Outliers: The Story of Success | Study Guide

Malcolm Gladwell

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The Tallest Tree

In Outliers: The Story of Success, author Malcolm Gladwell argues success happens when external opportunities and circumstances align with an individual's talents. He uses the metaphor of the tallest tree in the forest to illustrate this idea. The tallest trees don't become the tallest just because they are naturally better than the surrounding trees. A good start—in this case, a hearty acorn—isn't enough for a young sapling to thrive. It needs healthy soil, ample water, and sunlight. The tallest trees grow so well because there aren't any other trees blocking their light. They aren't the victims of natural hazards like rabbits, insects, or lumberjacks. The tallest trees achieve their great height because of their environments and the opportunities they are given to grow. The exact same theory works for humans. A person can be born with innate intelligence and talent, but he or she will not be successful without environmental opportunities to learn, practice, and do.

House on the Hill

Graham and Joyce Gladwell, parents of Malcolm Gladwell, got married, moved to Canada, had three sons, and "built a beautiful house on a hill" in the countryside. This idyllic image symbolizes personal success. Born to Jamaican schoolteachers, Joyce Gladwell (nee Nation) worked hard so she could attend a private boarding school, followed by university in London, England, where she studied to be a family therapist. She received enormous help—from her parents, particularly her mother—and she took advantage of all the opportunities that came her way. Author Malcolm Gladwell believes if other people were afforded the same chances and privileges like the kind his mother received, many more people would "live a life of fulfillment, in a beautiful house high on a hill."

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