Saturday, 3 January 2009

Outliers

I've been reading British-born, Canadian-raised, author Malcolm Gladwell's latest book, Outliers: the story of success. He points out that, given a reasonable level of intelligence, personal success depends on being raised in a favourable environment, and on hard work. Hardly news, but Gladwell's writing draws you in with examples of how this applies to well known people. It's a framework against which you might usefully consider your ancestor's, or your own, family story.

For example, early in the book he points out that successful Canadian hockey players are almost all born in the early months of the year, a result of teams being made up in the pre-teen years of kids born during a single calendar year and the kids born early in the year having the advantage of being better developed than those born a few months later. At that age a few months make a big difference. As a result those born in the early months tend to get labelled as talented and selected for more intensive training.

Where did your ancestor stand in his or her cohort?

He also points out the significance of when and where you are born, whether at a time of relatively low birthrate when peer competition isn't too fierce. Entering the job market at a time when a new skill set is especially highly valued is also favourable. Unfortunately this isn't something you can forecast, only explain in retrospect.

It's a recommended read.