A Summary and Review of Outliers: The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell for Thinking Executives – and Those Who Want to be One

This summary and review of the book, Outliers: The Story of Success, was prepared by Kelly N Guerin while an Accounting major student in the College of Business at Southeastern Louisiana University.

Cover of Outliers: The Story of Success

Executive Summary

In the book Outliers: The Story of Success, by Malcolm Gladwell, there are various stories that are told about successful people and their journey that lead up to where they are now. Some of these people are familiar, such as Bill Gates, The Beatles, and the famous lawyer, Joe Flom. There are also the explanations of why the Asian culture is so efficient in mathematics, or why the majority of professional hockey players have birthdates at the beginning of the year between January and March. There is an explanation behind every story for the reasons why they became so successful and the opportunities they were given that enabled them to reach their goals.

Gladwell begins the book by explaining the birthdates of professional hockey players and the reason why the majority of them were born between January and March. This is because the cutoff date is January 1, so the players that are born in the beginning have nearly a whole year advantage over the players that are born at the end of the year because they are taller and stronger.  Throughout Outliers, most of the stories told are relevant to this theory of the hockey players because it depends on the year that each person was born. The opportunities that were given to most of these people would not have been possible if they were born a few years earlier or even a few years later. Bill Gates story was also told and how he became involved in computer programming. He was only thirteen years old at the time and it was very expensive to run these types of programs, but he was in a club where the parents paid for the expenses. Also, when he was a couple years older he lived near the University of Washington which was one of the only universities that had the computers capable of programming. Therefore without this rare opportunity he was given and being born in a year that would put him at the perfect age to start programming, then we may not know him as the Bill Gates we know today. The same opportunities were given to The Beatles except that they were given the chance to play at a bar almost eight hours a day, seven days a week. Without this extreme amount of practice time, then they may have not been as great as they were.

Image via CrunchBase

Another explanation Gladwell presents in this book is that family background plays a major role in success. For example, Jewish immigrants that traveled to New York hundreds of years ago opened their own businesses just to be able to provide food to their families. Most of them sewed clothing and worked in the garment industry, which was something they considered meaningful. Their children learned that hard work and dedication was an important quality, which is why some of the children of those immigrants ended up becoming doctors, psychologists, and lawyers, such as Joe Flom. Family culture also plays a role in the way Asian culture is very efficient in math. Rice cultivation is very popular in Asia because this was how many people made their living. This involved working long hours nearly all year long and the process was very meticulous. Through those long hours, the value of hard work, dedication, and perfection was something that was then passed on to generation after generation. This is why Asians excel at math, because unlike others that will give up after only a few minutes of trying to figure out the problem, they will spend almost double the time until it is figured out. Everything that a person is accustomed to is something that has been inherited to them from ancestors.

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After reading Outliers, your perspective about the way in which the world operates will chance and will give a clear understanding on some stereotypes. Most people may think that others are successful because they were born to succeed, or just got very lucky, but not in the way someone would think. Everything depends on the opportunity a person is given and how well that person utilizes that fortunate opportunity. Being successful also requires a significant amount of time of practice. No matter how good someone may think they are at something, they will not be great until they are 100 percent dedicated to it.  

The Ten Things Managers Need to Know from Outliers

1. An outlier is someone who is the exception to the rule. He or she is someone who stands out from other people and will normally work harder than anyone else to become successful. They are the people who you wouldn’t think of as an outlier, but because of the opportunities they are given, they are able to separate themselves from what is considered the norm.

2. Everyone deserves a fair chance. If an employee is a slow at catching on to certain tasks, then give them time to learn and an opportunity to prove themselves. If a person is dedicated to the job, then they will succeed at anything even if it takes more time than normal. It may be possible that they have a disadvantage over older and more experienced employees, but unless they are given the opportunity then there is no way for them to prove they can be just as successful.

3. Practice, practice, and more practice is the key to becoming successful in anything that you do. The more practice that a person has at whatever they are trying to achieve in life, the better they will be. This will give them the opportunity to receive better jobs, which will give them even more experience and practice. There is a 10,000 hour rule (of practice) that is essential to become successful.

4. Group project success is very important because it is society that makes us who we are and where we will end up. It isn’t just one persons contribution to their own success, but the different people and under many different circumstances. Many people may not realize it but without the help of others or the opportunities that come your way, becoming successful may be nearly impossible.

