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Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell - 3 Big Ideas

How is this book not more popular?

In this week’s show:

  • How being rich or poor affects your chances at success

  • The fact that where you are from affects your chances

  • How even your birthday affects them


Is this a good book?


Do you even know who Malcolm Gladwell is?

This book is about how success works, but in a much different way than you’d expect.

So what are 3 things we can use from this book?

3 Things You Can Use

1. Socioeconomic Status

They did their secret handshake and left the schoolyard.

Richie though would not be heading home. His parents had scheduled him for sports practice and trumpet practice.

Poory, headed to the bus.

While Richie was among his teammates, talking confidently with his coaches, Poory was just walking into his house. He and his mom exchanged greetings and he left to go play outside with his friends.

As this story continues, the seemingly ambiguous differences multiply – and by the end, the difference ends up with Richie having an advantage in self-presentation, confidence in the face of authority and ability to work well in teams.

According to a study referenced in the book,

Two parenting philosophies were divided among class lines. Rich and middle class families practiced what is called:

Concerted cultivation.

They scheduled their kids to always be skill building or working in teams and parents talked to them about their activities and coaches.

When they had conversations with them they expected their kids to reason with them and negotiate, teaching them not to be afraid to question authority.

If the kids did poorly in school, the parents intervened on their behalf and challenged the teacher.

On the other hand, the poor parent strategy was called:

Accomplishment of natural growth.

The study found that:

This included little to no scheduling, so the kids would make up games to play with their friends.

What the child did was considered to have not much importance to the adult world.

They reacted passively if the child did poorly in school, considering it the teacher’s job to handle their education.

Concerted cultivation actively fosters and accesses a child’s talents, opinions and skills.

Accomplishment of natural growth includes a responsibility to care for their children but lets them grow and develop on their own.

There’s no obvious moral difference between the two, in fact, they said poor children were better behaved, less whiny, more creative in making use of their own time and had a well-developed sense of independence.

But Richie presents his best face to the world as a matter of habit. And while Poory is independent and creative, he can’t seem to make the world bend to his will the same way that Richie can.

2. The Significance of Your Cultural Background

Do you live in a culture that values individualism over collectivism?

How do you rank in uncertainty avoidance? Your country more reliant on rules and plans than most?

Where are you on the power-distance index? Does your culture respect and value authority highly?

In your language is the talker expected to convey the message or is the listener expected to interpret correctly?

Atop our distinctive personalities, we have “tendencies, assumptions and reflexes, handed down to us by the history of the community we grew up in.”

Does your part of the world value honor?

A study from the book showed that if you live in the south of the united states you are more likely to get into a fight after being insulted and more likely to laugh and shrug it off if you are from the north.

And one of my favorites:

How did your region farm? What were the farming practices of your ancestors?

If you weren’t a wet rice farmer, maybe a corn farmer perhaps, your peasant ancestors may have said things like, “If god does not bring it, the earth will not give it.”

After planting the seeds and going through the farming process, there was nothing else to do but wait for god. Then, in the winter, when they couldn’t farm, they would have to practically hibernate. And do as little as possible to not use too much energy and therefore end up eating all they had before the next farming season.

But farming rice is completely different. The harder you worked, the more you planned, the more you tested and altered your methods, the more rice you could produce.

The amount of work you put in had a direct relation to how much rice you and your family ended up with.

The peasant rice farmers would say things like, “No one who can rise before dawn 360 days a year fails to make his family rich.”

Just think about the difference between those proverbs.

Farming methods had your ancestors either working to a degree and hibernating due to necessity or working non-stop year round.

And the implications of this are not hard to notice these days. There are clear differences in how hard the descendants of rice farmers work. Just go to any college campus and do some research or even just ask around.

Isn’t that cool?

These philosophies were passed down and acted out. Just like the underlying rich vs. poor parenting strategies were.

And they have tremendous implications of how people can generally have different advantages within different systems.

And speaking of…

3. Happy Birthday... Loser!

Why are there five and a half times more - accomplished hockey players - born in January than in December?

Well, have you ever watched a fully grown adult compete with children?

You might as well have, all throughout your life.

Depending on the birthday cut-off date of certain schools or sports, there can be differences in kids’ ages that span an entire year.

Put the kid born at the beginning of the cutoff date, January, February, March, against the kid born at the end, October, November, December, and you’ve got a significant age difference.

The players born in January are practically a year older than the December kids. And in young age, when kids are just staring hokey, that’s a big difference in physical maturity.

They are better, because they are older. Then, they get picked for special teams, because they are better. Then… they get more practice, play more games and get even better, further increasing the difference in ability, giving the younger kids very little chance to catch up.

Now school.

The children within grades can be up to a year apart. “It’s hard for a five year old to keep up with a child born many months earlier.”

And the previous trend similarly plays out.

The disadvantage does not go away. The patterns of achievement and underachievement or encouragement and discouragement stretch on.

The children seen as smarter go into better programs and yada yada. They get a big head start so that they are better now -- but they weren’t. They are better now because of the opportunities they were afforded, due to the initial age advantage.

“(Successful people are) products of history, community, opportunity and legacy. Success is grounded in a web of advantages and inheritances. Some deserved, some not, some earned, some just plain lucky. But all critical.”


Generally, rich parents push their children to have opinions and present their best selves and poor parents let their children grow as they will.

The culture you were raised in and have heritage in have an affect on who you are and how you function.

When you are born has a large effect in competitive arenas that use cut-off dates – which are all over the place.

Along with pointing out some of the problems of our cultural systems, the point of this book was to show that success is not just a factor of hard work. While it is an obvious and important part of success, sometimes there are unseen advantages like legacy, history and opportunity, that play some strings.

This is a great book. Malcolm Gladwell’s books are really fun reads too. Stories and mysteries and statistics and metrics all tied together throughout each chapter. Fun.

Seriously don’t know how this book isn’t more popular.

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