Gladwell is keenly interested in investigating the complex and often misunderstood relationships among individual talent, hard work, opportunity, and luck in creating “outliers,” like star athletes, highly successful entrepreneurs, and famous academics. Gladwell endeavors to show that individual talent is necessary but not sufficient to achieve success. The surrounding context of available opportunity is also crucial. For example, Bill Gates would never have been so successful without his unusually frequent exposure to computing technology in an era where computers were still rare. Mozart had tremendous innate talent, but just as important a contributor to his success was the opportunity and time he had to practice composing music for thousands of hours, making him more successful than others who, for a variety of reasons, did not have such time. These outliers were not only talented and willing to work hard—they were able to.
Luck also plays a crucial role in success. Gladwell opens Outliers by demonstrating that a young Canadian boy’s birth month, of all things, can have a tremendous impact on his likelihood of success in hockey. A fourth grader’s ability to test well is determined in large part by his or her birth month, due solely to age cut-off dates for certain school years, and not as a result of any individual traits like talent, intelligence, or study habits. Gladwell uses fact-based evidence like this to prove that seemingly random factors like date of birth can be integral to success. His systematic and carefully researched findings show that great success results not from any single factor, such an individual “gift” for sports or music, but from a confluence of many factors, most notably hard work, opportunity, and luck. The pervasive societal narrative about success resulting from being “gifted” is a misconception, and “pure talent” is a myth.
Talent, Opportunity, Work, and Luck ThemeTracker
Talent, Opportunity, Work, and Luck Quotes in Outliers
They had to look beyond the individual. They had to understand the culture he or she was a part of, who their friends and families were, and what town their families came from.
But [a professional hockey player] didn’t start out as an outlier. He started out just a little bit better.
The talent of essentially half of the Czech athletic population has been squandered.
The outliers in a particular field reached their lofty status through a combination of ability, opportunity, and utterly arbitrary advantage.
In fact, researchers have settled on what they believe is the magic number for true expertise: ten thousand hours.
Do you know how extraordinary that is? Most bands today don’t perform twelve hundred times in their entire careers. The Hamburg crucible is one of the things that set the Beatles apart.
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.
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.
[Oppenheimer] possessed the kind of savvy that allowed him to get what he wanted from the world.
The sense of entitlement…is an attitude perfectly suited to succeeding in the modern world.
The Cs were squandered talent. But they didn’t need to be.
No one—not rock stars, not professional athletes, not software billionaires, and not even geniuses—ever makes it alone.
Throughout history, not surprisingly, the people who grow rice have always worked harder than almost any other kind of farmer.
Schools work. The only problem with school, for the kids who aren’t achieving, is that there isn’t enough of it.
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
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?