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Romeo  Vitelli

"It's only nature that is unchangable and deterministic. Nuture, by definition, isn't. "

Except that nature and nurture have a tendency to interact. All the genetic advantages in the world aren't going to help a child with fetal alcohol syndrome or who comes from an abusive environment. There are even cases of child prodigies with supposedly brilliant futures who end up "burning out" despite careful nurturing. William James Sidis, for example.


Jeff Singer

"They were successful because their very fortunate cultural circumstances gave them that belief in meaningful work. Nurture here is driving nature, not the other way around."

But where did their parents, grandparents, great-grandparents, etc. get those "fortunate cultural circumstances"? HINT: see Charles Murray et. al. on Jewish genes.

john of sparta

success is relative. in any group,
some will be called successful. even
a group of losers has the "best" loser.
a group of billionaires has the "poorest" one.
so, success is a matter of
survival and randomness. randomness
grouping; (I am your father) and survival (mother did not abort). it's just like the old
saying: "save one person and you save the world."
....'cause you never know.
of course, one could
argue the opposing corollary.

Bryan Wong

I am from Hong Kong, hailed as one of the "East Asian economic miracles" in the last few decades. There is a commonly accepted "refugee theory" about Hong Kong's success.

In the 1950s and 1960s, lots of refugees left Communist China and arrived in Hong Kong. They were broke and had no choice but to work very hard. But more importantly, they were self-selected risk-takers (most had to risk being caught, or drowned in the high seas, when escaping from China). Many of these risk-takers ended up being successful entrepreneurs.

In other words, the theory is about how adverse condition created successes, which on the surface at least seems contradictory to Outliers' premise. Of course one can argue that these talents would have done much better if they had better education, access to capital, etc. But I wonder how, and if, I should try to reconcile the two different theories.

Would appreciate thoughts from others. Thanks.

Charles Morrissey

On page 54 of Outliers you ask=="How many high schools in the world had access to a time-sharing terminal in 1968?"

I know you are familiar with the Dartmouth BASIC language project that started in 1962 when John Kemeny (later Dartmouth President) and Tom Kurtz wrote this "beginners" computer language required ! for all Dartmouth freshmen--A friend and I were fortunate to commercialize the BASIC language and distribute terminals and support to hundreds of schools starting in 1966. I suspect there are hundreds of "1955" ers who had highly successful careers in the computer field.

By the way Kemeny was a Hungarian revolution immigrant along with Andy Grove and others--they may represent another group of interest.

Joshua Grossman

How closely does this idea correlate with Rawls' Second Principle of Justice?


Grandchildren of functional/educational/successful (FES) grandparents have a second layer of probability for success later in life. People compute this as a "cultural" infulence when it is more appropriatly applied to the excellence of individuals that mentor young children around them in ways that result in good citizens. Folks mess up on the first batch all the time, so factor in FES for grandparents.
Excellent people is the primary concern on both the micro (home) and macro (policy) level and the classroom is no exception. When the indicators for classroom success are inconsistent, it seems to me that the more reasonable approach is to look to generational (and not cultural, a subtle step, I know) factors to find the answer.

Say a FES grandparent produces one child with a 50/50 chance of FES. If the child achieves FES, sobeit. If that child does not, the grandparent still has a 50/50 shot at getting the grandchild to FES. So the result is a %50 success rate over two generations. Take out the FES grandparent, and the two generational FES rate become %25.
So why does the persormance rates in children from different continents shock us so? Enter a good mentor/parent/grandparent and the math trends upward. One generational step demonstrates the drastic statistical disparity that concerns Mr. Gladwell so much.



I think what Brooks seems to be getting at is what the individual, by sheer will power or some such thing, can accomplish. Nurture can be changeable but it isn't within the individual's control: we don't get to choose how our parents raise us, how our high school teachers treat us and etc.

