Barnsley argues that these kinds of skewed age distributions exist whenever three things happen: selection, streaming, and differentiated experience. If you make a decision about who is good and who is not good at an early age; if you separate the “talented” from the “untalented”; and if you provide the “talented” with a superior experience, then you’re going to end up giving a huge advantage to that small group of people born closest to the cutoff date. (Location 249)

on in childhood. We have advanced reading groups and advanced math groups. So, early on, if we look at young kids, in kindergarten and first grade, the teachers are confusing maturity with ability. And they put the older kids in the advanced stream, where they learn better skills; and the next year, because they are in the higher groups, they do even better; and the next year, the same things happens, and they do even better again. The only country we don’t see this going on is Denmark. They have a national policy where they have no ability grouping until the age of ten.” Denmark waits to make selection decisions until maturity differences by age have evened out. (Location 290)

it’s ridiculous,” Dhuey says. “It’s outlandish that our arbitrary choice of cutoff dates is causing these long-lasting effects, and no one seems to care about them.” (Location 299)

Chapter Two The 10,000-Hour Rule (Location 363)

researchers have settled on what they believe is the magic number for true expertise: ten thousand hours. (Location 421)

To become a chess grandmaster also seems to take about ten years. (Only the legendary Bobby Fischer got to that elite level in less than that amount of time: it took him nine years.) And what’s ten years? Well, it’s roughly how long it takes to put in ten thousand hours of hard practice. Ten thousand hours is the magic number of greatness. (Location 436)

Note: Many professions take approximately 10 years (10,000 hours) to become truly great

Practice isn’t the thing you do once you’re good. It’s the thing you do that makes you good. (Location 447)

Tags: practice

But what truly distinguishes their histories is not their extraordinary talent but their extraordinary opportunities. (Location 614)

Chapter Three The Trouble with Geniuses, Part 1 (Location 706)

By the time Terman was finished, he had sorted through the records of some 250,000 elementary and high school students, and identified 1,470 children whose IQs averaged over 140 and ranged as high as 200. That group of young geniuses came to be known as the “Termites,” and they were the subjects of what would become one of the most famous psychological studies in history. (Location 762)

With a divergence test, obviously there isn’t a single right answer. What the test giver is looking for are the number and the uniqueness of your responses. And what the test is measuring isn’t analytical intelligence but something profoundly different — something much closer to creativity. Divergence tests are every bit as challenging as convergence tests, and if you don’t believe that, I encourage you to pause and try the brick-and-blanket test right now. (Location 880)

“We have seen,” Terman concluded, with more than a touch of disappointment, “that intellect and achievement are far from perfectly correlated.” (Location 923)

Chapter Four The Trouble with Geniuses, Part 2 (Location 929)

To Sternberg, practical intelligence includes things like “knowing what to say to whom, knowing when to say it, and knowing how to say it for maximum effect.” (Location 1054)

And, critically, it is a kind of intelligence separate from the sort of analytical ability measured by IQ. To use the technical term, general intelligence and practical intelligence are “orthogonal”: the presence of one doesn’t imply the presence of the other. (Location 1058)

It’s a cultural advantage. Alex has those skills because over the course of his young life, his mother and father — in the manner of educated families — have painstakingly taught them to him, nudging and prodding and encouraging and showing him the rules of the game, right down to that little rehearsal in the car on the way to the doctor’s office. (Location 1145)

Tags: parenting

He had just been reading the work of the linguist Noam Chomsky. There were piles of books in his study. He ordered books from the library all the time. “I always feel that the closer you get to the original sources, the better off you are,” he said. (Location 1212)

Chapter Five The Three Lessons of Joe Flom (Location 1231)

We tell rags-to-riches stories because we find something captivating in the idea of a lone hero battling overwhelming odds. (Location 1282)

For twenty years he perfected his craft at Skadden, Arps. Then the world changed and he was ready. He didn’t triumph over adversity. Instead, what started out as adversity ended up being an opportunity. “It’s not that those guys were smarter lawyers than anyone else,” Rifkind says. “It’s that they had a skill that they had been working on for years that was suddenly very valuable.” (Location 1385)

And the study found that there was a group of real successes and there was a group of real failures, and that the successes were far more likely to have come from wealthier families. In that sense, the Terman study underscores the argument Annette Lareau makes, that what your parents do for a living, and the assumptions that accompany the class your parents belong to, matter. (Location 1409)

them. The sense of possibility so necessary for success comes not just from inside us or from our parents. It comes from our time: from the particular opportunities that our particular place in history presents us with. (Location 1486)

Those three things — autonomy, complexity, and a connection between effort and reward — are, most people agree, the three qualities that work has to have if it is to be satisfying. (Location 1634)

Work that fulfills those three criteria is meaningful. (Location 1639)

you work hard enough and assert yourself, and use your mind and imagination, you can shape the world to your desires. (Location 1650)

Success is not a random act. It arises out of a predictable and powerful set of circumstances and opportunities, (Location 1692)

Part Two Legacy Chapter Six (Location 1723)

