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Solutions and Implications for the Future Theme Analysis

Themes and Colors
Success and Failure Theme Icon
Talent, Opportunity, Work, and Luck Theme Icon
Timing and Historical Context Theme Icon
Privilege, Heritage, and Cultural Background Theme Icon
Solutions and Implications for the Future Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in Outliers, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Solutions and Implications for the Future Theme Icon

Throughout Outliers, in addition to exploring the factors that determine success, Gladwell demonstrates how an improved understanding of success could have a dramatic impact on some of the most crucial facets of contemporary society, such as business, athletics, economics and education. Gladwell attributes several major societal problems, such as low graduation rates in inner-city schools, to a failure to understand success. For example, Gladwell posits that educational outcomes in inner city schools could be improved by adjusting age cut-offs or shortening summer vacation, two overlooked factors that have been shown in research-based studies to significantly impact student outcomes. Throughout Outliers, Gladwell seeks not only to inform, but also to suggest specific evidence-based solutions to real 21st-century problems. He also invites the reader to apply his or her newfound understanding of success to think constructively about how we can all contribute to a better society by focusing on the success factors that matter most, such as opportunity and hard work, rather than perpetuating the myth of “talent” above all.

Solutions and Implications for the Future ThemeTracker

The ThemeTracker below shows where, and to what degree, the theme of Solutions and Implications for the Future appears in each chapter of Outliers. Click or tap on any chapter to read its Summary & Analysis.
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Solutions and Implications for the Future Quotes in Outliers

Below you will find the important quotes in Outliers related to the theme of Solutions and Implications for the Future.
Chapter 1 Quotes

The talent of essentially half of the Czech athletic population has been squandered.

Page Number: 31
Explanation and Analysis:

Gladwell here gives a surprising example of how accumulative advantage works in practice. On the Czech soccer team, there are almost no players born in the second half of the year (July through December). Gladwell offers his theory for why this is the case. As young boys, Czech citizens are organized onto soccer teams based on the year in which they were born. At the age of 7 or 8, being born in January is a big advantage over being born in December--almost a year makes a marked difference in a young boy's height and strength. So from an early age, the boys born in the first half of the year get a small advantage in sporting events. Instead of "evening out" over the years, such advantages actually accumulate over time--the boys born in the first half of the year get more praise and attention from their coaches, and thus succeed even more.

Gladwell sums up his findings by pointing out that a huge chunk of Czech athletes have been essentially barred from professional athleticism simply because they were born in the wrong months (and therefore never enjoyed the slow accumulation of advantages that their slightly older teammates did). It's unclear what, exactly, Gladwell is proposing in place of the current system of organization (i.e., a system that organizes young people based on the year in which they were born). Nevertheless, it's bizarre and surprising to think that half of an entire population has had such a huge obstacle put in the way of them achieving athletic success.


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We are too much in awe of those who succeed and far too dismissive of those who fail.

Page Number: 32
Explanation and Analysis:

Gladwell offers an explanation for why governments and administrators haven't tried to correct problems of accumulative advantage in schools and on sports teams. Most human beings sincerely believe in the myths of individual success: we like to think that people prosper because of their innate superiority. In short--"talent rises to the top."

But Gladwell is largely dismissive of such myths of individual excellence. Individual talents can only get you so far: humans also need support, leisure time for practicing, and attention from professionals to push themselves along the road to success. Because society's myths of individual greatness are so powerful and pervasive, people don't acknowledge that success is truly a "team effort."

Chapter 2 Quotes

I don’t mean to suggest…that every software tycoon in Silicon Valley was born in 1955...but there are very clearly patterns here, and what’s striking is how little we seem to want to acknowledge them.

Page Number: 67
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Gladwell points out something surprising: most of the biggest names in personal computers were born within a couple years of each other--including Steve Jobs and Bill Gates. Surely, Gladwell argues, birth year was an important factor in determining Jobs and Gates's success--if they'd been born a couple years too late or too early, they might not have chosen to move to Silicon Valley to invest in computers, and someone else would have risen to fame in the same field. In short, Gladwell argues that external factors like the year in which a person is born play a key role in their success. Gladwell doesn't have a detailed argument about how, exactly Jobs's life would have been different had he grown up a couple years too early (he could he?). Rather, Gladwell notes that most people don't even realize that most of the major computer tycoons were born around the same time: people are so obsessed with myths of individual talent that they disregard the importance of sheer luck and external circumstances like the historical timing of one's life.

Chapter 3 Quotes

Terman didn’t understand what a real outlier was, and that’s a mistake we continue to make to this day.

Related Characters: Dr. Terman
Page Number: 77
Explanation and Analysis:

In this chapter, Gladwell talks about one of the most famous studies of the relationship between IQ and success: Dr. Louis Terman's study of IQ, which played out in the middle of the 20th century. Terman thought that by studying a group of young children with astronomical IQs, he could eventually learn about what factors determine success in life. Terman's mistake, Gladwell argued, was to believe that people with extremely high IQs go on to greatness in life. In other words, Terman assumed that being an outlier in life was equivalent to having an outlying intelligence. In general, people tend to believe that innate ability and success are one and the same--a mistake that Gladwell spends his entire book trying to debunk.

This was Terman’s error. He fell in love with the fact that his Termites were at the absolute pinnacle of the intellectual scale...without realizing how little that seemingly extraordinary fact meant.

Related Characters: Dr. Terman
Page Number: 89
Explanation and Analysis:

Gladwell continues his discussion of Dr. Louis Terman, the psychologist who tried to "predict" success by studying young children with high IQs. Gladwell insists that Terman was too narrow and reductive in his definition of success; in other words, too reductive in his definition of being an outlier. To be a success in life, or to be a genius, isn't only a matter of having a high IQ--indeed, there are all sorts of people with high IQs who never achieve anything particularly noteworthy, and all sorts of people considered "geniuses" who don't have high IQs. Rather, success and genius result from many, many factors, including determination, support from teachers and family, and luck.

