Chalk one up for nurture!

Macolm Gladwell offers another expertly-written and thoughtfully-presented argument in ‘Outliers’, which describes the life paths of many incredibly successful individuals but also makes the case for nurture over nature as a means to that success. In the concise book, Gladwell presents in his Tom Wolfe-esque narrative journalistic style the stories of some of history’s greatest musicians (The Beatles), computer whizzes (Bill Joy and Bill Gates), and lawyers (Joe From). His point is that, yes, these greatest of greats had some innate talent to make it as far as they did, but they also had a great deal of luck. For instance, Bill Gates didn’t become the wealthiest man in the world by pure ambition and cunning; his wealth was the result of skill in computer programming that sprung from a series of lucky situations. Gates, after all, was one of the only eigth-graders who had unlimited access to a computer in 1968. Gladwell makes a convincing case that much of what we attribute to individual success is really due to happenstance.

Gladwell argues briefly for allowing for the same opportunities for everyone (e.g. having multiple school cohorts for people born at different times of the year), but fails to acknowledge the obvious conclusion that his argument leads to: we are products of nurture much more than nature. In fact, Gladwell allows for much innate talent in his successful subjects throughout the book, but doesn’t see that the innate talent may be more of the same outside factors that produced the success of the subject. Gladwell produces such a convincing argument for nurture at some point in life–why not apply the same argument for one’s entire life?

In addition, Gladwell doesn’t really come to a unifying circumstance that helped his subjects get to their outlier success. For example, the author attributes some of his subjects’ success to opportunity of wealth (Bill Gates enjoyed a wealthy upbringing that allowed him to work on computers at a young age; children of wealthier parents are brought up with an ‘entitlement’ mentality that allows them to fare better in the real world) and others to race (From’s success was directly related to his Jewish upbringing) and still others to pure luck (the Beatles just happened to get selected to play in Hamburg, which forced them to work hard at their craft). It appears to me that the only thing in common between all of Gladwell’s subjects is not a single opportunity that they all had, but that they all took advantage of the opportunities that they had. For instance, Gates’s wealth and From’s poverty when growing up both were key elements to their success—they just took advantage of their unique situations.

Despite the minor flaws, this book is highly recommended, if nothing else for its ease of read and its thought-provoking ideas.

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