If you look at it this way, your book explains success in terms of ,what psychologists call, situational factors and not dispositions. (Even when you resort to dispositional explanations, those dispositions are almost always the result of the culture, parenting etc.)

Account Deleted

yes i agree very good behavior

Michael Meadon

The comment: "It's only nature that is unchangable and deterministic. Nuture [sic], by definition, isn't" is more than just a little naive. There is no reason to think, in general, that a genetic cause is in any sense more ineluctable than a social one. You should read Human Nature After Darwin by Janet Radcliffe Richards...

Ian Turner

I think sometimes people get too hung up on either the balck or the white. Many of the modern theories of the way things interacts, like those in outliers, are so much about the grey areas in between. David Brooks' focus on people suceeding through shear force of will seems to miss the point that there are so many other factors that are needed for sucess. Yes force of will helps a lot but so many people with much force of will acheive very little because of the environment or direction that they are driving in. We need more than just personality for something to succeed otherwise the only people that can succeed are those with a driven, forceful personality. A world where that was the only reason for success would not be the more balanced world that we live in today.

Chris Lawnsby

I'd be pretty curious to hear your thoughts on Steven Pinker's "The Blank Slate."

Are your views necessarily mutually exclusive? Obviously there is some middle ground, but is it merely lip-service to discuss it? Perhaps most importantly, to what degree do you believe that you disagree with Pinker, if at all?

What are your views on identical twin studies?

Fernando Barcena

Actually the reason that Asian country students perform better at math is that the curriculum for 4th grade students in these countries include being taught in some fashion the math concept that the Identity Rule is the CORE MATH CONCEPT. This understanding is why they perform so well as a group in math. The argument that the asian languages create some intellectual advantage does not explain why other non-asian speaking countries also perform at high levels. Those countries that understand the importance of the Identity Rule refer to it as The Golden Rule of Math.

Any person with good math skills knows the Identity Rule. What appears to be less obvious to educators in the U.S. (based on U.S. student math performance) is that the IDENTITY RULE is the CORE MATH CONCEPT, and that it can be easily taught. My contention is that these concepts can be understood by a student within an hour to an hour and a half, and that once understood (the Gestalt) by the student, the student can then easily understand all subsequent math instruction, without any further tutoring. An understanding of how to use the Identity Rule to manipulate fractions gives the student the ability to perform in math in the 98th percentiles, throughout elementary and high school just like students in asian countries.

I can provide a two page tutorial that only takes an hour to an hour and a half to walk a fourth grade student through. f.barcena35@comcast.net

Briane Pagel

The hostility that some people -- not me -- feel towards the arguments made in "Outliers" suggest both a misunderstanding of the premise, and a distrust of the conclusions.

As I understood the premise, it was not that the cultural backgrounds, language considerations, and lucky breaks are the sole factors in producing success or failure; if that were the case, there would have been no good Korean airlines pilots, ever. Instead, those factors helped produce outliers, and tended to correlate strongly with greater success. That is, speaking a language which helps one remember numbers better will, all things being equal, tend to make one better at math, but does not guarantee that everyone who speaks that language will be a mathematical genius. It's possible to fly an airplane well while still being from Korea, and it's possible to become a successful lawyer even if your father was not a Jewish man working in the garment industry.

The force that those cultural factors impart on our lives is distrusted, though, by those who want to believe that they have achieved something on their own, or that their heroes have achieved something on their own, I think because they feel it denigrates their experience to say that they achieved those great heights with the help of others. That kind of thinking is why almost everyone knows Sir Edmund Hillary and almost nobody knows who helped him: we tend to value the individual's achievement and view talking about support as watering that down. How often do commentators note that the MVP of a Superbowl was the beneficiary of a host of other factors? Peyton Manning cannot complete 29 of 34 passes unless his receivers make the catch, after all.

So I agree with the thought that we would have more successful people -- more in number, and greater in success, if successful people believed three things:

1. "that the future can be better than the present," and
2. that "I have the power to make it so" and
3. that I have that power in part because of my circumstances and background.


