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Posts Tagged ‘cultural legacy’

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Photo Credit: Kevinthoule @Flickr

Dear Readers,

You know, a while back, I was supposed to write a series on Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers?

Well, I hope you didn’t forget. I did. And, the next two chapters I am critiquing didn’t make it any better.

As I am sure you have probably finished the book by now, I can only hope you will share your opinions with me…or roll your eyes in annoyance (as I did).

Gladwell names 3 things as contributing factors for Joe Flom’s success: 

  • Being Jewish
  • Luck
  • Meaningful work

Essentially, Gladwell has framed these ideas in context to his past chapters on a sense of entitlement, birth year and the 10,000 hour rule. In short, Mr. Flom was able to capitalize on the discrimination he faced by “white shoe” law firms in the 1950s and ’60s. As such,  a typical (Jewish) lawyer at that time would be forced to work for a “smaller, second-rate, upstart law firm on a rung below the big names downtown” or if they went into business for themselves, they took whatever came through the door.

This setback primes a young lawyer, like Mr. Flom to do work that the big name law firms deemed unfit to perform. What sort of work?  Primarily, litigation and proxy fights. I could go on and cite more (boring) facts that make Gladwell’s case, but I won’t. To summarize, the remaining two factors involve the luck of being born during the Great Depression and being exposed to parents who performed meaningful work.

Gladwell surmises that the cultural legacy of the three factors frame the success for Joe Flom and others like him.

Rounding out his theory on legacy, Gladwell cites the background of the Appalachian Howard and Turner clans of Kentucky. From the description, imagine it as a cross between The Proposition and Appaloosa

What?!

Cultural legacies are powerful forces. They have deep roots and long lives.

They persist, generation after generation, virtually intact, even as the economic and social and demographic conditions that spawned them have vanished, and they play such a role in directing attitudes and behavior that we cannot make sense of our world without them.

Gladwell is careful to note that using the idea of cultural legacies to determine success is a slippery slope that can lead to racial and social stereotyping. I’m not impressed. And, neither should anyone reading this book. I thought I’d be “wow-ed” by Gladwell’s interpretations of success – I’m only disappointed. No, I did not read Tipping Point or Blink.

I can only assume that those are his better books because they are a part of today’s b-school and grad school curriculums.

From Gladwell’s observations, I only conclude (so far) that he is supplying interesting facts and tethering what may seem like disconnected ideas to give success a new “spin.”

Maybe, I’m biased or short-sighted. Perhaps, I’m reading everything wrong. Generally, a book that is seeking to change my views on success has only created a set of factors (some within my control, some not) as annoyances and ancestrally created obstacles.

If Gladwell is trying to (re)define success as something that is 3-dimensional, he has succeeded. Yet, only for the wrong reasons.

According to Outliers, if my parents time my birth year just right, I will only need to spend 10,000 hours doing something meaningful and complex that gives me autonomy. I have to remember to speak up and make sure that people accomodate my needs. I just need to be smart enough to get into college, but not necessarily be a genius. And, if I’m raised in the South and haven’t gone to jail (yet)  for someone “disrespecting” me – I should be OK.

So far…(maybe not) so good.

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