"Outliers: The Story of Success" by Malcolm Gladwell | Free Essay Example

“Outliers: The Story of Success” by Malcolm Gladwell

Words: 1702
Topic: Sociology


In the second chapter of his book Outliers: The Story of Success, Malcolm Gladwell discusses the prerequisites, which are important for reaching success in various professional areas. To some degree, the author’s discussion is based on the study of various violinists. In particular, this research carried out by other scholars indicates that the top musicians spend at least 10000 hours on practice before they are able to make significant breakthroughs in their career. Additionally, as they grow older, they gradually increase the amount of time that they spent on practice (Gladwell 39).

A similar argument can be applied to famous chess players, composers, computer scientists, and other professionals. In other words, these individuals also spend about 10000 hours on practice before becoming experts (Gladwell 42).

It should be kept in mind that the number of hours specified by the author is a very rough approximation. In turn, the key argument is that talent is not a sufficient precondition for success. Instead, one should remember that there is a “minimum level of practice” which is vital for gaining expertise in a certain area of human activities (Gladwell 39). So, much attention should be paid to the main strengths of this theory and its potential weaknesses.

The examples offered by Malcolm Gladwell

One can also say that the writer provides several eloquent examples showing that talent does not necessarily manifest itself immediately. For instance, the early works of Mozart cannot be really called masterpieces, but he was able to make significant progress with time passing. He created his greatest works after 20 years of composing (Gladwell 41). However, very few people know about this detail, even though many of them enjoy the works of this composer.

Similar trends have been observed among other professionals, such as athletes who become top-notch professionals only at a certain age. These cases should be taken into account because they demonstrate that many popular views on child prodigies and other gifted individuals are not based on facts. These examples are very convincing, but it is important to remember that the writer examines a very limited number of cases. Moreover, even the author admits that there are some counterexamples. For instance, one can mention the famous chess player, Bobby Fisher (Gladwell 41).

So, Malcolm Gladwell’s arguments cannot be generalised. Additionally, the author’s discussion indicates that much depends on the economic status of a person and the support of his/her parents. Without this support, a person may not be able to spend 10000 hours on practice because he/she will have to dedicate his/her efforts to other tasks such as earning a living. Furthermore, this individual may eventually lose motivation.

Overall, it is possible to mention other important counterexamples. In particular, one cannot say that entrepreneurs always spend a specific number of hours on a certain activity before making considerable breakthroughs. For instance, it is possible to refer to such prominent entrepreneurs as Bill Gates or Mark Zuckerberg. The stories of their success highlight the importance of such skill as the ability to see emerging opportunities in the market. This skill is vital for designing new products or services.

Still, I accept the general premise of Malcolm Gladwell’s argument, especially the assumption that talent may not be sufficient for the competitive advantage of a person. Moreover, educators often mention various talented individuals who did not make any considerable progress because they believed that only talent would be sufficient for success. This is one of the pitfalls that should be avoided by people who want to carve out a successful career, even if they do not intend to become world-class experts.

Possible objections to the theory of 10000 hours

The effectiveness of learning activities

Overall, it is possible to make several objections to the arguments made by the author. In particular, professional outcomes depend on various factors, and the number of hours spent on training is not the only one. For instance, much attention should be paid to the learning efficiency of a person. In particular, he/she should be able to apply various techniques that enable people to retain different types of information (Taber 114). Moreover, an individual should see how new knowledge can be used for practical purposes. Furthermore, much attention should be paid to the professional level of educators who profoundly shape the attitudes of learners, especially their motivation.

Furthermore, teachers help students avoid many pitfalls, such as the study of irrelevant concepts or methods. This is one of the challenges faced by people who study independently. So, a certain number of hours dedicated to practice cannot guarantee that a person will reach considerable successes in various areas, especially if he/she does not use analytical skills while learning or practising.

Moreover, if this individual relies on the assistance of experienced educators, he/she can master various aspects of a certain profession within a shorter amount of time. Additionally, educators can spot a person’s talents and direct his/her learning activities. In turn, Malcolm Gladwell does not specify the impact of education on the development of a person. This is one of the limitations that should be taken into account.