Chapter 4 Quotes

The Cs were squandered talent. But they didn’t need to be.

Related Characters: The Termites
Page Number: 113
Explanation and Analysis:

At the end of the chapter, Gladwell brings the conversation back to Dr. Terman, the doctor who tried to find a link between intelligence and success. Terman continued to chart his children's success in life--some of these brilliant children went on to be great successes in life, while others turned out to be pretty average. Terman noted one major factor in his subjects' success in life: their class. Children who were brilliant but came from a lower-class environment tended to be less successful later in life. Gladwell argues that such children ended up less successful because, among other reasons, they didn't have the same sense of support and entitlement that their higher-class counterparts did. In other word, the lower-class children didn't lobby for themselves, easily form relationships with colleagues, have free time to practice, etc.--their talent was "squandered."

Chapter 5 Quotes

Since we know outliers always have help along the way, can we sort through the ecology of Joe Flom and identify the conditions that helped create him?

Related Characters: Joe Flom
Page Number: 120
Explanation and Analysis:

In this chapter, Gladwell deals with another issue: the success of minorities and oppressed peoples. So far, Gladwell has been exploring the idea that people succeed because they're helped along by other people, or by sheer coincidence. How, then, would Gladwell respond to the success of people like Joe Flom--people who were persecuted because of their religious faith (Flom was a Jew) and yet became very successful? Surely Joe Flom's success is proof that the greatest talent rises to the top inevitably.

Gladwell seeks to debunk the idea that minorities' success is only the result of their striving and hard work. On the contrary, he argues, the playing field certainly isn't even, but minorities are still subject to the same system of luck, circumstance, and determination. While their overall privileges may be less than members of majorities, certain factors can still uniquely contribute to success in individual cases.

Chapter 9 Quotes

Schools work. The only problem with school, for the kids who aren’t achieving, is that there isn’t enough of it.

Page Number: 259
Explanation and Analysis:

Gladwell uses statistical analysis to argue that the biggest problem with the American educational system is that summer vacation is too long. For middle- and upper-class families, summer vacation is an opportunity for children to gain useful skills: studying, joining sports teams, going to camp, etc.--things that usually require money and free time on the parents' part. For lower-class families, however, summer vacation is a time when many students regress. Without intellectual stimulation or access to clubs or teams, lower-class children fall behind their wealthier peers--a tragic decline that school is partly designed to reverse.

In all, Gladwell argues that school succeeds in its intended purpose: providing the equalizing force of education for students of all ages and economic brackets. But because of the length of summer vacation (a phenomenon that's basically unique to American kids), the gap between wealthy and poor students is higher than it needs to be.

Her community does not give her what she needs. So what does she have to do? Give up her evenings and weekends and friends—all the elements of her old world—and replace them with KIPP

Related Characters: Marita
Page Number: 266
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Gladwell clarifies and qualifies some of his thoughts about how to achieve equality and success in American society. He praises schools like KIPP, which are designed to help students from low-income families by giving them year-round education. By going to school 12 months of the year, students gain an advantage over their wealthier peers, equalizing society somewhat.

But, as Gladwell fully admits, it's unfair that poorer students are the ones who should have to change their behavior by working harder. Marita, the student Gladwell discusses in this chapter, attempts a KIPP school, and she works like crazy. She wakes up early every day, comes home from school, does her homework until midnight, and then goes to sleep again. She works incredibly hard, simply to be as educated and well-qualified for college as wealthier students (who have the luxury of summer vacation). Marita is making an incredible sacrifice: she's giving up her friends and her weekends, just to succeed in life.

It's important that Gladwell makes this point here. Gladwell wants society to reform using his findings, but he doesn't believe that society will necessarily become "fairer" in the process. Marita is working hard to achieve equality with her wealthier peers--a process that is far from fair, and actually rather tragic.

Marita just needed a chance. And look at the chance she was given! Someone brought a little bit of the rice paddy to South Bronx and explained to her the miracle of meaningful work.

Related Characters: Marita
Page Number: 269
Explanation and Analysis:

In the end, Gladwell argues that Marita--the young student who studies hard at KIPP--is making a worthwhile sacrifice by attending the KIPP school. Marita is giving up her friends and her weekends, but she's gaining the opportunity to go to college, make more money, and provide for her family. In short, Marita has been offered an incredible chance, which few of her low-income peers ever get: the chance at a good education. Marita is, in short, the very embodiment of the "seized opportunities" that Gladwell finds so important to success. People like Marita succeed in the long run, not just because of their innate talent, but because they seize all available opportunities for success. By working hard at KIPP, Marita gives up a lot but may gain more in the long run.

Eplg Quotes

These were history’s gifts to my family—and if the resources of that grocer, the fruits of those riots, the possibilities of that culture, and the privileges of that skin tone had been extended to others, how many more would now live a life of fulfillment, in a beautiful house high on a hill?

Page Number: 285
Explanation and Analysis:

At the end of his book, Gladwell turns his analysis to his own family. Gladwell acknowledges that his own success in life is the result of his heritage and his economic background, not just his intelligence or his talent. Gladwell grew up in relative prosperity because his ancestors had a huge advantage over their darker-skinned peers: his ancestors lived at a time when white and pale-skinned people were heavily favored over black and dark-skinned people. In short, Gladwell has succeeded in life because he was given the opportunity for success thanks to social prejudices and his family history.

Gladwell can't help but wonder how different society would be if everyone had the advantages that he enjoyed as a child. To contemplate one's own success honesty and frankly is to admit that there are billions of people who deserve the same success but have never gotten the chance to gain it.