Outliers Summary

One Paragraph Summary Outliers are people who statistically achieve extraordinary success. Malcolm Gladwell shows us why such people become so enormously successful and what we can learn to become even more successful in what we do.

Outliers Summary

Outliers—The Story of Success
A book by Malcolm Gladwell

By writing this book summary, I learned the following three things:

  • World-class mastery of anything demands around 10,000 hours of deliberate practice
  • Being in the right place at the right time matters
  • The family one is born in plays a huge role in having success

Key Ideas

The self-made man is a myth

We all love success stories. Stories of the self-made man are hugely popular. We like to think that an individual has earned his success through talent and hard work. In Outliers, you will learn that most often, many other factors play a role, which allows for a person to be successful. The myth about the self-made man we love to hear and tell is just that: a myth:

Talent alone will not make you world-class

We often attribute a person's skill to talent. We think that a good chess player has been born with his ability to concentrate intensely. We believe the same of a skilled athlete; he was born with the talent.

Jeb Bush called himself a self-made man when he ran for governorship in Florida. He did this because he knew that people love to hear and share a good story about a self-made man. But Jeb Bush had two U.S. Presidents, one U.S. senator and one wealthy banker in his immediate family who enabled his success.

Jeb Bush achieved something that is statistically extraordinary, but it was not his effort alone. Support from his family played a vital role in this success story.

It is undoubtedly a fact that innate characteristics such as height for a basketball player and problem-solving skills for a computer scientist play an essential role in that person's success. But the talent alone will not guarantee anything.

You might have an IQ higher than that of Albert Einstein, but this will not guarantee you a Nobel Prize.

The same applies to a basketball player. His height might be an essential factor, but just being taller than another basketball player will not make you a basketball legend. The size of a basketball player is only significant up to a certain threshold. Other factors like agility contribute to a player's success as well.

The 10,000 hours rule

We can agree on talent playing an essential role in a person's success. But hard work seems to be even more critical. Bill Gates might have been born with excellent problem-solving skills, but he certainly put in the necessary effort to be successful as well.

You need to practice to become an outlier. Studies show that you need around 10,000 hours of deliberate practice to become world-class in any field.

If you do not have the time to practice that much, it is far less likely that you will achieve that extraordinary success. Therefore you need to have the support which allows you to concentrate on your training.

And you certainly need to have access to equipment. If you want to foster your soccer career, this might be easy, but if you're going to become a world-class programmer, you need at least access to a computer, which might be hard to get access to in certain parts of the planet.

Unfair advantages

Professional hockey players in Canada have birthdays in the first half of the year. How can we explain this phenomenon?

In Canada, young hockey players born in the same year are playing in the same league. Thus the eight-year-old born in January plays with another kid born in December of the same year. Effectively the kid born in January is nearly one year older than the other. This difference in age gives an unfair advantage to the young player born in January.

One year makes a massive difference in the development of a child. The older kid will be stronger and is more likely to get the praise of the coach. This will give an unfair advantage to the older kids. This imbalance explains why most of the professional hockey players have their birthday in the first half of the year.

Such imbalances not only develop in hockey leagues but schools as well.

Practical intelligence

There is one key factor in success, which is not innate. This factor is practical intelligence, which is the knowledge of how to get what you want. This understanding includes how to interpret social situations and the ability to negotiate with authority figures.

Parents pass practical knowledge they have to their children. According to sociologist Annette Lareau, this happens more often in wealthy families than in more impoverished families, because wealthy parents teach their kids who to ask what and when. In short, children raised in affluent families will have more practical intelligence.

Children of more indigent parents are less likely to learn practical intelligence, an essential factor for success in life, from their parents.

The right place at the right time

Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, and Bill Joy were all born in the years between 1954 and 1956. The three billionaires were all born with extraordinary skills as well as ambition. And they all had the opportunity to practice their skills.

Now, one can think that this alone is the explanation of why they became billionaires. But there is another factor that attributed to their success: the time they were born in. They all needed to be in the right place at the right time.

It is hard to imagine that all three billionaires would have been equally successful would they have been born thirty years earlier.

