Success Is Not An Outlier
Malcolm Gladwell in his book Outliers makes a case for understanding successful people. We may think that someone is a self-made person, that they had overnight success or were born with talent to burn.
Gladwell asks us to look closer at the components of success. Ambition and intelligence are not enough to create people who thrive. Individual success is an accumulation of when and where a person is born, as well as family and community support.
Our community affects us more than we might realize. Gladwell tells us about Roseto, Pennsylvania, a community formed by Italian immigrants from Roseto Valfortore, located a hundred miles southeast of Rome. The people of Roseto were unexplicably healthy, with statistically low incidents of age-related diseases. Medical researchers concluded, after looking at factors such as diet and exercise, that the close family-centered community of Roseto keeps people happy, healthy and long-lived. Community is important to individual success.
When you are born affects your opportunities. Using the cutoff dates for the hockey leagues, Gladwell explains that to become a dominant hockey player you need to be born very close after the cut-off date for your age group. Born a month after the cut-off date, you have the advantage of being the oldest in your age group, and with those few months, a chance at being a star player. Born six months before the cut-off date? You barely have a chance.
It takes practice to succeed. At least 10,000 hours of practice. Gladwell uses The Beatles as one example of the 10,0000-hour rule. It appeared as though the Fab Four were an overnight sensation when they appeared on the Ed Sullivan show in 1964. In reality, they had played together 8 hours a day for over 5 years--about 10,000 hours--before they became a worldwide sensation.
Genius is not enough to make a person successful. Gladwell tells us about the Terman study for geniuses. What became evident in the Terman study is that there are factors other than raw intelligence that determine our ability to thrive. Family structure and support are perhaps the most important keys for success.
Success is determined by being at the right place at the right time. Bill Gates, Paul Allen, Steve Ballmer, Steve Jobs, Eric Schmidt and Bill Joy--all heads of major software companies--have two things in common. All were born in 1954, '55 or '56, barely 18 months apart from each other. The other common thread: they had virtually unlimited access to computer technology in their early and late teens, when most of the world didn't know what PC meant.
Basically, Gladwell sees that understanding the factors to success helps create a level playing field. Want to raise a child who will survive and thrive in life? Make sure that you live in a caring community. Realize that when you are born matters, as cut-off dates impact success, not just for athletic endeavors but for anything that requires a cut-off date. Work 10,000 hours at becoming a master. Create a family structure that not only supports the emotional, mental, physical and social health of your children, but also sustains your children's passions and dreams. Allow your children to express their views of the world and situations without fear of reprisal. Don't limit your expectations of your children. Imagine the person who is not yet there, and believe that the person will appear.
Success is not an outlier. Individual success builds on family, community, culture, freedoms and work that allow our children to become their best.
Next week: Thoughts on Freedom
Kids Talk™ is a column dealing with early childhood development issues written by Maren Stark Schmidt. Mrs. Schmidt founded a Montessori school and holds a Masters of Education from Loyola College in Maryland.
She has over 25 years experience working with young children and holds teaching credentials from the Association Montessori Internationale. She is also Creative Director for a video-based reading series for children ages three to six, The Shining Light Reading Series. Contact her via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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