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Book Review: Outliers The Story of Success

Richelle Calbert

University of St. Thomas

Dr. Theresa M. Campos

EDUC 6330 Administrative Internship

Spring 2017

Outliers. Defined in Malcolm Gladwells book, Outliers The Story of Success,

an outlier is something that is situated away from or classed differently from a main or related

body, and as a statistical observation that is markedly different in value from the others of the

sample (p.3). Gladwell states, This is a book about outliers, men and women who do things

out of the ordinary (p.17).

The following items are the elements found to be significant and are the components to

be discussed in a yearlong book study with staff at faculty meetings. The focus of the book study

would be How to be successful. It may be beneficial to perform this study with beginning

teachers or teachers new to your campus, after the initial study is completed. It would be good to

have the lessons presented as a backbone to the vision of a campus that is focused on success.

Participants in the book study would be asked to write a one paragraph response to the lesson for

the day.

Part one of the book focuses on how opportunity is a critical component of success. In

chapter one, Gladwell emphasizes, The tallest oak in the forest is the tallest not just because it

grew from the hardiest acorn; it is the tallest also because no other trees blocked its sunlight, the

soil around it was deep and rich, no rabbit chewed through it bark as a sapling, and no

lumberjack cut it down before it matured (p.19-20). The point he makes is that no one person

endures success, solely based on talent. It is through combined lucks of the draw, if you will.

He makes the example of professional hockey players. Most professional hockey players are

born in January. Those players, as children, were the oldest in their leagues. Because of this they

were more physically mature than players born later in the year, they were more coordinated and

altogether, talented. They were chosen for the all-star leagues, which made them even more

talented, and gave them better coaches, better teammates, better opponents and more games,

more practice. They got increasingly better. So, Gladwell says, it is not that they are inherently

better, but that [they] are a little older (p. 24-25). He puts this phenomenon in an educational

context, The same is true in kindergarten. You think the advantage goes away. But it doesnt. It

locks children into patterns of achievement and underachievement, encouragement and

discouragement, that stretch on and on for years (p.25).

Chapter two, goes on to discuss the 10,000-hour rule. The primary character of the

chapter was Bill Joy. Bill Joy was the computer programmer of UNIX, he cofounded Sun

Microsystems, and wrote Java (p.37). Gladwell said that he achieved his status through a

combination of ability, opportunity and utterly arbitrary advantage (p.37). A common theme

throughout part one was that achievement of success comes from talent plus preparation. As

psychologists look at the careers of the gifted, the smaller the role innate talent seems to play,

and the bigger the role of preparation (p.39).

In comes the 10,000-hour rule. Elite performers had ten thousand hours of practice, good

performers had eight thousand hours and future music teachers had four thousand hours.

Gladwell made note that there were no naturals in the study. Meaning that there were no

musicians who magically floated to the top while practicing a fraction of the time (p.39). This

practice holds true to studies of expertise. Ten-thousand hours of practice is required to achieve

the level of mastery associated with being a world-class expert (p.40). He also made the point

that practice is not what you do once you are good, but it is what you do that makes you good.

Bill Joy is an example of the point he made here because he happened to go to a

farsighted school like the University Of Michigan, he was able to practice on a time-sharing

system instead of with punch cards because Michigans system happened to have a bug in it, he

could program all he wanted, because the university was willing to spend money to keep the

Computer Center open twenty-four hours, he could stay up all night; and because he was able to

put in so many hours, by the time he happened to be presented with the opportunity to rewrite

UNIX, he was up to the task (p.46). Talent plus preparation equals achievement when

opportunity presents itself.

Another main idea that Gladwell made in chapter two is that of the seventy-five

wealthiest individuals, fourteen are Americans born in the mid-nineteenth century. Again, this is

due to the opportunity that the era presented. This was the time of the Industrial Revolution and

the formation of Wall Street. These people were the right age, at the right place, with the right

talent, and the right vision when the right opportunity came along. The same goes for Bill Gates,

Steve Jobs, Bill Joy and other computer industry giants; they were all from the Silicon Valley and

all born in 1955. In chapter five, Gladwell went back to Bill Joy and Bill Gates. He stated that

they both toiled away in a relatively obscure field without any great hope for worldly success.

But then, BOOM. The personal computer revolution happened and their had their 10,000 hours

in (p.128).

