Outliers Essay Questions

  1. 1

    How does Gladwell argue that success is the product of constant practice?

    To draw a clear link between practice and excellence, Gladwell both refers to the famed "10,000-Hours Rule" and links specific individuals to this idea. Bill Joy, Bill Gates, and the Beatles are among the individuals who, apparently, achieved excellence in their fields by putting in a proverbial 10,000 hours (or more) honing their talents. However, Gladwell also indicates that success is unlikely without an environment conducive to constant practice and refinement. The account of obscure genius Chris Langan is one piece of evidence in this regard. Langan, after all, was unsuccessful because he did not take advantage of clear opportunities for practice, self-discipline, and self-improvement.

  2. 2

    What role do random opportunities play in determining success?

    In the first several chapters of Outliers, Gladwell calls attention to success-determining factors that are well beyond individual control. These factors include date of birth, year of birth, and the availability of specific resources and technologies. The idea that these random factors can be integral to success may seem unusual to some readers, yet Gladwell builds his case by showing that random opportunities ensure success across very different time periods and very different disciplines. Hockey players, oil magnates, software tycoons, and New York lawyers are just a few of the individuals who have benefited from being born in optimal places or at optimal times.

  3. 3

    Why do some incredibly intelligent people not achieve success?

    An effective answer to this question will consider a few different sides of the arguments that appear in Outliers. First, Gladwell argues that measures of intelligence such as IQ do not correlate to practical, real-world success, and he builds his case by showing how IQ researcher Lewis Terman was led astray by assuming that high IQ and high success are clearly compatible. Second, Gladwell explains factors that do ensure success, such as family and socioeconomic background. While an intelligent person from a wealthy background (such as Robert Oppenheimer) can easily translate intelligence into success, an intelligent person from a poor background (such as Chris Langan) often lacks the skills of self-assertion that would make success possible.

  4. 4

    How does Gladwell argue that culture and success are closely linked?

    In the later chapters of his book, Gladwell uses a variety of examples to show that specific psychological traits have evident cultural roots. Often, these are traits that determine professional success or failure. While Gladwell suggests that some cultural inheritances (such as the respect for authority observed in South Korea) can have disastrous consequences (such as the miscommunication that leads to airplane crashes), he also argues that a culture can shape the people who inhabit it for the better. Perhaps his single strongest example is the Chinese rice farming industry: by teaching self-discipline and instilling the idea that work is meaningful, rice cultivation can produce positive traits such as perseverance and attention to detail.

  5. 5

    Why does Gladwell end Outliers with an account of his own family?

    Throughout Outliers, Gladwell has made the case that random opportunities can intersect with cultural and ethnic roots to determine an individual's success. The epilogue of his book, "A Jamaican Story," shows how Gladwell's own family advanced through factors well beyond individual control, especially skin color and access to education. This final section could be designed to defeat potential criticisms of Outliers, since Gladwell presents himself as living proof of theories that may seem (at least to skeptics) to be limited to remarkable, oddball cases such as Bill Joy and Chris Langan. Yet this section may serve other purposes, too. It could mainly emphasize that Gladwell's project is deeply personal or emotional in nature, or could challenge readers to follow Gladwell's example and apply the theories contained in Outliers to their own lives.