Cultures of honor tend to take root in highlands and other marginally fertile areas, such as Sicily or the mountainous Basque regions of Spain. If you live on some rocky mountainside, the explanation goes, you can’t farm. You probably raise goats or sheep, and the kind of culture that grows up around being a herdsman is very different from the culture that grows up around growing crops. (Location 1788)

The survival of a farmer depends on the cooperation of others in the community. But a herdsman is off by himself. (Location 1790)

herdsman does have to worry. He’s under constant threat of ruin through the loss of his animals. So he has to be aggressive: he has to make it clear, through his words and deeds, that he is not weak. He has to be willing to fight in response to even the slightest challenge to his reputation — and that’s what a “culture of honor” means. It’s a world where a man’s reputation is at the center of his livelihood and self-worth. (Location 1793)

That study is strange, isn’t it? It’s one thing to conclude that groups of people living in circumstances pretty similar to their ancestors’ act a lot like their ancestors. But those southerners in the hallway study weren’t living in circumstances similar to their British ancestors. They didn’t even necessarily have British ancestors. (Location 1881)

Cultural legacies are powerful forces. They have deep roots and long lives. They persist, generation after generation, virtually intact, even as the economic and social and demographic conditions that spawned them have vanished, and they play such a role in directing attitudes and behavior that we cannot make sense of our world without them. (Location 1892)

So far in Outliers we’ve seen that success arises out of the steady accumulation of advantages: when and where you are born, what your parents did for a living, and what the circumstances of your upbringing were all make a significant difference in how well you do in the world. (Location 1894)

Note: Those who become successful often have fortuitous advantages such as the location of birth, the occupation of their parents and circumstances of upbringing.

The question for the second part of Outliers is whether the traditions and attitudes we inherit from our forebears can play the same role. Can we learn something about why people succeed and how to make people better at what they do by taking cultural legacies seriously? I think we can. (Location 1896)

Chapter Seven The Ethnic Theory of Plane Crashes (Location 1899)

These seven errors, furthermore, are rarely problems of knowledge or flying skill. It’s not that the pilot has to negotiate some critical technical maneuver and fails. The kinds of errors that cause plane crashes are invariably errors of teamwork and communication. One pilot knows something important and somehow doesn’t tell the other pilot. One pilot does something wrong, and the other pilot doesn’t catch the error. A tricky situation needs to be resolved through a complex series of steps — and somehow the pilots fail to coordinate and miss one of them. (Location 1978)

Tags: communication

gone. So the captain had to keep looking around these nine instruments, each the size of a coffee cup, while his right hand was controlling the speed, and his left hand was flying the airplane. He was maxed out. He had no resources left to do anything else. That’s what happens when you’re tired. Your decision-making skills erode. You start missing things — things that you would pick up on any other day.” (Location 2017)

What was required of Ratwatte was that he communicate, and communicate not just in the sense of issuing commands but also in the sense of encouraging and cajoling and calming and negotiating and sharing information in the clearest and most transparent manner possible. (Location 2068)

The term used by linguists to describe what Klotz was engaging in in that moment is “mitigated speech,” which refers to any attempt to downplay or sugarcoat the meaning of what is being said. (Location 2096)

We mitigate when we’re being polite, or when we’re ashamed or embarrassed, or when we’re being deferential to authority. (Location 2098)

Mitigation explains one of the great anomalies of plane crashes. In commercial airlines, captains and first officers split the flying duties equally. But historically, crashes have been far more likely to happen when the captain is in the “flying seat.” At first that seems to make no sense, since the captain is almost always the pilot with the most experience. But think about the Air Florida crash. If the first officer had been the captain, would he have hinted three times? No, he would have commanded — and the plane wouldn’t have crashed. Planes are safer when the least experienced pilot is flying, because it means the second pilot isn’t going to be afraid to speak up. (Location 2137)

Combating mitigation has become one of the great crusades in commercial aviation in the past fifteen years. Every major airline now has what is called “Crew Resource Management” training, which is designed to teach junior crew members how to communicate clearly and assertively. (Location 2142)

Aviation experts will tell you that it is the success of this war on mitigation as much as anything else that accounts for the extraordinary decline in airline accidents in recent years. (Location 2147)

“On a very simple level, one of the things we insist upon at my airline is that the first officer and the captain call each other by their first names,” (Location 2148)

Hofstede argued, for example, that cultures can be usefully distinguished according to how much they expect individuals to look after themselves. He called that measurement the “individualism-collectivism scale.” The country that scores highest on the individualism end of that scale is the United States. Not surprisingly, the United States is also the only industrialized country in the world that does not provide its citizens with universal health care. (Location 2214)

Another of Hofstede’s dimensions is “uncertainty avoidance.” How well does a culture tolerate ambiguity? (Location 2218)

Of all of Hofstede’s Dimensions, though, perhaps the most interesting is what he called the “Power Distance Index” (PDI). Power distance is concerned with attitudes toward hierarchy, specifically with how much a particular culture values and respects authority. To measure it, Hofstede asked questions like “How frequently, in your experience, does the following problem occur: employees being afraid to express disagreement with their managers?” To what extent do the “less powerful members of organizations and institutions accept and expect that power is distributed unequally?” How much are older people respected and feared? Are power holders entitled to special privileges? (Location 2237)

