Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Malcolm Gladwell's The Outliers

Contrary to the trend of past books where he tries to boil down complex processes into a few simple rules (The Tipping Point, Blink), Malcolm Gladwell argues for greater complexity in his book The Outliers. Attacking the straw dog which is the notion that Success is the result of Genius and Hard Work, Gladwell says there are a host of interrelated factors to success:

1. Meeting the Intelligence Threshold - an IQ at or greater than 115-120. Past the threshold IQ doesn't correlate with success in the long run.

2. Effort - the rule of thumb is 10,000 hours to develop a genius-level expertise in a given area. 10,000 hours is an abnormal amount of time to dedicate to something.

3. History - It helps to have been born on the cusp of a scientific, industrial or social revolution in history. A disproportionate number of the world's richest men in history and the tech world's CEOs, for instance, were all born within a few years of each other.

4. Luck - For that matter, personal timing means getting a lucky break -- having matured physically around the right times for an athletic season, getting access to a blossoming technology right when it came out, knowing someone in the music business.

5. Culture - Born from a cultural background that encouraged certain helpful traits like delayed gratification, persistence, assertiveness, communication, belief that hard work pays off in the end, and a comfortable relationship with authority. Your cultural background creates general personality traits which can help or hinder development. An example of hindering traits is the Appalacean "Culture of Honor" which encourages violence in response to verbal sleights.

6. Parenting - Having parents who practiced concerted cultivation, which means taking an active interest in encouraging success. Without it a child is at a disadvantage.

7. Awareness - Being aware of you cultural and parental biases allows you to bring them to a conscious awareness and overcome them. You can take steps to re-normalize to embrace a more successful life approach. This is perhaps the most important factor - that by being aware of where you come from, you can become who you want to be.

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