As a psychologist and parenting blogger, I'm thrilled to think through the implications of OUTLIERS for parents. I will be starting a discussion next week at www.BabyShrink.com. For instance, what about the movement to "red shirt" late-born children (September through December)-- hold them back for a year in order to sidestep some of the problems you describe so well in OUTLIERS? These issues are compelling to many parents, and I look forward to exploring them more. Thanks for a great book, and aloha from Hawaii!

Mira Dimic

Malcolm, how would you explain the success of Serbia's tennis outliers Ana Ivanovic, Novak Djokovic and Jelena Jankovic?

Look forward to your thoughts on this, very much :)

Btw, I looked into the birth dates of my savvy colleagues at Inbox, a Serbia's web company that I work with. They were all born between January and March 1980-1984, expect me and the CEO (November and December). :)

Mira Dimic

This might be interesting to add regarding the previous comment related to Serbia's tennis.

Nick Bollettieri says the success is a geographical accident of talent, a cyclical swing that has led to a group of players emerging simultaneously.....why it happened in the first place is a mystery.

I wouldn't call this is a mystery. Serbia is known to have produced big names across many different fields. Would love to hear your thoughts on this.


Thanks for writing a great book. The analysis and lessons of the Korean cockpit were the most painful and insightful to read.

Fernando Barcena

Some additional thoughts on the argument that the asian languages create some intellectual advantage to perform better at math. This argument does not explain cause. It is merely an observation after the fact. The same is true about after the fact observations that differences in socio-economics, race, gender, intelligence, environment, single families, nutrition, homogeneous groups, etc., etc., explain why some perform better at math than others. These variables are not causal either. They make for good reading, but do not explain causality.

I argue that the obviously causal variable is BORDERS. Within some borders/(countries) the school systems include in the curriculum, teaching their students in some fashion, the CORE MATH CONCEPT, the Identity Rule, and how to use the Identity Rule to manipulate fractions. After the 4th grade, all math involves manipulating fractions Students that are taught this CORE MATH CONCEPT easily, (I emphasize), EASILY, learn all subsequent math instruction. The result then is that in spite of differences within BORDERS of differences in socio-economics, family structure, gender, etc. their students as a group excel at math.


Chris Melton

Outliers forces you to take off the "blinders of tunnel vision" and see the big picture of success.

As you point out, no one becomes successful without help. That "help" may be your intellect (nature) or opportunities (nurture) but in reality it will be a complex mixture of your heritage, circumstances, opportunities, timing, beliefs and work ethic.

The romantic "he pulled himself up by his bootstraps" explanation of success is a fairytale. Not because it is untrue, but because it is only partially true. Outliers forces us to step away from the microscope and "see" what's going on around the slide as well as what was involved in the slide's preparation.

Outliers forced me to reexamine my beliefs - thank you.

David G. Stahl

Dear Malcom Gladwell -

Enjoyed immensely Outliers, probably because it agrees very much with my own world view and narrative. Made me very curious about my own cultural upbringing, and what happens 3rd and 4th generation out after the parents have become well educated.

I did want to mention one fact that is very curious. Rice is very difficult crop to grow - but in fact it was the underpinning of slavery in South Carolina: http://www.sc.edu/uscpress/2004/3569.html . Maybe in China rice could not be cultivated by slaves due to geology, botany, and other cultural influences, but rice was grown by slaves (and from my brief exposure in SC it appeared the slaves brought the skill of rice growing with them and taught the slave holders).