5. A person should never be judged solely based on their IQ or test scores in school. There may be one person with high test scores but they may not be as creative and motivated as another person who may have lower test scores. One test alone should not categorize a single person into a specific group based on their intelligence.

6. Having “practical intelligence” can sometimes be more powerful than academic intelligence. This means that it is advantageous to be able to talk to people and get almost anything you want just by the way you communicate to them. This skill should be very important to managers because they have to deal with people and employees daily. If they do not have the communication then they will not be a well respected manager by employees.

7. Team work and communication is very important. Everyone would agree that any type of organization will not do well if they do not practice communication. This is important because without proper communication and team work then employees will not fully understand what it is they are doing and everything will be done incorrectly. An example in this book is given about Korean Air flights and the number of people that have died in plane crashes all due to poor communication skills and team work. This is why it is very critical for everyone within an organization to practice these skills.

8. If something that you do is hard, all it takes is the time and effort put into it to succeed.  Most people will give up on a task or assignment they are given because of the difficulty. Anything is possible if you are patient enough to sit and work through a problem to figure out the solution no matter how long it may take.

9. Anyone can succeed no matter what class they grew up in. The problem is that poor children are not given the opportunity to succeed, whereas wealthy children are given plenty of opportunities to become successful due to their unlimited amount of resources. If everyone was given equal chances to thrive, then the level of performance would be virtually the same.

10. A person’s culture should always be acknowledged because every culture is different. Someone should not be judged based on how they do certain things because that could be a norm where they are from. If people would get a better understand of how other cultures operate then there wouldn’t be any misunderstanding about certain ideas and actions that could come from someone else in a different culture. Having this knowledge of diverse customs can actually be to an organizations advantage.

Full Summary of Outliers


An outlier is “something that is situated away from or classed differently from a main or related body.” An example of this term is explained from a story that starts off in a small town in Italy called Roseto Valfortore. In January 1882, a handful of Rosetans left Italy and set off to New York. When they arrived they realized how great the new land was and started settling west in Pennsylvania. Once their relatives in Roseto Valfortore heard of the job opportunities in Pennsylvania, more Rosetans came to America. The area in which they settled grew over time as they started to build houses, shops, bars, restaurants, and bakeries. They named the town that they lived in Roseto, after their home in Italy. After several decades, a man by the name of Stewart Wolf, who was a physician, was invited to talk at a local medical society in Roseto. Afterwards, while chatting with another local physician, he discovered that no one in Roseto under the age of sixty-five has had heart disease, which was rare. Through further research he found out that it had nothing to do with diet, exercise, or even from the original town in Italy where they came from. He found out it was the society that the Rosetans lived in. There was no crime, alcoholism, suicide, or drug addiction. They created their own little world for themselves and that is why they were healthy. With that being said, Roseto was an outlier because they were an exception to the normal rules of everyday life.

The Matthew Effect

Many people may think that success comes from something that is “self-made,” or maybe that person was just really lucky. This may not be the case at all. A man by the name of Roger Barnsey, a Canadian psychologist, was at a hockey game with his wife in the mid 1980’s when his wife realized that there was something peculiar about the player roster. More than forty percent of the players had been born between January and March, thirty percent were born between April and June, twenty percent born between July and September, and only ten percent born between October and December. This happens because they cut-off date for hockey eligibility is January 1st. So anyone born after this date has to wait a whole year to be eligible, which gives them an advantage over other kids trying out the following year by being much older and bigger. Therefore, they will most likely get picked over anyone else who was born at the end of the year because of their strength and height.  They will then get better coaching, more practice, and play more games in a season. This type of opportunity is called the “Matthew Effect” after the New Testament verse: “For unto everyone that hath shall be given, and he shall have abundance. But from him that hath not shall be taken away even that which he hath.”  This basically means that people who are already successful or wealthy will become even more successful and wealthy because they can afford the best education and get the biggest tax breaks, or the smartest kids get to be in the accelerated learning program which can give them the opportunity to become smarter. Motivation, dedication, and hard work do play important roles in being successful but without having some advantage over others, such as the age difference in the hockey example, your chances of becoming successful could possibly be very slim.

The 10,000-Hour Rule

It is very rare that someone is naturally talented. Even for those people where it seems everything they have achieved has been served to them on a silver platter is completely false. For example, it is amazing how much time people will put in to gain the knowledge and experience they need to become successful, such as Bill Gates. Someone like Bill Gates may have already been really great at math, but he didn’t become as successful as he did from just being smart. There were extraordinary opportunities that were given to him that helped him become what he is today. First off, his parents were very wealthy and when he was in seventh grade, he was sent to Lakeside, which was a private school in Seattle.  There he had the opportunity to join a computer club, which was rare for most schools in the 1960s. Lakeside had time-sharing computers which not very many people got to use because it was very expensive; however, the “Mothers’ Club” at Lakeside funded the computer club so they could learn programming. Gates was able to learn programming at a very young age and gained more hours of programming because he lived within walking distance from the University of Washington, who also had time-sharing terminals. After dropping out of Harvard in the sophomore year, he had seven consecutive years of programming practice, which was well over 10,000 hours put in. The point trying to be made in this example is that Bill Gates probably wouldn’t be as successful today if he didn’t had an incredibly lucky series of events occur. Musicians are another great example of the 10,000 rule. A study has shown that the most successful musicians dedicate at least 10,000 hours of practice before becoming great. They also have to have supporting parents as well. Someone who has to work to make a living will not have that opportunity to reach the 10,000 hours. Everything has to do with the series of events and opportunities that are given to each person.

The Trouble with Geniuses, Part 1

After World War I, a man named Lewis Terman, a psychology professor at Stanford University, met a young boy who was a janitor at the University. He caught him playing the piano one day and was fascinated that he could play so well with no education. Later, after introducing himself, Terman gave the young boy an IQ test, which was his creation, and the young boy had an IQ above 140. Terman was then interested about how many other low educated students had high IQ’s. In 1921, he decided to study the gifted. He asked teachers from California’s elementary schools to select the top students in the class. Once the children were selected he tested their IQ and kept track of the children who scored above 130. He named these young geniuses the “Termites.” Terman watched over his subjects throughout their whole lives from college to marriage to illnesses they faced. After many years when they were older, he was disappointed that he could not find any of their names in newspapers, magazines, or the news from accomplishments that they have achieved. Many people have the mind frame that have a high IQ is the main ingredient to becoming successful or being the next Nobel Peace Prize winner, but having a high IQ isn’t everything. There are other intelligence tests to prove a person’s knowledge and how far their mind can expand.

The Trouble with Geniuses, Part 2

A man by the name of Chris Langan is the perfect example of the trouble with geniuses. He is described as being the “smartest man in the world,” but now he is in the fifties and lives on a horse farm in northern Missouri. He grew up in a very poor family in San Francisco. His extreme intelligence earned him two full scholarships to Reed College in Oregon, and the University of Chicago. He chose Reed College, but dropped out before his first year because his mother didn’t fill out his scholarship credentials. He eventually went back to college at Montana State University. Unfortunately, Langan had car trouble and asked his professors if they could move his morning classes to afternoon class which they ultimately denied. He gave up on a higher education and worked at a low paying job. As intelligent and gifted as Chris Langan was, it is hard to believe that the school administration and professors weren’t more willing to help him out.
A story about Robert Oppenheimer, a physicist who helped developed the nuclear bomb during World War II, had similar issues to Langan. Oppenheimer was also a genius that grew up in a wealthy family, and while at Cambridge University he attempted to poison his tutor. Luckily, the tutor was suspicious beforehand and Oppenheimer only had to testify in court, which agreed that he was going to be on probation and have regular sessions with a psychiatrist. Although his actions were much more severe than Langan’s, Oppenheimer did not get kicked out of school, or lose his scholarship. The difference between is how Langan and Oppenheimer grew up. It has been studied that children growing up in a working-class or poor family lack the skills needed to have practical intelligence, which is the way a person is able to talk to people to get what they want. It showed that children that grew up in middle-class and wealthy families were taught this by their parents; a way to show their entitlement and have authority over others. Chris Langan did not possess the skills and “practical intelligence” needed to persuade his professors to move his classes to a later time, or to convince the university to let him keep his scholarship. Langan’s brother, Mark, states that he was the type of person who should have had his PhD by the time he was seventeen.

The Three Lessons of Joe Flom

Another story about an outlier is told here which is similar to the story about Bill Gates and Chris Langan. Joe Flom is a partner from a well-known law firm on Wall Street, Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher, and Flom. He grew up in Manhattan and his parents were immigrants from Eastern Europe. They were very poor, but Flom graduated from high school, only attended college for two years and then joined the army. After the army, he decided to go to law school and he got accepted into Harvard Law School regardless of his lack of credentials. Flom was the top student in his class. He tried to get a job at a big firm on Wall Street, but was turned down due to the fact that he was Jewish and didn’t have a “family with connections,” basically. Later he was asked to join a small start-up firm with Marshall Skadden and Leslie Arps. They didn’t have any clients in the beginning and would take whatever work they could get. From what was learned previously in the chapters, it is nearly impossible for anyone to become this successful if they were from a poor family, or didn’t have that “practical intelligence.” There are three lessons to learn from this story about exactly how Joe Flom was able to become so successful during this period of time, which was during the depression in the Bronx of New York. Lesson one was the importance of being Jewish. The start of the small firm was put together by other immigrants who also couldn’t receive a job from what was called the “white-shoe” firms. These firms did not want to take cases that involved litigation for proxy fights. Therefore, Skadden was taking all of these cases since no other firm wanted him. After the 1970’s, it became growingly popular for firms to overtake other firms. After having specialized in this for over ten years, Flom was considered the expert and was getting all the businesses as clients for proxy fights. Lesson two was the demographic luck. If you were someone who was born before 1911, and was trying to be a lawyer, the chances were not very high because this generation was graduating high school at the height of the depression. If you were born after 1912 then you were graduating high school just after the depression and job opportunities were high. Also, this generation didn’t have many babies born due to the depression and families not having as many children. Not only was the job market in high demand, but the there was hardly any competition. Flom was born in the perfect year to try his chances at being a lawyer and finding a job. Lesson three was the importance of the garment industry and meaningful work. Jewish immigrants that came to America in the late 1800s most likely became involved in the garment industry by opening up their own small clothing store. They were hard working and motivated to do something that was meaningful instead of working for the rest of their lives just to make ends meet. Their children also learned these values growing up. The children of the garment and small grocery store owners was the generation born in the 1930s who were becoming lawyers, doctors, and psychologists. This is relevant to the story about Joe Flom because when his father moved to America he also became involved in the garment industry by sewing shoulder pads on woman’s clothing. Throughout his childhood he was learning the importance of hard work and dedication from his parents.  All the events that occurred in Flom’s life, including his parents’ background, were all advantages leading up to his future success.

Harlan, Kentucky

In 1819, Harlan Country, Kentucky was founded by eight immigrants from the British Isles. They had traveled from the east in search of new land. The land where they settled was on the hillsides in a valley where they herded sheep. Two of the founding families, the Turners and the Howard, did not get along at all. The feud between the two families eventually turned into bloodshed and mayhem. A possible reason for this type of behavior during this time period could have been because they lived in an area where the soil was not fertile, which meant they could only raise sheep and cattle to make a living. If someone was a herdsman, rather than a farmer, you had to be much more protected over your livestock since someone could easily steal from you; whereas, a farmer is at less risk of someone digging up, and stealing their well-rooted crops. This could definitely cause everyone to become more hostile and aggressive. This is called cultures of honor which is “a culture where people avoid unintentional offense to others and maintain a reputation for not accepting improper conduct by others.” Almost one hundreds later, two psychologists, Dov Cohen and Richard Nisbett, did a study on young men to see if this culture of honor still existed even though none of them were the hostile herdsman one hundred years earlier. Through tests done that were meant to “push their buttons”, it was proven that out of the group of men, the southerners were much more violent and short tempered; whereas the northerners would either laugh it off or were unaffected by the insults. Although it was previously stated that people are likely succeed according to the upbringing by their parents, the facts about culture of honor has been put into question whether or not our distance ancestors also play a major role.

The Ethnic Theory of Plane Crashes

In 1997, a Korean Air flight crashed on the side of Nimitz Hill in Guam almost three miles west of the Guam airport.  Everything leading up to the final minutes of the crash didn’t indicate that anything was wrong with the plane itself, or even that the flight crew was inexperienced, but that the problem was communication and team work. Research suggested that because they crew was Korean, they have different ways of communicating than other countries. They do not speak forcefully to their captain or other superiors. The problem with this flight was that the first officer knew of bad weather coming and did not tell the captain. Everything that he tried saying to the captain were hints of bad weather and hints that the caption should initiate a backup plan. The captain had been up since 6a.m. until 1a.m the next morning. He was exhausted and was not functioning as well as he should. Whenever they were connected with the ATC (air traffic controllers) at the Guam airport, they did not express that they were in an emergency and did not have enough fuel to land. The ATC took their comments lightly and did not prepare them to land immediately, instead putting them behind other flights that were expected to land before them. Consequently, 228 of the 254 people on board died in the plane crash, including the caption, due to poor communication skills and lack of team work. A Dutch psychologist, Geert Hofstede, had to travel to the world and interview employees asking about how people worked together to solve problems and their attitudes towards authority. He measured different countries based on “uncertainty avoidances,” which were countries that stuck to rules and plans regardless of the circumstances. It is just a countries culture to act this way. America was at the bottom of the list, as they think of themselves as being equal to everyone and a first officer would not hesitate to direct commands at a captain. Finally, after many Korean plane crashes, David Greenburg from Delta Air Lines was hired to run flight operations and retrain the Korean flight crew. They were taken out of their environment and were forced to change their way of thinking. They had to learn everything in English and had to give orders in English because the Korean language has several different tiers of speaking to others. English was simple and everyone would understand especially if they are trying to communicate with an American ATC. They could not be afraid of speaking up to a superior in a situation of crisis. Greenburg changed the Korean Air lines for best because they have haven’t had any plane crashes since.

Rice Paddies and Math Tests

Rice paddies have been cultivated in China for thousands of years. It takes hard work year-round for a well harvested rice paddy, which is relied upon for survival. Unlike other cultures, harvesting rice paddies is something that you can plant, and will be ready to be sold in a few months. Everything that is done to grow rice has to be done to perfection. The hard clay underneath (to make sure water doesn’t escape) has to be perfectly level, the rice must seedlings must be in order, and there has to be the right amount of water flooded into the rice paddies. On average, a Chinese rice farmer will work nearly three thousand hours on their rice paddies, which is two to three times longer than a wheat or corn farmer. Some may ask what does this have to do with math. The Asian culture is known to be better at math than any other culture. This mainly has to do with their ability to learn numbers at a younger age than Americans or anyone else that speaks English. English numbers are far more complex than Chinese numbers. For example, in Chinese four is “si” and 7 is “qi” versus actually saying four and seven; it takes longer to say numbers in English especially once you are in the teens and twenties. They are also able to add faster because for example if you were to ask what is  37 + 22, it takes more time trying to figure out the equation in English, where as in Chinese the numbers would be said as three-tens-seven and two-tens-two which already sets the equation up for you. It would be five-tens-nine (59). The reason this is relevant to the rice paddies is because the Asian culture had to work harder than anyone else for thousands of years to make a living. This type of trait has been passed down through generations. It isn’t that they are necessarily “smarter” by birth, but it is that they are willing to work harder, longer hours on anything that they do in order to succeed.

Marita’s Bargain

In the 1990’s a public school opened up in New York City called KIPP Academy. It was located in the South Bronx, which is one of the poorest neighborhoods in New York City. It consists of fifth grade through eighth grade and is well known for their mathematics because by the end of eighth grade students are performing 84 percent above their grade level. KIPP Academy opened up as an experience to test how well students would perform if they attended all year long. The daily curriculum is that it starts at seven twenty-five in the morning and doesn’t end until five p.m. After that students are even encouraged to join homework clubs and sports teams. What they realized is that students will perform much better in school and have better test scores if they are in school all year long. A study was done by Karl Alexander from the John Hopkins University that tested poor, middle, and high class students and their performance at the beginning and the end of the school year. At the end of the school year the average was basically the same. At the beginning of the school year the high and middle class student’s performance was much higher than the poor students. This can be because the wealthy and middle class students’ parents could afford to sign them up in summer camp and extracurricular activities, as well as having many books lying around the house.  The poor students did not have this extra time reading books and going to summer camp to increase their learning and reading abilities; instead they would watch television and play outside all summer. This is why KIPP Academy teaches all year long. It gives the poor students a chance to learn all year long so they won’t have the opportunity to unlearn what they have during the rest of the school year.

