Newsletter #408 – Outliers

Malcolm Gladwell is a journalist, known for his unusual hairstyle and unusual story-telling ability. I never finished reading his bestsellers, The Tipping Point and Blink but I stuck with Outliers: The Story of Success. Gladwell’s argument is fascinating and compelling.

Outliers are people who do things that are out of the ordinary. Bill Gates, Michael Jordan, Mark Zuckerberg, and even Sarah Palin are out of the ordinary. But Gladwell draws on his convincing communication skills and an impressive body of data to show that fame and success are not because some people have greater intelligence or ambition. More than anything, success depends on one’s culture, time and place of birth, family, opportunities and circumstances. This challenges the American myth of the self-made man, the belief that each of us can get to the top if we have enough drive and determination.  Gladwell writes that “no one – not rock stars, not professional athletes, not software billionaires, and not even geniuses—ever makes it alone.” The book has no Christian perspective but the author builds a whole chapter around Matthew 25:29. Where does divine sovereignty contribute to the development of outliers? See Psalm 75:6, 7.

Among Gladwell’s conclusions:

  • People born in the 1860s, the early 1930s and the mid 1950s reached higher levels of success than those from other generations. But their success was not a result of their initiative. It was a product of the times in which they grew up.
  • Success, and sometimes failure, also depends on the culture. Japanese students are not innately better at math then other kids; they are products of their educational systems.
  • Brilliance does not predict outstanding abilities in any field. The well-documented 10,000 hour rule explains more. To become an expert one needs to practice for 10,000 hours (usually about ten years) before reaching the top and being comfortable with one’s performance as a musician, communicator, athlete, leader or researcher.
  • Gladwell concludes that we need to abandon the belief that the brightest and the self-made become most successful. Instead, build “a society that provides opportunities to all.”

This is a fascinating and controversial book. What do you think? Please comment.


  1. Dear Gary,
    my own observation seem to accord with this.It seems to me that it is about being in the right place at the right time with the right people. The story of David at Ziclag and susbsequent to events ( Bible) It seems also a matter of resnonding rightly disastrous events!
    Parable of the talents is also a strong indicator,
    Peter Hindley


  2. My logic infers that, in a society providing nearly-equal opportunities to all, the “brightest and the self-made become most successful,” as that society’s culture defines success, ensuring their own clans’ greater access to opportunities, for the brightest and the self-made, in order to ensure further opportunities, must gain and maintain political control over those opportunities. A democracy, in which dullards outnumber the bright, could suppress the emergence of a society in which the bright ensure access to their desired opportunities.


  3. I would concur that a lot more goes into “success”, however it is measured, than we give account to or understand. Similar to health and wellness, I believe that one day radiation and chemo treatments will be viewed in similar status as to “bleeding by leeches” in the 1700’s. But that means I think differently than the masses in more than one area.
    I believe God weaves a mosaic much more complex than we can comprehend today, and perhaps that is why heaven will be so wonderful, as we will continually see more clearly who God is and all that He is about. Like Ester in the Old Testament, she was at a place in time, mostly outside of her own choosing, that allowed her to make a choice that set her apart to be an example worthy for us to follow.
    Increasingly, I believe that God wants us to be faithful where He planted us, and not get over concerned about being someone of significance. When we end our stay on earth, our connectedness to God will be the only thing that matters.
    p.s. I read through Blink and enjoyed the book.


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