Because we so profoundly personalize success, we miss opportunities to lift others onto the top rung.
This quote appears in Chapter One as Gladwell sets up the role that society or community play in success. The “we” he refers to in the quote is the society that puts policies in place that can either promote or hinder achievement. Society tends to find individual success stories inspiring. Because these stories of the person who rose from nothing to climb the ladder and succeed have taken on a mythological quality, people overlook the other factors that contribute to success. As Gladwell shows, one of these factors is community. In his discussion of the impact of birthdates on hockey players and gifted students, Gladwell suggests that society/community could make opportunities available to more children by developing a system based on multiple enrollment dates instead of one. Through this type of policy change, the community could promote potential success. The author also argues the importance of community in Chapter Nine where he introduces Marita. The middle school student does not come from a community that provides the tools to succeed in the world outside of it, so she makes KIPP Academy her community to power her achievements. When society doesn’t recognize its role in creating success, it tends to limit opportunities instead of finding innovative ways to make them more widely available. Community serves as a powerful supporter of success.
He’d had to make his way alone, and no one—not rock stars, not professional athletes, not software billionaires, and not even geniuses—ever makes it alone.
This quote appears in Chapter Four as Gladwell wraps up his argument on genius. The “he” in the quote is Christopher Langan, a game show contestant believed to have an IQ higher than that of Albert Einstein. Based solely on intelligence, Langan should have been an outlier, mentioned in the same breath as other great successful people. However, while he had a great capacity for learning, Langan lacked the family and community support that would give him the practical intelligence to know how to advocate for himself in the world, and so he left school, stumped by the financial aid and scheduling processes. With a distrust of authority and no support system, Langan would have had to make it on his own. Contrasted with Robert Oppenheimer, Langan stands as a prime example of the need for a supportive community on the path to success.
Her community does not give her what she needs. So what does she have to do? Give up her evenings and weekends and friends—all the elements of her old world—and replace them with KIPP.
This quote appears in Chapter Nine where Gladwell uses KIPP Academy as an example of the power of community. Twelve-year-old Marita is the only child of a single mother living in the Bronx. Gladwell has shown that students from more affluent backgrounds benefit from learning experiences outside of school. Lower-income students typically don’t have the advantages of travel and summer camp, but schools like KIPP provide extra time that encourages learning and retention. Though she doesn’t come from a community equipped to ensure success the way students from wealthier, more privileged families typically do, Marita is lucky enough to have a mother who encourages her to enroll at KIPP. The middle-school student’s rigorous schedule starts before 6 a.m. and runs until after 11 p.m., with after school programs and Saturday activities. Comparing her workload to that of a former classmate from another school, Marita indicates she’s used to the routine and the hard work. Her immersion in KIPP, Gladwell claims, demonstrates the power of community to encourage positive outcomes, even when the individual has to seek out the community and the support.