A young girl named Marita was an only child living with her single mother in a one bedroom apartment in the Bronx. She was chosen to attend KIPP Academy through a lottery. Her typical day is that she wakes up at five forty-five a.m. to make it to school on time. She has to take a bus to commute to school which takes about thirty minutes. She leaves school around five p.m. and when she arrives home she says hello to her mother and starts doing homework right way which will take her about two to three hours to finish depending on her assignments. Her mother makes her take a break to eat dinner for half an hour and she is back doing her homework. She usually doesn’t go to sleep until sometimes after eleven p.m. after she takes a few minutes to talk to her mother, and the next day is repeated. This is a very busy life for a twelve year old, but she does it because it is her only opportunity to have a better life for herself. Nearly 90 percent to KIPP students get scholarships to private high schools and more than 80 percent of KIPP graduates will continue on to college. This is exactly what an outlier is; someone who has been given opportunities for a chance to succeed above and beyond their potential.

The Video Lounge

In this video Malcolm Gladwell explains that becoming successful isn’t something that is just done overnight like some people may think. He gives an example of The Beatles, which he also talks about in Outliers, and how most people think they became instant sensation. This wasn’t the case at all and he explains that great success stories have many hours put in before becoming successful. Gladwell also explains how his books make the readers focus on the people and community surrounded by that successful person before they became successful.

Personal Insights

Why I think:

  • The author is one of the most brilliant people around because:

Malcolm Gladwell analyzes many different situations in which people around the world, in different cultures, during different time periods have become successful. He gives a little insight of what it takes to achieve what you want in life. It is brilliant how he explained that people such as Bill Gates, The Beatles, prestigious New York lawyers, and so on have achieved what they have today all because of the opportunity they had at that specific period in time.  It is interesting to think about how distance ancestors play a major role in your behavior even if you never knew who they were. Gladwell gives great ideas and facts about how people are not born smart or born as prodigies. Everything has to do with family background, the period in time, location, and thousands of hours put into the work necessary to succeed.

  • If I were the author of the book, I would have done these three things differently:

1. The author could have elaborated a little more on the 10,000 rule chapter. He explains that every successful person has practiced at least 10,000 hours or more before they actually became successful. He gives great examples of success stories that have all worked over this 10,000 hour rule; however, he only gives examples of other people who may be the exception to this rule. The first thing I immediately thought of when reading this chapter was actors and actresses. Of course most of them have to practice acting for several years before becoming great, but what about child stars. They have nearly zero practice and there are so many of them today.  This is just one example that would be the exception to this rule.

2. Gladwell could have elaborated more on the topic about poor families raising children that will almost always, as he explains, lack practical intelligence. What he is basically saying here is that poor children are raised to not be assertive and take charge in what they want, which will give them a disadvantage when they are older by making it harder to get jobs. I do not completely agree with this because there are wealthy children that lack practical intelligence also, as well as there are poor children who do have practical intelligence. If he would have elaborated more on this to fully explain that this isn’t always true, then it would have been a more understanding.

3. I understand the logic behind the hockey player example, but this should have been something taken out of the book. It shouldn’t have been taken out completely, but there was too much information dedicated to this reasoning. He should have added in examples of why parents should hold their children back in school because this would give a better understanding about how children born at the beginning of the year are at a learning advantage than children born in the same year, except toward the end of the year. If Gladwell would have shown a larger same, he would have realized that there are actually far more hockey players born toward the end of the year.

  • Reading this book made me think differently about the topic in these ways:

1. It made me think differently about the way people actually become successful. I always thought, like most people, that successful people are born with greatness and were meant to end up the way they did. It is very interesting to think about other people and the time period that they were born in that gave them the opportunity they needed to succeed. For example, if Bill Gates was born in an earlier time period, or if he didn’t live near the University of Washington that allowed him to program as many hours as he did, then there is a possibility that he would not be who is today.

2. I also think differently about a person’s ability to learn. Until reading Outliers, I thought that a person either is good at a certain subject, such as math, or they just do not get it. If the time is taken to work out a problem then they will eventually solve it. I now understand why the Asian culture is so efficient at mathematics. From a young age they spent most of their days doing math, and not only that, but they attend school year round.  I realize that when I face a difficult problem, whether it is in school or during the course of my career, than you have to keep working at it until you can figure it out.

