Malcolm Gladwell

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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.
Timing and Historical Context Theme Icon

Outliers is deeply concerned with the role of historical context and timing in determining success. Having a set of skills that one develops through hard work is not enough to guarantee success. In addition, one must also live in a time when those skills are valued by your culture. Your historical moment might also prevent you from acquiring certain skills. For example, Gladwell argues that if you entered the workforce as a computer scientist (say, at IBM) before the era of personal computers, when the personal computer did finally become mainstream, you would be too invested in the “old” way of doing things. You would be inevitably stuck in a historical status quo, and you would never attain the level of success of someone like Steve Jobs or Bill Gates, both of whom benefitted greatly from the timing of their involvement in the personal computer and software revolution. Gladwell uses statistical analysis to support his argument that timing plays a key role in determining success by examining the average age of Silicon Valley titans like Gates and Jobs: he finds that many of the most successful entrepreneurs of the computer age were born in or around 1955, placing them at the right time (and at the right age) to ride the wave of the personal computer revolution. Gates and Jobs are extreme examples of outliers, of course, but Gladwell “pans out,” so to speak, to show that almost any major success story can trace its roots to the societal context in which it occurred.

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Timing and Historical Context ThemeTracker

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

Below you will find the important quotes in Outliers related to the theme of Timing and Historical Context.
Intro Quotes

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.

Related Characters: Stewart Wolf
Page Number: 10
Explanation and Analysis:
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:
Chapter 4 Quotes

The sense of entitlement…is an attitude perfectly suited to succeeding in the modern world.

Page Number: 108
Explanation and Analysis:

No one—not rock stars, not professional athletes, not software billionaires, and not even geniuses—ever makes it alone.

Page Number: 115
Explanation and Analysis:
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:

Is there a perfect time for a New York Jewish lawyer to be born? It turns out there is.

Page Number: 131
Explanation and Analysis:
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: