Gladwell's overall message about success is described early in the book, where he says that to understand how very successful people (i.e., "outliers") become successful, we have to look outside the person themselves, at "the culture he or she is a part of . . . who their families were, and what towns their families come from." We "have to appreciate the idea that the values of the culture we inhabit and the people we surround ourselves have a profound effect on who we are." In the context of success, this means that successful people "don't rise from nothing." Their surroundings are as central to their success as their hard work, intelligence, and other characteristics we traditionally associate with very successful people, especially in the United States.
What we should be asking when we look at the very successful is not what they are like, but rather "where they are from." Hard work, intelligence, skill, and other factors are essential to the success of these "outliers," and he emphasizes the so-called "10,000-hour" rule, which says that in order to be successful, a person must work that long, but people not born into situations that support 10,000 hours worth of work will be less likely to succeed than people who have certain advantages. These advantages are related to resources, culture, and many other elements.
In other words, according to Gladwell, effort and talent are essential, but luck is also very important to one's success, so we should keep this in mind as we celebrate prodigies, geniuses, and other very successful people, and certainly as we try to figure out why they are so good at what they do.