A hard look at success

Last week, Geek Girls of the East Valley discussed the book Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell. The common opinion was that the book was accessible, enjoyable and inspiring. It takes a closer look at the idea that hard work and perseverance is all you need to become a mega-millionaire a la Bill Gates.

Outliers: The Story of Success

As always, Gladwell writes in such a way as to discover and politely report an alternate, often irrefutable, way of viewing things. Blink, also by Gladwell, follows a similar vein in breaking down the decision-making process and just how accurate those “gut decisions” really are. Gladwell also authored the bestseller and major-marketing-must-read (unless you’re me, because I haven’t) The Tipping Point.

It is a relief to see how much more there is to success, besides hard work. Like lucky breaks, timing, obsessive study – it apparently takes 10,000 hours to become an expert at anything – and cultural DNA. Gladwell explores the circumstances around geniuses who fail to make any real mark on the world. But who says we have to make a big mark on the world? Oh that’s right, it’s the American Dream.

A dream fueled by rags to riches stories, some of which are debunked by Outliers.

While I do not personally encourage or condone mediocrity, this nation-wide ideal is incredibly destructive. Not because it is inherently bad – by all means, set some goals, word hard and achieve – but because it is without foundation. How can Americans as a whole succeed with an educational system that has largely failed, generation after generation? Any love for education Americans proclaim is merely lip service.

Gladwell also discusses the present state of the school system. Are we just an entire nation of lazy, under-educated geniuses? The proof is in the KIPP School, which is a nation-wide program of underserved, low-income students. It is more an educational process than a school. It is year-round, all day long, and teaches a work ethic comparable to the schools in Asian countries. You know, those countries that are currently taking over as global forces?

In the gifted program growing up, two friends of mine secretly mocked the kids who were less book-smart but made the IQ cut-off. Meanwhile, I was a lazy student straight through to college graduation. I could see patterns easily: in human behavior, in a teacher’s needs and wants. I predicted answers through deductive reasoning as well as what the teachers wanted with minimal study and effort. There was no need for discipline, deep analysis or much sacrifice at all. I worked hard, but not as hard as I was capable of working. As a result, I robbed myself of a lot of invaluable knowledge and the chance to be my best. A chance to be truly amazing.

Believe it or not, I wish I had really paid attention during all those amazing W.P. Carey marketing classes, but I was just running the clock out. I am now jealous of all those kids who get to learn all day at the KIPP school. And those two snobby friends? They haven’t done anything especially amazing with their genius. One of them has done nothing at all.

Of course, there is no harm in starting your Story of Success today. I have devoted my unemployment to learning and writing (10,000 hours here I come!) with the idea that there is more to success than meets the eye… but practice can take you a long way.

Have you read The Outliers? What did you think?