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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What does Gladwell believe is the common perception of successful versus unsuccessful people?

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Most of us believe wildly successful people are special in some way. They have more innate and superior talent than the rest of us, have perfect bodies, or are equipped with the diligence to work continually on improving themselves. To use an old phrase, they pull themselves up by their own bootstraps. In Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell provides key examples to show many other factors have always been in play for these individuals to gain their high status. Near the end of Chapter One, “The Matthew Effect,” he says:

We cling to the idea that success is a simple function of individual merit and that the world in which we all grow up and the rules we choose to write as a society don’t matter at all.

And near the end of Chapter Two, “The 10,000-Hour Rule,” he further advances this point:

There are very clearly patterns here, and what’s striking is how little we seem to want to acknowledge them. We pretend that success is exclusively a matter of individual merit. But there’s nothing in any of the histories we’ve looked at so far to suggest things are that simple. These are stories, instead, about people who were given a special opportunity to work really hard and seized it, and who happened to come of age at a time when that extraordinary effort was rewarded by the rest of society. Their success was not just of their own making. It was a product of the world in which they grew up.

The rest of the book goes on to outline and illustrate the kinds of historical, cultural, and even linguistic factors that have helped specific individuals advance in areas where “normal” people have not. Reading this book can change the way you define “success.”

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