Cultural background and success

Crop farming in the western world is much easier than rice farming in Asia. The rice farmer needs to have precision, coordination, and patience to make the rice harvest successful.

All of these traits, precision, coordination, and patience, are not only needed to be good rice farmers, but they are also useful for solving tricky math problems.

Thus, pupils with different cultural backgrounds have different work ethics when it comes to solving math problems.

So, after all, it might not be a politically incorrect statement when one says that Asians are generally good at math.

When small errors add up, it can end in disaster. Cultures nurture different forms of communication. Koreans, for example, communicate differently than Americans do because of their cultural background.

In Korea, for example, it is normal that a co-pilot defers to the captain. This hierarchy makes it more difficult for a co-pilot to correct a captain's error. But safety would demand clear communication between pilots to prevent mistakes.

Korean Air had a terrible safety record in the past with a crash-rate that was much higher than was normal in the industry. An investigation after another Korean plane crash revealed that poor communication between the co-pilot and the captain has lead to the sad incident.

After the Asian company hired an American firm to improve the communication within Korea Air, the crash-rate receded to the industry average.

Society can create opportunities for people to succeed

There are many flaws in today's system, which create disadvantages for some people in society. These disadvantages can add up over time, resulting in a life that is much harder than it needs to be.

The flaws in the system can be corrected, which would result in more equal opportunities for all.

Take schools, for example, creating smaller classes with pupils born in the same quarter of the year will result in equal opportunities for all children in that class.

Success is not a random act. It arises out of a predictable and powerful set of circumstances and opportunities.―Malcolm Gladwell

First Insight: World-class mastery of anything demands around 10,000 hours of deliberate practice

Practice isn't the thing you do once you're good. It's the thing you do that makes you good.―Malcolm Gladwell

You probably have heard of the 10,000 hours rule before reading this summary. When I first read the book, I also stumbled upon Dan, a guy who wanted to apply the 10,000-hour-rule to his own life to become a professional golfer.

One might interpret the rule that if you put in 10,000 hours of deliberate practice, you become world-class in the chosen area. But as we have seen, many factors need to play together to generate world-class success.

Still, to me, the 10,000-hour-rule is a fascinating concept. I do not have the ambition to become world-class in any field, but what if you create your own rule? Say, 1000 hours of deliberate practice will make you the best public speaker in your small town?

Second Insight: Being in the right place at the right time matters

Who we are cannot be separated from where we're from.―Malcolm Gladwell

Another concept that we all have heard before, but if you think about the success of a person like Bill Gates or Steve Jobs, it might be easier to see your opportunities in life.

Where are you at the moment? What are the distinctive characteristics of the time you are living in?

Third Insight: The family one is born in plays a huge role in having success

The values of the world we inhabit and the people we surround ourselves with have a profound effect on who we are.―Malcolm Gladwell

It is easy to think that the rich are privileged and to attribute success only to the wealth of a person. It becomes more interesting when you think about what wealthy parents are passing on to their children besides the money.

One such thing is practical intelligence. What could be more crucial for success than having the possibility to ask the right question and address it to the right person?

If you know how vital practical intelligence is and that it is taught in wealthy families, you can take prosperous families as role models to find out what you still need to learn and from whom else you could learn it.


We all love to hear a good success story. We are even more interested if that person is one of us and when the person's success came overnight.

Malcolm Gladwell shows us in Outliers why most of the time, these stories are just myths. Culture, family, place of birth and the birthday itself are all factors that might play a crucial role in becoming successful.

But Gladwell also shows what we can learn from these stories to become successful ourselves.


  • Don't blindly believe a success story
  • Take wealthy families as role models to learn from
  • Practice, practice, practice, to become good in your field

Outliers Summary—related resources

  Read more about Malcolm Gladwell on his website.

Malcolm Gladwell has written several other books, among them The Tipping Point and Blink (The Power of Thinking without Thinking).

Get FREE access to all of my book summary PDFs.

If you liked reading the Outliers Summary, you should also read the Rich Dad, Poor Dad Summary.

Posted on CuteMachine in career, education and productivity.

Jo's Profile ImageWritten by Jo who lives and works in Frankfurt building digital doodah. Stalk him on Twitter.

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