Chapter three discusses the issues present with geniuses. The chapter talked about the

Termites, a study conducted by Lewis Terman. The subjects in the study were 1,470 of the

270,000 elementary and high school students sampled, who had IQs over 140 (p.90). The study

followed the children into their adult years. What he found was that if Terman had put together a

group of randomly selected children from the same background, he would have ended up with a

group doing almost as impressive things as his painstakingly selected group of geniuses (p.90).

Gladwell said that once a person achieves 120 IQ points, additional IQ points do not equate to

any real-world advantage (p.90). Just like a basketball player only has to be tall enough.

He talked about how equal opportunity laws allow for minority students to be admitted to

prestigious law schools, despite lower LSAT scores. Studies have indicated that these students,

do just as well for themselves, as their higher performing non-minority peers. Again, you only

must be smart enough to get into the school, then the opportunity for success levels out.

Part two talked about the role legacy play in success. Gladwell began by talking about

the aviation industry; how pilots need good teamwork and communication to avoid crashes,

along with skill and experience. He talked about the mitigating speech patterns and cultural

tendencies in speech and how those differences may propagate crashes. He said, Each of us

has his or her own distinct personality, but overlaid on top of that are tendencies and assumptions

and reflexes handed down to us by the history of the community we grew up in, and those

differences are extraordinarily specific (p.204). For example, Danish people react differently

to situations than Belgians, due to their innate cultural differences, like the uncertainty avoidance

index and the power distance index. The uncertainty index is how well a culture tolerates

ambiguity and the power distance index is how much a culture values and respects authority

(p.205). This all relates back to legacy.

Chapter 8 started by discussing rice patties in China. The chapter started with a quote,

No one who can rise before dawn three hundred sixty days a year fails to make his family rich

(p.224). This was confusing at first, but made sense by the end of the chapter. It goes on by

saying that Asian children learn to count much faster than American children (p.229). He

explained this by explaining that no number translation is necessary to compute answers for

Asian children, because of the way they express numbers. The same idea holds true for

fractions. In English, we say three- fifths, where as in Chinese, they say the fraction, so that is

corresponds to the meaning of the word, out of five parts, take three, there is not any

transmuting of information (p.229-230) Their legacy of being good at math, is due not only to

culturally valuing hard work and dedication (discussed later), but also due to linguistics.

The chapter continued with an example from Alan Schoenfeld. He performed an

experiment where he filmed people solving math problems. It took, Renee, the participant,

twenty-two minutes to solve the problem she was given. He found her unusual because most

people would give up, but she worked until she understood the concept. Gladwell also cited an

example from his class. He gives his students a problem that he doesnt know how to solve.

Then, he gives the students two weeks to solve it- on their own. He says, If you only spend one

week on this, youre not going to solve it. If on the other hand, you start working the day I give

you the midterm, youll be frustrated. Youll come to me and say, Its impossible, Ill tell you

to keep working, and by week two, youll be making significant progress (p.246). To

Schoenfeld, it is not so much about ability as attitude. And that is the major take-away.

Success is a function of persistence and doggedness and the willingness to work hard for

twenty-two minutes to make sense of something that most people would give up on after thirty

seconds (p.246). To Gladwell, Renee exhibited a cultural trait, embedded in her. He said that if

everyone had that trait, that would be a country good at math (p.247). What if we all had that

trait? What if we all practiced having that trait? Would it become engrained in us? We must be

willing to concentrate and sit still long enough to figure out the answer. This point has incredible

implications to education.

The book is concluded with an epilogue outlining Gladwells story. Briefly, he tells his

short story, followed with the real story. The short story, leaves out my mothers many

opportunities and the importance of her cultural legacy (p.272). He then goes on with examples

of these things.

In the end, Gladwell says, that outliers are not outliers at all. They are products of

history and community, of opportunity and legacyIt is grounded in a web of advantages and

inheritances, some deserved, some not, some earned, some just plain lucky- but all critical to

making them who they are (p.285). And it is truly so. No one makes it alone. No one is

successful without breaks in life. We must prepare ourselves, embrace our opportunities and

legacies. Then, when the time is right, the right breaks will lead us to success.


Gladwell, M. (2008). Outliers: the story of success. New York: Back Bay Books, Little, Brown

and Company.