Outliers: How to Master a Skill

About this sample

About this sample


Words: 2288 |

Pages: 5|

12 min read

Published: Jun 29, 2018

Words: 2288|Pages: 5|12 min read

Published: Jun 29, 2018

In today’s day and age, it is said that a persons’ economic background, perseverance and innate talents determine how successful they will be in life. It is believed that the “American Dream” can only be achieved by those privileged few who were born talented or those who can afford to become talented. Those who have not grown up so fortunately are stuck believing that prosperity is not available for them. They grew up thinking that they shouldn’t be practicing for something they weren’t initially good at, assuming that successful people did not have to practice because they were born with natural talent and everything came fairly easy to them. Malcolm Gladwell‘s Outliers challenges that belief by claiming that the people that became successful were those who were born during the right time and were given a special opportunity to master their skills. In the context of publication - the economic downfall in 2008 - the genre and audience of Gladwell’s pieces play an important role in making his argument effective.

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Gladwell wrote an informative book to an audience troubled by the recession, claiming that 10,000 hours was the defining line to master a skill. With his claim, he mentions the people that were given extraordinary opportunities throughout their lives that gave them the ability to practice their skill and achieve ultimate success. Gladwell writes to an audience of people who had been affected by the recession, explaining to them that a person’s individual merit and innate talent does not guarantee them success. He strives to illustrate a pattern of the years each of these people were born, and how that determines what opportunities they received as they grew up.

In a sense, the book was uplifting to those who believed that they either could not or were not working hard enough to become successful. It was proof that even if someone was unbelievably talented or a hard worker, they could not go far unless they were given the opportunity to practice. The book tells the stories of people like Bill Gates and Steve Jobs, two of the lucky few people born in the right place at the right time. “These are stories, instead, about people who were given a special opportunity to work really hard and seized it, and who happened to come of age at a time when that extraordinary effort was rewarded by the rest of society” (Gladwell 67). The author’s purpose was to inform readers of something they hadn’t known or realized before. Gladwell often mentioned the 10,000-hour rule, which he introduced in the beginning and explained throughout the text, backing it up with examples; so, while reading the book, the audience began to see all the evidence that proves the 10,000 hour rule to be true. By the end, they were fascinated with the evidence that lead back to rule that Gladwell introduced. He took the time to gather data and interview these inspirational people, drawing support back to his rule.

As well as the 10,000 hours needed to master their skill, these technological visionaries were born within the perfect time frame, highly contributing to their road to success. While most people would not have necessarily thought that anyone’s date of birth was relative to their opportunities for success, Gladwell saw a pattern in the years that some future billionaire software tycoons were born and discovered a significant relevance. He developed a claim, stating that these visionaries came of age when technology was evolving, so with an open mind, a desire to learn and the special opportunities they received, such as having unique access to a computer back when such technology was a rare commodity, they went on to achieve great things. Gladwell tells the stories of the billionaires everyone aspires to be, who started off just like everyone else; but given their circumstance, received the opportunity of a lifetime to master a skill that ended up changing the world.

Though most of evidence is based off of the lives of billionaires, famous rock bands and professional hockey players, Gladwell also writes about the opportunity he took advantage of, giving the readers a look into his life and how it relates to his claim. After college, Gladwell did not go to graduate school because he claimed he did not have the grades for it, so he decided to embark on a career path. With many rejections under his belt when looking for jobs in advertising, Gladwell began looking into journalism. He spent many hours writing for local newspapers and prints, racking up 10,000 hours before he started writing for The New Yorker. He gained respect and credibly as an author with the many articles and books he wrote. Since his pieces were well known and widely read, his third book, Outliers, was definitely just as popular. It was number one on the New York Times bestseller list and stayed there for 11 consecutive weeks. He’s known for his intellectual and informative text, yet simplified to be easily comprehendible and understandable. Gladwell wrote a book that keeps his audience captivated and encourages them to continue reading, as though they were reading a novel. He provides many intriguing examples and facts that keep the audience interested throughout the entire book.

Published in November of 2008, Outliers came out right near the end of the terrible recession. During that time, many people were in debt and struggling to find ways to make money. In writing this book, Gladwell attempted to give people the hope that if they worked hard enough, they could achieve their goal. It was definitely a far-stretched goal for many due to age and lack of opportunity, but in a sense, it still encouraged people to work towards their peak performance. He explains that success can be achieved given the right opportunity and enough time willing to spent on improving one’s skills. Gladwell and other authors want to challenge the assumption that people are just born with natural talent. Gladwell is not the only person that has written something to challenge the belief. Geoff Colvin wrote a similar piece titled "Talent Is Overrated: What Really Separates World-Class Performers From Everyone Else." His argument complements Gladwell’s, claiming that a person’s natural talent does not make them better than anyone else. Colvin expresses his dismay for answer to the timeless question: Why are some people excellent at what they do? “We still say, as Homer did, that great performers are inspired, meaning that their greatness was breathed into them by gods or muses. We still all say they have a gift, which is to say their greatness was given to them, for reasons no one can explain, by someone or something apart from themselves.”

Colvin’s argument complements and extends Gladwell’s when Colvin claims that most of society has come to accept the belief that some are just born with innate talent, rarely questioning the logic behind the theory. Gladwell wants to put an end to that theory as well. He believes that natural talent does not make a person great, but the amount of time they spend mastering that talent is what defines greatness. Both Gladwell and Colvin have made an effort to challenge this belief in their books. The people reading these books are probably coming to terms with the fact that the theory of being born with natural ability should not be considered plausible. The audience likely viewed the authors’ words as informative and uplifting, finally realizing that a “natural ability” does not distinguish the good from the great. With that realization comes the desire to work for what they want to achieve. Obviously the audience does not now believe they will become billionaires, but with the right opportunity and practice, they could become more successful than they had initially thought. Both authors could surely influence a younger generation to think and approach situations in an innovative way.