David G. Stahl

Rahul Dash

A fabulous book, Outliers. I belong to a country (India) which has a huge number of self made billionaires who, till very recently occupied 4 of the top ten in the list of the world's richest. We take a great amount of pride (and so do most others) in the concept of "self-made individuals who have fought all adversities to succeed." I had recommended Outliers to a lot of my friends from India and abroad and found this disturbing notion that people hade : that Outliers somehow suggests that self-made people do not exist. Nothing could be more opposite from the truth. I believe Outliers tells us that self-made people do exist in great numbers and they are self-made in the sense that they do not use direct outside influence but their own talent and will power. However, the societies and times that they work/ed in are/were so beautifully conspiring that they were, to give a cliche, "at the right place at the right time"

The concept is a bit more complicated in India, simply because along with priding ourselves when it comes to the concept of self-help we also pride ourselves when it comes to the concept of heritage and business legacy et al. I would love to see Mr Gladwell (or anyone for that matter) giving examples of people outside the US.

Andrew Sobel

On page 54 of Outliers you ask=="How many high schools in the world had access to a time-sharing terminal in 1968?"

John Kemeny's daughter and I were in the same class at Hanover Junior High in 1966-67. Apparently he was interested to see if 12 year olds could learn BASIC, and so our class was taught the rudiments of BASIC programming and invited to use the Dartmouth time-sharing system at the Dartmouth computer center. I did not proceed to an illustrious career in computer science, but perhaps some of my classmates did. As another commentator points out, more high schools than you might think were getting involved in computing during the mid-sixties.



I was reading ur blog posts and found some of them to be very good.. u write well.. Why don't you popularize it more.. ur posts on ur blog ‘’ took my particular attention as some of them are interesting topics of mine too;

BTW I help out some ex-IIMA guys who with another batch mate run www.rambhai.com where you can post links to your most loved blog-posts. Rambhai was the chaiwala at IIMA and it is a site where users can themselves share links to blog posts etc and other can find and vote on them. The best make it to the homepage!

This way you can reach out to rambhai readers some of whom could become your ardent fans.. who knows.. :)


Jay Mack

"If Gladwell can reduce William Shakespeare to a mere product of social forces, I’ll buy 25 more copies of “Outliers” and give them away in Times Square."
--David Brooks

I guess you'll have to start handing out copies soon.

Well, maybe not 25 copies -- ten anyway. Because while Shakespeare cannot be reduced to just "social forces", he was very much the product of his environment.

Of course, we don't know much about Shakespeare, the man. But we do know a lot about his environment.

Consider: Shakespeare was the happy inheritor a.) a new language, in which not a lot had been done b.) a new dramatic tradition, which had not yet jelled and permitted considerable innovation.

That new language was, of course, English, the bastard child of AngloSaxon and Norman French. Where once rich and poor had spoken quite different languages in daily life now English was the tommon tongue.

And drama? Once again, it was something new. And it had to appeal to both the gallery and the pit.

So, Shakespeare had a unique opportunity.

Now, not every line of Shakespeare is genius. He could write quite badly. And even his greatest works are not consistent throughout.

But Shakespeare not only had opportunities that later writers would lack (insofar as he had already done Hamlet and MacBeth and so on...), he had incentives. He came as far as we know from what passed for the "middle class" of the time. Had he been richer or more educated, he might have gotten sucked in the kind of classicism that Ben Jonson did. He was basically a hardworking writer, trying to make ends meet -- and he wrote fast to meet the needs of the public, borrowing plots and characters from others.

Only in the age of a new idiom and a new art form can a popular writer become great. Shakespeare was one. Dickens another.

Add to this the importance of intellectual renaissance.

Timing, as they say, is everything. Had Bill Gates been born in 1945 or 1978, I doubt he would have achieved as much.

Had Shakespeare been born a hundred years later, he would be just another forgotten playwright.

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  • I'm a writer for the New Yorker magazine, and the author of four books, "The Tipping Point: How Little Things Make a Big Difference", "Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking" and "Outliers: The Story of Success." My latest book, "What the Dog Saw" is a compilation of stories published in The New Yorker. I was born in England, and raised in southwestern Ontario in Canada. Now I live in New York City.

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