Notes from Outliers, Part 1

I’m so amazed by the theories of Malcolm Gladwell in Outliers so I’ve decided to journalize the points I think will help me (and others, hopefully) achieve what I want to do.  Truly, this book has changed in many many ways what I think about success and how people succeed.

The following paragraph best explains what this book is all about …

People don’t rise from nothing.  We do owe something to parentage and patronage.  The people who stand before kings may look like they did it all by themselves.  But in fact they are invariably the beneficiaries of hidden advantages and extraordinary opportunities and cultural legacies that allow them to learn and work hard and make sense of the world in ways others cannot.  It makes a difference where and when we grew up.  The culture we belong to and the legacies passed down by our forebears shape the patterns of our achievement in ways we cannot begin to imagine.  It’s not enough to ask what successful people are like, in other words.  It is only by asking where they are from that we can unravel the logic behind who succeeds and who doesn’t.

One of the first things that he points out is how “skewed age distributions” give some people a better advantage.  This happens when three things concur: selection, streaming and differentiated experience.  We unintentionally give others an advantage if, at an early age, we make a decision about who is good and who is not good (sadly, this happens all the time in schools) or somebody (the teacher or the coach) decides who is “talented” (and separates the talented from the untalented) so that the gifted one is given more training, etc.  More training = more experience.

This has made me realize how really powerful a teacher is and why we should be extra careful about making selections.  Our decisions about who is talented and who gets “preferential treatment” can make or break a student’s future.  Perhaps this decision is not really intentional and certainly not in bad faith; it’s just that – with only less than an hour to finish your lecture (50 minutes actually because we must dismiss the class 10 minutes before the second bell), it’s  easier and more convenient to ask those who we think might come up with the best or nearest answers so we can keep the ball rolling.

Now, I have to ever be more conscious about this power of selection.

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