The Outliers Aftermath

I am often reminded to read Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers. Friends and students say that it is the book for me, but looking at its subtitle — The Story of Success — I wonder whether they’re pushing me to take bolder risks (read: succeed in whatever it is I’m trying to do) or simply suggesting that I’ll be amused in reading an author that reminds them of me. After reading it, I’d say it’s both.

The thesis of the book is nothing new. For us Filipinos, we have never really defined success based solely on our own efforts. We have long recognized how the factors of class, gender, age, and social networks factor into our success. Gladwell’s main argument is that success is also a social phenomenon — and this we already know. Perhaps, it’s novelty is in its genuine approach, its Mythbusters-like sensibility, and its laser-trained attack on America’s individualism and worship of the self-made man.

Nonetheless, I did pick up a thing or two.

I appreciated its debunking of the IQ myth. Educators have long agreed that IQ isn’t everything. It has never been a predictor of success, and Gladwell devotes two chapters to the importance of socialization and even socio-economic class in providing genuises with the right opportunities. He even goes on to say that for a roomful of genuises, a program for the gifted may be the last thing they need (since not all genuises are created equal).

Obviously, this reverberates with the work we’re doing in the PSHS where we, allegedly, hone and prepare the gifted for world-changing careers in the future. And yet, thanks to Gladwell, I have grown convinced that we’re training nothing but jacks of all trades yet masters of none. It has long been a sentiment among the faculty that there are better ways to nurture our gifted students, and this book only further reinforces that.

(As an aside, I am devoting renewed attention and interest in Educause. Check out their fabulous e-book, Educating the Net Generation, here.)

Another thing that caught my attention was his analysis of the role class (particularly the divide caused by having and knowing) plays in facilitating success. This has a lot of implications for public policy since it is true that those who can provide for their own opportunities will really encounter more opportunities, widening the gap between the upper and lower echelons of society. Powerful stuff here.

I would have loved for him to expand on his analysis about culture but I think I will rely on anthropologists from here. Gladwell always makes for nice, sleepy Sunday reading but his views are hardly unique and more scholarly equivalents do exist. But you can’t deny that he writes well, and that alone makes this a valuable read.

At the least it will make you rethink your path to success and whether you’re being too hard on yourself whenever you don’t make it. I agree with Gladwell that we need to open up as many opportunities to as many as people as possible, but I hope that doesn’t lead us to a false sense of complacency that the world will have to conspire with us first.

For if luck and prepartion equal opportunity, then we can make our own destiny.

Thanks to all those who asked me to read this.

Final rating: B

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