The importance of intelligence and character traits

Overall, the opponents of Gladwell’s theory will emphasise the importance of intelligence as one of the main factors that shape the outcomes of training or education. Intelligence is reflected in various cognitive abilities such as memory, analysis, problem-solving, planning activities, and so forth (Stemberg 492). In particular, many researchers may believe that intelligence is inheritable; to some degree, this attribute can be predetermined by the forces that are outside of a person’s control. Additionally, it can help people better develop new skills during education. Similarly, one should speak about various traits such as openness to changes or willingness to innovate.

This attribute of a person can also shape the outcomes of education and ability of a person to achieve breakthroughs in various professional areas. For instance, this quality can significantly contribute to the success of entrepreneurs. These cases can be applied to show that Malcolm Gladwell’s theory of 10000 hours diminishes the role of talent, even though this quality is a vital component of success. Nevertheless, one should consider that the impact of heritability does not eliminate the importance of practice which enables a person to make use of his/her cognitive abilities. This is one of the details that should be considered by the readers of this book.

Coincidence and serendipity

Moreover, one can argue that this author underestimates the importance of chance and luck. Certainly, Malcolm Gladwell mentions that many leading entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley reached the age of twenty at the time when consumer electronics were on the verge of profound changes. They were educated and relatively young people at that point; therefore, they were better positioned to take advantage of the new trends.

In particular, one should speak about recent technological developments affecting this field (Gladwell 65). For instance, it is possible to refer to those innovations that could make the production of hardware and software more cost-effective. However, it is possible to consider many other areas. For instance, one can mention the activities of people working in the financial services industry. Scholars, who examine the history of various financial institutions, note that very often the successes or failures of such institutions are dependent on luck, intuition and guesswork, rather than a reliable method (Taleb 262).

Apart from that, some scientific discoveries can be caused by fortunate coincidence. For instance, one can mention the discovery of penicillin or X-rays (Kantorovich 168). Researchers, who made these breakthroughs, worked on different problems, and they did not suspect that their studies would have significant implications. Yet, at the same time, it is possible to mention those authors who worked for many years on a certain problem, but they did not make the final step leading to the important discovery. Again, the theory developed by Malcolm Gladwell does not consider such cases.

The model introduced by the author cannot account for the impact of such coincidences on the career of an individual. In this case, one can speak about the intuition of a person, rather than the amount of training. This is one of the limitations that should be identified. These cases are important because they show that the discussion provided in the second chapter is not sufficient for explaining various stories of success.


Admittedly, the arguments made by Malcolm Gladwell cannot be dismissed, at least because this author shows that one cannot attribute the successes of a person only to his/her talent. Furthermore, many people have specific stereotypes about the performance of people who made achievements in different areas. In particular, they assume that these people were able to make considerable success almost immediately. Moreover, many people believe that successful individuals can make significant achievements almost effortlessly. This is one of the myths that should be dispelled. The author is quite right in showing that this stereotype is not justified.

To some degree, the writer urges the readers to remember that practice and hard work play an essential role in the career of any person. Without them, an individual may never discover opportunities which are important for success. So, the arguments advanced by Malcolm Gladwell should be extended, but they should not be overlooked.


Overall, the theory advanced by Malcolm Gladwell can be critiqued because it does not include a variety of factors that influence the professional outcomes of a person. In particular, one should speak about such influences as character traits, intelligence, the efficiency of learning activities, and so forth. Nevertheless, this author highlights a very important tendency that can be observed among many professionals. In particular, successful individuals tend to invest much more time and effort in practice which becomes an inseparable part of their daily lives. The author is able to demonstrate that only talent is not sufficient for making considerable progress in any area.

Moreover, he demonstrates that a minimum amount of practice can considerably raise the probability of a person’s success. It can be viewed as a vital starting point. This theory introduced by the author should be taken into account because this assumption is supported by empirical data. These are the main details that can be singled out.

Works Cited

Gladwell, Malcolm. Outliers: The story of Success, New York: Hachette Book Group, 2008. Print.

Kantorovich, Aaron. Scientific Discovery: Logic and Tinkering, New York: SUNY Press, 1993. Print.

Stemberg, Robert. Handbook of Intelligence, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000. Print.

Taber, Keith. Modelling Learners and Learning in Science Education: Developing Representations of Concepts, Conceptual Structure and Conceptual Change to Inform Teaching and Research, New York, Springer Science & Business Media, 2013. Print.

Taleb, Nassim. The Black Swan: Second Edition: The Impact of the Highly Improbable, New York: Random House Publishing Group, 2001. Print.