And Hofstede’s work suggested something that had not occurred to anyone in the aviation world: that the task of convincing first officers to assert themselves was going to depend an awful lot on their culture’s power distance rating. (Location 2253)

Tags: teamwork, culture

That’s what Ratwatte meant when he said that no American would have been so fatally intimidated by the controllers at Kennedy Airport. America is a classic low–power distance culture. When push comes to shove, Americans fall back on their American-ness, (Location 2255)

Our ability to succeed at what we do is powerfully bound up with where we’re from, and being a good pilot and coming from a high–power distance culture is a difficult mix. Colombia by no means has the highest PDI, by the way. Helmreich and a colleague, Ashleigh Merritt, once measured the PDI of pilots from around the world. Number one was Brazil. Number two was South Korea. (Location 2288)

So there they are, three classic preconditions of a plane crash, the same three that set the stage for Avianca 052: a minor technical malfunction; bad weather; and a tired pilot. By itself, none of these would be sufficient for an accident. But all three in combination require the combined efforts of everyone in the cockpit. And that’s where Korean Air 801 ran into trouble. (Location 2328)

once. Western communication has what linguists call a “transmitter orientation” — that is, it is considered the responsibility of the speaker to communicate ideas clearly and unambiguously. (Location 2376)

But Korea, like many Asian countries, is receiver oriented. It is up to the listener to make sense of what is being said. In the engineer’s mind, he has said a lot. (Location 2381)

Greenberg wanted to give his pilots an alternate identity. Their problem was that they were trapped in roles dictated by the heavy weight of their country’s cultural legacy. (Location 2412)

English, they would be free of the sharply defined gradients of Korean hierarchy: formal deference, informal deference, blunt, familiar, intimate, and plain. Instead, the pilots could participate in a culture and language with a very different legacy. (Location 2414)

In 1994, when Boeing first published safety data showing a clear correlation between a country’s plane crashes and its score on Hofstede’s Dimensions, the company’s researchers practically tied themselves in knots trying not to cause offense. (Location 2432)

Why is the fact that each of us comes from a culture with its own distinctive mix of strengths and weaknesses, tendencies and predispositions, so difficult to acknowledge? Who we are cannot be separated from where we’re from — and when we ignore that fact, planes crash. (Location 2435)

Tags: culture

Chapter Eight Rice Paddies and Math Tests (Location 2467)


Chinese number words are remarkably brief. Most of them can be uttered in less than one-quarter of a second (for instance, 4 is “si” and 7 “qi”). Their English equivalents — “four,” “seven” — are longer: pronouncing them takes about one-third of a second. The memory gap between English and Chinese apparently is entirely due to this difference in length. In languages as diverse as Welsh, Arabic, Chinese, English and Hebrew, there is a reproducible correlation between the time required to pronounce numbers in a given language and the memory span of its speakers. In this domain, the prize for efficacy goes to the Cantonese dialect of Chinese, whose brevity grants residents of Hong Kong a rocketing memory span of about 10 digits. (Location 2515)

They have a logical counting system. Eleven is ten-one. Twelve is ten-two. Twenty-four is two-tens-four and so on. That difference means that Asian children learn to count much faster than American children. Four-year-old Chinese children can count, on average, to forty. American children at that age can count only to fifteen, and most don’t reach forty until they’re five. By the age of five, in other words, American children are already a year behind their Asian counterparts in the most fundamental of math skills. (Location 2527)

Note: The Chinese counting system is easier than English and enables children to count at an earlier age

starts in the third and fourth grades, and Fuson argues that perhaps a part of that disenchantment is due to the fact that math doesn’t seem to make sense; its linguistic structure is clumsy; its basic rules seem arbitrary and complicated. (Location 2540)

Success is a function of persistence and doggedness and the willingness to work hard for twenty-two minutes to make sense of something that most people would give up on after thirty seconds. (Location 2722)

Tags: persistence, success

Chapter Nine Marita’s Bargain (Location 2751)

they are taught to turn and address anyone talking to them in a protocol known as “SSLANT”: smile, sit up, listen, ask questions, nod when being spoken to, and track with your eyes. (Location 2763)

Tags: communication, favorite, charisma

gift. Outliers are those who have been given opportunities — and who have had the strength and presence of mind to seize them. (Location 2961)

For hockey and soccer players born in January, it’s a better shot at making the all-star team. For the Beatles, it was Hamburg. For Bill Gates, the lucky break was being born at the right time and getting the gift of a computer terminal in junior high. Joe Flom and the founders of Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen and Katz got multiple breaks. They were born at the right time with the right parents and the right ethnicity, which allowed them to practice takeover law for twenty years before the rest of the legal world caught on. And what Korean Air did, when it finally turned its operations around, was give its pilots the opportunity to escape the constraints of their cultural legacy. (Location 2962)

The lesson here is very simple. But it is striking how often it is overlooked. We are so caught in the myths of the best and the brightest and the self-made that we think outliers spring naturally from the earth. (Location 2967)