Gladwell writes to a general audience that ranges from teenagers to college-educated people, all who are interested in their own and others peak performance, trying to challenge the belief that success is solely held to class, privilege and talent. While writing about Steve Jobs, Gladwell mentions that Jobs was not born into a wealthy lifestyle. It was a lucky coincidence that he moved to Silicone valley, a city that leads the world in innovative technology, engineering, and electronics. He attended flea markets where electronic lobbyists sold spare parts in a neighborhood filled with technology engineers. “While in high school, he boldly called Hewlett-Packard co-founder and president William Hewlett to ask for parts for a school project. Impressed by Jobs, Hewlett not only gave him the parts, but also offered him a summer internship at Hewlett-Packard” (Entrepreneur staff). There he met Steve Wozniak, and the rest is history. Even from an informational standpoint, the magazine claims that Jobs was lucky enough to receive more than one amazing opportunity that jumpstarted his career. When writing a history on Jobs’ life, the editorial mentions the extraordinary opportunity Steve had taken gotten at such a young age, complementing Gladwell’s reference to that opportunity is his book as a source to develop his claim. Both the Gladwell and the editorial affirm that without the luck and string of opportunities Jobs had received and taken advantage of, he probably would not have been as successful. It just goes to show that even with hard work and serious dedication, most people will not become billionaires. Even then, Jobs’ story will continue to inspire generations to come. It could spark a desire in many to continue improving the technological empire Jobs’ created.

In this job market, there is a very high demand for inventive people. To continue revolutionizing the world, symbolic analysts must identify, solve and broker new problems. The top tier of symbolic analysts include people like Bill Gates, Steve Jobs and Bill Joy, people who have completely revolutionized the way the world utilizes technology. Robert Reich has developed a theory as to why there is a higher need for symbolic analysts rather than workers in labor or retail. “The most important reason for expanding this world market and increasing global demand for the symbolic and analytic insights of Americans has been the dramatic improvement in worldwide communication and transportation technology.” (Reich 314) Reich claims that there is a worldwide demand for symbolic analysts such as the innovators Gladwell mentions in his book because symbolic analysts continue to find ways to communicate information to different parts of the world in hardly any time at all. Symbolic analysts add value and knowledge to information.

They are constantly working to enhance software programs and upgrade hardware. While some may see this as a challenging job, many analysts would not even consider it work at all. Reich’s argument extends Gladwell’s claim by implying that hitting 10,000 hours of practice was no problem for the people Gladwell discusses in his book because most had developed a serious love for technology, becoming obsessed with working to improve it. Both Reich and Gladwell claim that a person could easily master a skill if they have the desire to practice it. Each of these famous technological visionaries that Gladwell mentions was given a small window of opportunity to change the way people use technology, establishing the rapid growth and advancement that is seen today. Gladwell tells the story behind the people that started the technological revolution, proving why people like them are in such high demand.

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Throughout his book, Gladwell debates the common theory that a person’s natural talent and ability will lead them directly to success. With the introduction of the 10,000-hour rule, Gladwell tries to enlighten the audience that mastery of skill only comes with hours and hours of practice. “Practice isn’t the thing you do once you’re good. It’s the thing you do that makes you good.” (Gladwell 42) He goes on to explain that 10,000 hours is an enormous amount of time that someone could only reach if they have been given a special opportunity. With that in mind, Gladwell tells the stories of the few that had been lucky enough to receive such an opportunity. His argument lies true to those who can see the distinct connection between each of the people he had mentioned. While many do not believe that year of birth matters in any way, Gladwell proved its significance with his clever evidence and analysis. By doing so, his argument was very plausible. When developing his claim, he used relevant and credible sources; he interviewed Bill Gates himself and used excerpts from Steve Jobs' biography, Accidental Millionaire. He makes deductions from the sources that specifically complement his theory, cherry-picking the parts that reinforce his claim. But he does mention plenty more famous people that support his evidence; he lists a good number of highly successful technological innovators that were born during that same time period, sufficiently reinforcing his claim, even though it may be slightly biased. Gladwell mentions how Bill Gates, Steve Jobs and others put a tremendous amount of hard work and dedication into mastering their skill, but with credible evidence and information, concludes that they would not have been as successful if they had not been given a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.


  1. Gladwell, Malcolm. "10,000-Hour Rule." Outliers: The Story of Success. New York: Little, Brown and, 2008. 35-68. Print.
  2. Reich, Robert B. "Why the Rich Are Getting Richer and the Poor, Poorer." The Work of Nations: Preparing Ourselves for 21st-century Capitalism. New York: A.A. Knopf, 1991. 208-22. Print.
  3. Staff, Entrepreneur. "Steve Jobs: An Extraordinary Career." Entrepreneur. N.p., n.d. Web. 29 Oct. 2013. <>.
  4. Colvin, Geoffrey. Talent Is Overrated: What Really Separates World-class Performers from Everybody Else. New York: Portfolio, 2008. Print.
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Cite this Essay

Outliers: How to Master a Skill. (2018, April 10). GradesFixer. Retrieved May 29, 2024, from
“Outliers: How to Master a Skill.” GradesFixer, 10 Apr. 2018,
Outliers: How to Master a Skill. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 29 May 2024].
Outliers: How to Master a Skill [Internet]. GradesFixer. 2018 Apr 10 [cited 2024 May 29]. Available from:
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