Monday, August 2, 2010


I recently finished Malcolm Gladwell's book "Outliers" which has provoked some thinking about elements that contribute to success.   His book tells the stories of a number of individuals and groups who have achieved extraordinary levels of success.    Using appropriate data he makes the case that extraordinary success results from a combination of being born at the right time into a supportive environment  of the right culture coupled with a long and disciplined time of training.   He claims there is a 10,000 hour rule for success.   It takes 10,000 hours of practice to become a good hockey player,  competent pilot, accomplished  musician and so on.     Other than being born at the correct time, I can agree with all the other elements he proposes for achieving success.   He tends to play down ones intelligence quotient as an element for success.  He illustrates that one who has raw intelligence without social integration has far less chance for success because achievement is accomplished within a community context.

I have applied his principles to the evaluation of my more modest success and that of my high school classmates.   We were born in the depth of the Depression between 1935 and 1936 when the birthrate was the lowest ever for the United States.   This was supposed to give us an advantage when we came to our age of competence because there was a smaller population of competition.    My high school class came from small town and rural backgrounds and most of us were accustomed to hard work at menial tasks.   A discipline that should serve us well.   We mostly came from stable families that had lived in the area for generations.   Many of my class were the first generation to go to college.   About half of my class completed baccalaureate degrees and some completed masters degrees.  I was the only member of my class to complete a doctorate.   We  became teachers, business executives, engineers, scholars, office professionals, farmers, mechanics and health care workers.   The combination of education, hard work and cultural background enabled all of us to move up the socio-economic ladder.         I would like to think that we are all are outliers in some aspect of our lives.   We may not be Bill Gates, but we have for the most part lived up to our potential and contributed to the success of our families and communities.

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