They had to look beyond the individual. They had to understand the culture he or she was a part of, and who their friends and families were, and what town their families came from. They had to appreciate the idea that the values of the world we inhabit and the people we surround ourselves with have a profound effect on who we are.
This quotation appears in the Introduction when Gladwell highlights research focusing on the town of Roseto, Pennsylvania. The quote provides insight into the book's thesis—that there is no one factor that determines whether or not a person succeeds, but rather it is a collection of community and societal contributions combined with a lot of hard work and a little luck. An individual does not reach a significant level of achievement in a vacuum.
By understanding that the individual is not, and cannot be, alone in their success, Gladwell hopes to shift the reader's understanding of the concept of success. There is a kind of plea running through the book that asks readers to consider building a society that supports and allows people to succeed, rather than making everything more difficult and only allowing those who get lucky to rise above. By changing the expectation that success is a zero sum game, societies can expand not only the concept of success, but the number of people who are considered successful.
Cultural legacies are powerful forces. They have deep roots and long lives.
This quotation appears in Chapter Six following stories about the Howards and the Turners, two founding families of Harlan, Kentucky. The families were embroiled in constant fights and feuds, but they were not outliers. Sociologists contributed the pattern of feuds to a culture of honor, a culture that could be traced back to shepherds in certain areas of Europe. Gladwell reinforces this concept of a culture of honor by sharing results of a study conducted at the University of Michigan in the 1990s that showed greater aggression from Southern students than Northern ones after being insulted. Gladwell asserts that cultural legacy impacts behavior and success even generations later and oceans away. This idea is further explored in the stories of the airline crashes, as cultural legacies are revealed to have been, in part, responsible for important information failing to be conveyed. Since individuals all come from somewhere, with lived experiences that combine present situations, upbringing and ancestral background, cultural legacies have a significant impact on success.
Outliers are those who have been given opportunities—and who have had the strength and presence of mind to seize them.
This quotation appears at the end of Chapter Nine as Gladwell sums up the elements needed for success. Throughout the book, he demonstrates that success is not based solely on intelligence or individual accomplishment. Success doesn’t happen through magic, but a variety of factors including cultural background, family and/or community support, and even the good fortune of a particular birthdate or year. Gladwell illustrates that, in spite of a deeply ingrained belief in self-sufficiency, community plays a crucial role in providing the tools for success. He also shows, through the example of the KIPP Academy, that if a strong community does not exist, society can create an environment rich in the kinds of opportunities that empower people to thrive. When marginalized communities are disadvantaged by cultural factors, often those communities must create the opportunities themselves. Success can only occur in environments where opportunities exist, and that success can lift and support a wider variety of the population.