About Me

Education, the knowledge society, the global market all connected through technology and cross-cultural communication skills are I am all about. I hope through this blog to both guide others and travel myself across disciplines, borders, theories, languages, and cultures in order to create connections to knowledge around the world. I teach at the University level in the areas of Business, Language, Communication, and Technology.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Do we want a world of outliers?

There has been much discussion about the new book out analyzing how highly successful people have achieved that success. Let me begin by clarifying that I have not read the book so my comments are in reaction to others interpretation of the book. But here is my reaction to some of the posts others have written.

Michelle Martin

Michelle asked the question as to whether we should be changing the learning environment to help support "budding" outliers. In fact, I am a bit concerned with jumping on the outliers bandwagon. My question, as I read her post was, would I want one of these outliers as my boss or in my class? Aren't they outliers because they are outside of the system? I guess, then this also addresses her question of environment, shouldn't we be fixing the system if there are so many outliers that can't work within the system, rather than trying to develop more outliers? Finally, (as I did not read the book, I don't know if it is addressed) what about the outliers who are unsuccessful?

My concern is that our country and even globally, many countries, are developing a duel system of those "in" the system, and those "outside of the system". As we push more and more people outside of the system, we are loosing our middle class and core of society that will bring us back to reality when the outliers want to take us into dangerous territory. I did a paper a while back on the psychology of the entrepreneur, and we found that they had a much greater propensity for risk taking and acceptance of failure. Often entrepreneurs fail, but are able to overcome that failure. There was overwhelming evidence that entrepreneurs did have a certain psychological profile. But what about those in marginal communities that don't have that optimistic outlook? And how do those that are born into an outlier community that is UNSUCCESSFUL overcome those barriers to be "successful" in life.

This brings me to another thought. Who has determined what "success" is? Over the Christmas holidays, my kids and I watched the show, "Secret Millionaire." What struck us (and many of the millionaires) was that there were very successful people who lived in very poor areas. These people were part of the community, contributing to society, but on very limited means. One women in particular, started a stable in the Watts neighborhood of LA. She was able to maintain this stable, helping to keep teenagers off the street and out of the gangs. Was not this success? Is this woman not an outlier for her community? However, on paper, she would be considered an "average" person or marginally successful because she did not own a company or make millions of dollars (which I think was the point of the show).

Britt Watwood

Britt brings up the question of practice. He points out how allowing for people to practice will allow them to be successful in what they are trying to learn. However, he does not bring up the problems of practicing just one thing over and over. As Ken Allen points out, will practice alone allow one to be an "expert" or rather just someone who is accomplished in a skill? I wonder if the book addresses the politics of sport. Sometimes, those with a natural aptitude might have difficulty accomplishing their goals because they are not allowed the time or opportunity to practice. My children's own experience with sports has taught them how to handle the politics of "success" or "expertise".

I worry that in concentrating on just one skill, there are other skills being lost. I see many student athletes who are lacking in some of the more basic skills of empathy, or even communication. What about the universal man like Divinci? If he only concentrated on painting, do you think he would have been as successful? I have had students that become obsessed with one aspect of my course. They become "expert" at it, but miss the more important context in which this skill is needed. For example, I have had students that spend hours on their powerpoints, trying different things, putting in links, etc... It is a masterpiece, but is not necessary for a professional presentation. This tunnel vision is advantageous when society is willing to accept the idea, but can lead to disaster when a person's skill is not really needed (is it really necessary to be an "expert" at dungeon's and dragons?). This is where the politics of success come in.

Ken Allen<

Ken wrote:
This is one message that I took from Outliers, that a successful society has to be built on collaboration for the common good, not just for the privileged or the elite.

I was glad to see that this was the message of this book (as Michelle also spoke similarly). However, I can't help but think of "super successful" people like Jake Walsh who was successful on the backs of others. I keep thinking that in order for society to be successful, we need to start redefining success. One of the problems with our current economy is that the super rich became rich by pushing the marginal and the middle class into a lower standard of living. It seems that we should be striving for a definition of "success" in which wealth is shared, professions that "do good" are compensated (such as nurses, social workers, teachers, community workers, development workers) and society is encouraged to look at our world as a connected ecosystem in which the individual actions of one person has an impact (positive or negative) on others who may not be visible.

1 comment:

Blogger In Middle-earth said...

Kia ora Virginia

Thanks for this.

Since I posted, I've included a link to Kim Hill's interview with Malcolm Gladwell - if you haven't captured that already, it makes for an interesting 26 minutes if you have the time. I think the interview covers most of the main message in the book.

Catchya later
from Middle-earth