In the first chapter of Outliers: The Matthew Effect, author Malcolm Gladwell introduces research done in showing that society has a unique way in perceiving success. He provides evidence of an uncontrollable source such as birthdates being a large factor in success by presenting the reader with charts. The author also tells of how children perceived as successful at a young age will continue to get ahead during life. The overabundance of proof shown in the text shows that the author has done an immense amount of research on this topic.
Author Malcolm Gladwell effectively builds his argument of the connection of success to uncontrollable factors by appealing to the reader’s emotions, giving proof of research done by professionals, and giving logical explanations for the factors at hand. In the beginning of his argument on the perception of success, Gladwell discusses the idea that once people are set on the path to success they continue on it for many years.
He places this fault on the shoulders of society by expressing the belief that judgement of character and ability is done prematurely. The author expresses the idea that society puts so much emphasis on those already succeeding that they forget to look at those with potential not as traditional: “We miss opportunities to lift others onto the top rung. We make rules that frustrate achievement… We overlook just how large a role we play-and by “we” I mean society-in determining who makes it and who doesn’t” (Gladwell 8).
The implication that societal views can decide a person’s whole life is used as an incentive to persuade people to think more about the snap judgements that they make. The difference between prosperity and failure can depend only upon a quick glance of a person and not their actual ability. The author continues to use the word “we” in his writing to ensure that readers notice just how much of an influence they are in life, even if they do not realize it. Gladwell tries to bring this to light so that the opinion of the public can be transformed and taken more seriously.
After putting such emphasis on the viewpoints of the public, Gladwell then tries to show that since the general population has such a large influence on others, they can use that influence to make a difference in a positive way, “We could easily take control of the machinery of achievement… We cling to the idea that success is a simple function of individual merit and the world in which we all grow up and the rules we choose to write as a society don’t matter at all” (Gladwell 8).
The author is trying to show that society puts successful people on such a high pedestal because not everyone can prosper but that’s only because we do not give all people the equal opportunity. The author uses words like “easily” and “simple” to show that the general population can fix the way success is perceived but choose not to. By saying that the public clings to success being an individual merit, Gladwell is saying people see success the way they do so that when they fail, they can say that only the special truly prosper.
His use of the word “we” puts the blame of varying success on all people. We” is supposed to make the reader feel guilty which will hopefully help them come to their senses and change the way success is achieved and rewarded. Along with appealing to emotions to bring light to the issue, Gladwell uses research done by psychologists and economists to prove his point that society has a unique way of looking at success. The author provides reader with a Canadian hockey league roster that includes players ages which relates to how they got ahead. The connection between birthdates and successful hockey players was first discovered by psychologist Roger Barnsley and his wife when attending a Major Junior A hockey game.
After further examination of the birthday of players Barnsley discovered that most players are born in the first few months of the year because of the cutoff date for getting onto leagues, “In any elite group of hockey players-the very best of the best-40 percent of the players will have been born between January and March, 30 percent between April and June, 20 percent between October and December” (Gladwell 4). These players were not chosen because of their abilities on the ice, they were chosen because they were older and more developed physically than those born at the end of the year.
After looking into other hockey leagues and even other sports, Barnsley concluded that players are chosen before true ability can even be shown. The authors use of physical evidence that those born closer to the cut-off date helps to prove that society has an unorthodox way of looking at what is actual success and what is just sheer coincidence. Gladwell also uses evidence relating to school and how successful children are done by economists Kelly Bedard and Elizabeth Dhuey. The pair first did a study on fourth graders and how their birth month related to their success in school.
The results showed that older students scored higher on certain tests than younger students. The two then did the same study with college students and found that the results were the same, “Students belonging to the relatively youngest group in their class are underrepresented by about 11. 6 percent. That initial disadvantage is the difference between going to college-and having a real shot at the middle class-and not” (Gladwell 6). Those perceived as successful did not have to do anything to get where they are.
Gladwell uses this research to prove that people in society only look at the success, not the achievements behind the success. A person cannot control when they are born so their success is not well deserved, it is just a play on fate. Lastly, Gladwell gives logical explanations of how success is given to people by uncontrollable factors by discussing that once a person is seen as more susceptible to success they will be seen that way forever. The author explains that when people are initially chosen to be successful for whatever reason, they are too young to actually possess signs of talent.
In the case of the Canadian hockey league, children are usually branded as “talented” or “special” at age 9 or 10. The more talented players are then put onto better teams with better coaching so eventually they do become better than other people their 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” (Gladwell 5).
Gladwell is trying to show that if people continue to look at succes they do now, then undeserving people will continue to get ahead in life. If society starts children on a path that is more susceptible to success earlier, than they are going to be more successful throughout life. Gladwell uses quotation marks to show that the people marked as “talented” and “untalented” did not start that way. They started the same way and then were trained to be better.
The author then goes on to explain that because a small difference is seen at a younger age, people are given more opportunities than those who are just average for how old they are, “And that little difference leads to an opportunity that makes that difference a bit bigger and that edge in then leads to another opportunity, which makes the initially small difference bigger still” (Gladwell 7). Gladwell is trying to show society how much influence they have on a person’s life. The general population determines whether or not a person succeeds and then judges them for if they do o or do not.
The author continues to use “opportunity” to show how society can highly affect what happens to a person. Author Malcolm Gladwell argues that success is determined by uncontrollable factors with the use of rhetorical devices. Throughout his writing, Gladwell uses pathos, ethos, and logos to bring light to the issues of the perception of success. He uses charts, appeals to readers emotions, and uses research done on the topic to give readers a good reason to change the way they see success and prosperity.