Monday, January 5, 2009

Talent, hard work or circumstances?

I woke up at midnight last night and couldn't go back sleep. Since sleeping is one of my best skills, this happens to me about once a year. Maybe less. After trying different pillows and relaxation exercises, I picked up "The Outliers" by Malcolm Gladwell as it put me to sleep within several paragraphs on the flight. I had no such luck, but I am finding it pretty interesting.

"We pretend that success is exclusively a matter of individual merit. But there's nothing in any of the stories we've looked at so far to suggest things are that simple. These are stories, instead, about people who were given a special opportunity to work really hard and seized it, and who happened to come of age when extraordinary effort was rewarded by the rest of society. Their success was not just of their own making. It was a product of the world in which they grew up."

He's given many examples about this including the fact that over 40% of successful hockey players are born in Jan-March (the oldest cut off date), that many of the most successful tech giants were born in a two year time period (1954-1955), that there were a number of very lucky coincidences in Steve Jobs childhood that allowed him early exposure to technology, etc. Pretty interesting stuff. It doesn't go against the hard work brings success manifesto, but it does suggest that we're not 100% in control of our destinies. Some of it really is being in the right place at the right time.

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