I really enjoy reading Malcolm Gladwell, and look forward to reading his latest new book “Outliers” written about exceptionally talented individuals. Once again he pulls back the curtain to reveal the deep patterns behind things we take for granted in our everyday existance.
In this book, Gladwell argues that top performers are not fundamentally different than the rest of us, but rather “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.” He observes that what we often think of as talent is actually a complicated combination of ability, opportunity and utterly arbitrary advantage. (It’s also, quite often, the result of 10,000 hours of practice).
New York Time columnist David Brooks makes a characteristically well-reasoned argument that Gladwell may have gone too far and “lost sight of the point at which the influence of social forces ends and the influence of the self-initiating individual begins.” Brooks argues that “Most successful people begin with two beliefs: the future can be better than the present, and I have the power to make it so. They were often showered by good fortune, but relied at crucial moments upon achievements of individual will. Most successful people also have a phenomenal ability to consciously focus their attention” and have “the ability to persevere with an idea even when all the influences in the world say it can’t be done.”
So there you have it. Two great thinkers debating one of my favorite topics, the origins of top performance. This is a good day.