaica in the twentieth century. The most important social and deciding factors here at the time included the matters of race, skin color, and educational opportunities for girls.

By including part of his personal life with us, Gladwell shows that everyone is affected by “outlier” events. This technique quietly prompts us to think about our own cultural legacies and what intersections had to exist for our own parents to meet. It makes for terrific food for thought.

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Outliers: The Story of Success

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