In the autobiographies published every year by the billionaire/entrepreneur/rock star/celebrity, the story line is always the same: our hero is born in modest circumstances and by virtue of his own grit and talent fights his way to greatness. 

This quote appears in Chapter One as Gladwell sets up his premise that the way our society views success as an individual achievement is fundamentally flawed. The success story of a poor boy or girl who grows up to overcome obstacles with natural talent and hard work has become part of the pop culture. This motif plays out again and again as a modern-day Cinderella story. As Gladwell goes on to illustrate, like the fairy tale itself, this path to success is largely fictional. While society loves the story of the individual who pulls himself or herself up by the proverbial bootstraps, the subject of the “self-made” success story typically has plenty of support. Using examples of well-known figures, Gladwell goes on to show that these successful individuals often have factors like cultural legacy and good fortune in addition to their work ethic. Gladwell also demonstrates how challenges, at the right time and in the right circumstances, can turn to advantages. Though culture enjoys these famous success stories, Gladwell points out the flaws in the myth of individual success.

We are too much in awe of those who succeed and far too dismissive of those who fail. And, most of all, we become much too passive. We overlook just how large a role we all play—and by “we” I mean society—in determining who makes it and who doesn’t.

This quote appears in Chapter One after Gladwell first uses Canadian youth hockey as a symbol of meritocracy, then goes on to argue why that’s not the case. This example illustrates one way in which individual accomplishment is a myth. In Gladwell’s view, luck and community both play a significant role in achievement. Because of the registration cut-off for Canadian youth hockey, players born in the first three months have an advantage. Due to their age difference, these players tend to be bigger, stronger, and more coordinated. As such, they’re perceived as better players and funneled into elite leagues where they get more practice time and enhance their skills even more. This player differentiation also occurs in soccer and, more critically, in public education and gifted programs. In many cases, children who have the good luck to be born at the right time to align with registration dates get preferential treatment because they’re seen as more talented athletes or students. Because they’re viewed as high achieving in comparison to their younger peers, they get even more opportunities to advance and succeed. In Gladwell’s view, since the community sets these registration dates, society plays a significant role in these success stories. With some recognition of its part in creating these pathways that make success more achievable, society and the community could give more individuals a chance to advance by changing the systems that inadvertently prevent access to opportunity. Both luck and community impact achievement, and those factors cannot be controlled by the individual.

It is impossible for a hockey player, or Bill Joy, or Robert Oppenheimer, or any other outlier for that matter, to look down from their lofty perch and say with truthfulness, "I did this, all by myself."

This quote appears in the Epilogue as Gladwell sums up the idea at the heart of Outliers that success is more of a group project than an individual achievement. Throughout the book, Gladwell uses relatable examples to make his point. Professional hockey players who started in the Canadian youth hockey league had the advantage of a birthdate that allowed them to be perceived as more talented. Computer genius Bill Joy was born at a time that put him in the perfect spot in history to take advantage of the computer revolution. For college he chose the University of Michigan, giving him unprecedented access to a computer center and the time to develop his talents. Robert Oppenheimer put his intelligence to use working on the nuclear bomb, but he also had a family that taught him how to navigate the world. While all of the outliers Gladwell details had talent, they also had the luck, legacy, and community that presented them with the opportunities to work hard and achieve. Without taking away from their achievements, Gladwell illustrates that none of these success stories made it alone and the idea of individual success is a myth.