Wednesday, March 10, 2010

The Secrets to Success

Outliers: The Story of SuccessI've been listening to Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell during my commute this week. If you haven't heard of it, it's about the deeper truth behind why some people are successful and others are not. Gladwell argues that, though we in America like to believe success is dependent on an individual's talent, drive and dedication, there's a lot more that goes into a person's success (or lack thereof).

Using case studies of individuals and groups of people, Gladwell attempts to demonstrate that a person's culture, family history, and even birthday may be just as important to an individual's success as her own abilities. In fact, he goes so far as to argue that if we changed the way we think about success (that the best will rise to the top, no matter what their circumstances), more people would have the opportunity to become successful.

At first, Gladwell's arguments gave me pause. It was depressing to think we might not have control over our own fate. For example, if you are born in December, the chances that you will become a Canadian hockey star are next to zero. The chance occurrence of being born at the end of the year means that no matter how hard you work, how talented you are on the ice, you will never become a professional hockey player. Gladwell explains the reason for this unfair disadvantage in detail, ultimately coming to the conclusion that if scouting efforts in Canada were to occur multiple times per year, instead of just once, kids born in December would have just as much of a chance to become professional hockey players as those born in January or February.

But then Gladwell got to the crux of the matter. Over and over again, he encouraged readers to rethink the secrets of success. Sure, successful people have talent and drive and dedication. But there are plenty of people with talent and drive and dedication that never receive the opportunities necessary to nurture and support that talent. Without those opportunities to practice and pursue their goals, those individuals will never see success.

If we start to approach success as something everyone can achieve with the right supports and resources, and we then start investing in those resources, we could see many more success stories. If we level the playing field, so to speak, all kids could have similar opportunities to succeed in school (or sports or music or whatever it is they are interested in succeeding at), and therefore in future careers and life in general.

According to Gladwell, success doesn't have to be elusive. The only secret to success is being afforded the opportunity to pursue it. And that's an argument I can agree with.

What do you think? Do you feel success is a product solely of talent, hard work and dedication? Or do you think success is a product of chance, the result of lucky breaks?


Kelly A. Harmon said...

Hi Ami

I'm a firm believer that no matter how hard you work, luck is the final arbiter in becoming successful.

That being said, I think there are ways we can make our own "luck."

A fabulous writer who spends all day perfecting his craft gets nowhere. But a mediocre writer who spends some time going to conferences, meeting others, learning the trade, etc., will have a much better chance of getting published.

Cheryl S. said...

For sure there are ways we can live so as to multiply the opportunities that "present" themselves to us, but overall I found this book pretty discouraging. I tend to like reading things that buck the status quo or the prevailing opinion of the day and was why I was initially attracted to the book. Still pondering what it all could mean for me, tho.

Ami said...

Thanks for your comments Kelly and Cheryl. I can understand how it might be discouraging to think any success is merely a product of chance. But I think that, like Kelly mentioned, there are ways we can make our own luck, and there are ways we can level the playing field for everyone.

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