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Outliers Summary

Here’s the Outliers summary. Learn a few of the factors that contribute to high levels of success. You’ll also learn about the 10,000-hour rule.


Outliers author Malcolm Gladwell explains how some of the best and brightest achieved massive success. He explains how external factors affect people’s upbringing.

He tells that a few people have already gained advantages. Those advantages give them a head start compared to their peers. That head start accumulates more advantages. It’s the Matthew effect as they say.

About the Author

Malcolm Gladwell is a bestselling author and speaker. He has been a staff writer for The New Yorker since 1996.

Aside from Outliers, he also wrote The Tipping Point, Blink, and David and Goliath. His works often focus on psychology and sociology. Learn more about him through his website.

Main takeaways: Outliers Summary

Let’s discuss the key takeaways from his book:

  1. Head start matters more than you think.
  2. Apply the 10,000-hour rule.
  3. Your environment might matter more than your intelligence and ambition.

Head start matters more than you think

Gladwell told the story of how professional Canadian players are being chosen. The annual cutoff date matters a lot. The selection favors the older ones. That means they are bigger and they have more physical capabilities.

The older ones get in. They get more training. They get more attention. While the younger ones continue to struggle. The older ones got the head start. After several years, it’s now really hard to catch up.

It happens in other fields. In business, the first ones often get the biggest share. That happens even if the succeeding ones are better. Here’s another thing. The advantages accumulate.

Let’s look at this example. Rich kids often get the best in life. They have access to quality education. They have access to technologies so they can learn more. The advantages accumulate. Soon they’ll be far ahead of the poor ones.

As rich kids grow up, they get exposed to bigger opportunities. Their family has powerful friends up there. Often they’ll have friends who manage or own their businesses. More success gets easier because they’re already in the right position to achieve their goals.

Apply the 10,000-hour rule

Why 10,000 hours? Some experts say that it’s the time required for anyone to truly master anything.

That 10,000 hours translate to roughly 5 years of 40-hour workweeks. That’s a long time to master something. But that’s what help people stand out. They master the intricacies of a particular skill. You’ll know a world-class person whenever you see one.

There’s a catch though. It’s not just random practice. What you need is deliberate practice. That means you’re honest with yourself. You get feedback. And you always aim for improvement.

Practice is not just plain repetition of doing something. It’s also about feedback and results. You still need to do repetition. This way your subconscious mind masters the movement. Your conscious mind is then free to focus on more important things.

The 10,000-hour rule seems extreme. But here’s the key lesson I think. We need to spend time to get good at something. We need deliberate practice. We need to be so good that people can’t ignore us.

Your environment might matter more than your intelligence and ambition

I mentioned earlier how rich kids accumulate advantage. It’s the Matthew effect. The rich gets richer and the poor gets poorer. One reason is that they get a head start. Another reason is their environment.

The rich are surrounded by people who are also rich. They get exposed to other opportunities. They also pick up the habits of more successful people.

Another example is those people good at math (Asians are often perceived as math geniuses). Asian culture emphasizes hard work. And their school curriculum has rigorous math training.

It’s just natural that all or most of the Asian students will become very good at math. They will become far better than other students because of their environment.

Even if someone has great talent or high ambition, her environment will still have an effect. She might be dragged down by the system. Or she will be lifted further because of the environmental advantages.

The author also told stories about other outliers. He studied them. He realized that it’s not all about hard work. Some people just had a head start or they got lucky. Then they got more wins along the way. That made it harder for others to catch up to them.

My personal takeaways

Yes there are unfair advantages. Luck, a good head start, and a supportive environment all play a role for someone to become super successful.

However, that doesn’t mean it’s all out of control. We can still do deliberate practice so we can get early advantages. Then we can use those advantages to get more success.

We all have to start somewhere. We should work hard and get good at something. Here’s another thing. We don’t have to be super successful. We don’t have to be the richest person on the planet. We don’t need to be an outlier. What we need to do is to achieve our goals.

We also know that we get luckier as we get more prepared. Apply deliberate practice. Accumulate advantages. And we’ll see more success along the way.

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