group of nondescript people standing in a crowd with a few special-looking outliers in the mix

Outliers: The Story of Success

by Malcolm Gladwell

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Are Gladwell's outlier explanations in Outliers widely accepted by the public?

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For the most part, the explanations that Gladwell challenges are widely accepted in our society.  This is not completely true as Gladwell seems to underestimate the degree to which people think that hard work is an important cause of success.  However, in challenging the idea of the self-made genius, Gladwell is clearly challenging an idea that is deeply held by many Americans. 

We Americans typically think that people completely make their own destinies.  We argue that anyone can become a “self-made” person if only they have the skills and the ambition.  In the US, we celebrate the idea that “rags to riches” is possible.  We can see this in the fact that we tend to believe that people who are poor are in that predicament because they lack the drive to escape.  We can also see this in our general rejection of programs that are meant to help people to achieve success.

Gladwell argues that much of success has to do with luck and the surroundings in which a person grows up.  He argues that Bill Gates would not have become Bill Gates without the rare (for those times) access to unlimited time on a computer.  By arguing that luck and family background and such things are instrumental in bringing about great success, Gladwell is going against typical American thinking.  However, Gladwell’s famous “10,000 hour rule” does not go against typical thinking.  We do believe in the efficacy of hard work and repetition.  We do not believe that great people are simply great because of their talents.

Thus, Gladwell does go against the grain when he says that luck and other such factors are important, but he is firmly in the mainstream when he says that hard work is vital to success.

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