3. It is an interesting thought about who your ancestors were hundreds, maybe thousands, of years ago that played a major role of where of you ended up today. Even a person’s personality and attitude towards others where all shaped by ancestors. In the chapter called Harlan, Kentucky, Gladwell explains the difference in behaviors between southern and northerners and how their distance ancestors that they have never met were the reasons they both acted the way they did in certain situations.

  • I’ll apply what I’ve learned in this book in my career by:

1. I will make sure that I never give up when working on projects and tasks given to me throughout my career. When things get stressful and tough it is important to work through it until you find the answer even if it takes longer than expected. Employers will view you as being motivated and dedicated to your work if you are willing to work to any extent to finish a task.

2. I will make sure that I don’t forget to properly communicate with everyone I work with.  Even though some people may not feel the need to communicate everything with others that they work with, it is highly important for them to do so no matter the circumstances. Communicating and team work can make a difference in how the organization operates efficiently, which is reflected in customer satisfaction.

3. I will also make sure that when problems occur they are fixed correctly instead letting situations get worse. It is important to fix issues even if they are small, because they could eventually become worse. The Korean Air story was a perfect example of this because they had an outsider come in and repair their entire image due to unaware problems that they had. Making sure this happens can lead to a greater and stronger organization.

  • Here is a sampling of what others have said about the book and its author:

A review from Business Week explains that Outliers is very “thought-provoking.” Gladwell makes the readers think about their own destinies and how cultural heritage, timing, persistence, and opportunity are all determinants of success.  This review also recognizes the fact that it doesn’t take a high IQ for someone to be successful; it’s about how many hours they put in to their work which is referred to as the 10,000-hour rule.
Business Week says that Outliers can be repetitive and Gladwell “veers off track at times,” but “he does pull his stories and studies into an overarching narrative.”

Another review from Entertainment Weekly says that Gladwell’s books are “rigged to blow open the heads of even the dimmest of readers.” It is considered to be his best and most useful work yet. They also say that Gladwell tells his stories well in making his point. Even though EW thinks that he lectures a little too much on certain subjects, it doesn’t matter because it explains brilliant life lessons. EW describes the book as a “riveting science, self-help, and entertainment, all in one book.”

The Wall Street Journal says that Gladwell “passionately emphasizes the need to cultivate great minds that might be limited by their circumstances or environment.” Not only does Outliers send a message to individuals trying to become successful, but also sends a powerful message to companies. “There is great competitive advantage for the organization recognizing that the work environment can nurture talent—and also suppress it.” Companies will have insight to hire neglected talent and give them the opportunity to flourish.


Gladwell, Malcolm. (2008). Outliers: The Story of Success. New York, NY: Little, Brown and Company.

Gladwell, Malcolm. What is Outliers about? [Review of the book Outliers]. Retrieved from  http://www.gladwell.com/outliers/index.html

Gladwell’s Outliers: Timing is Almost Everything. (2008, November 20). [Review of the book Outliers]. Bloomberg BusinessWeek. Retrieved from http://www.businessweek.com/magazine/content/08_48/b4110110545672.htm#readerComments

Kirschling, Gregory. (2008, November 12). Outliers. [Review of the book Outliers]. Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved from http://www.ew.com/ew/article/0,,20239689,00.html?order=ASC&page=2#comment-app

Shaywitz, David A. (2008, November 15). The Elements of Success. [Review of the book Outliers]. The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved from http://online.wsj.com/article/SB122671469296530435.htm


Contact Info

To contact the author of this article, “A Summary and Review of Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell for Thinking Executives – and Those Who Want to be One,” please email Kelly.Guerin@selu.edu or Kelly82303@aol.com.  


David C. Wyld (dwyld.kwu@gmail.com) is the Robert Maurin Professor of Management at Southeastern Louisiana University in Hammond, Louisiana. He is a management consultant, researcher/writer, and executive educator. His blog, Wyld About Business, can be viewed at http://wyld-business.blogspot.com/. He also serves as the Director of the Reverse Auction Research Center (http://reverseauctionresearch.com/), a hub of research and news in the expanding world of competitive bidding. Dr. Wyld also maintains compilations of works he has helped his students to turn into editorially-reviewed publications at the following sites:



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1 Comment
  1. Posted March 29, 2011 at 10:04 pm

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