Partial Review of
by Kevin Stoda
In "Q and A with Malcolm", the Malcolm Gladwell explains the term "outlier" as follows. He states: "'Outlier' is a scientific term to describe things or phenomena that lie outside normal experience. In the summer, in Paris, we expect most days to be somewhere between warm and very hot. But imagine if you had a day in the middle of August where the temperature fell below freezing. That day would be outlier." In this wonderful work, OUTLIERS, are defined as people who are unusually or extraordinarily successful in some way or ways. His book seeks to explain this success in terms of community and cohort generations, rather than by focusing on other steps to success that individuals or groups of successful people may have had.
By approaching historical developments leading to success in this way, one observes, for example, that "colorism" among cohort generations and colorism's place over generations in any society affected opportunity for success for any individual or peoples. OUTLIERS' author Malcolm Gladwell was immensely affected by colorisms role across cohort generations as he reveals in the final chapter of this now-almost-classic work. In his conclusion, the Canadian Gladwell thus appropriately reveals a journey of generations over centuries by looking at the cohort generations of his parents, grandparents, and ancestors from Africa to the Caribbean and onto the UK--and eventually Canada and the United States.
Unlike many historians who might have too focused on the concept of luck and/or amazing singular incidents having forged either an individual's or an entire family's history, Gladwell has keenly revealed time and again in OUTLIERS: The Story of Success that what really steers history for the masses--and even for the outliers of history-- is the date of one's birth. That is, it matters often not only where you are from as much as what is/was your cohort generation? Or, even more precisely, what was the cohort or or cohort generations that your family or community was embedded in or cocooned in? This community of cohorts or community of peoples born and living in a cohort to one another which are the keys to success in Gladwell's narration shared in OUTLIERS.
The Strauss--Howegenerational theory, in which cohorts become of great explanatory power in the social sciences, history, and even the natural sciences focuses on both archetypes and generations in studying human behavior, especially American behavior over the centuries : "generations that experience similar early-life experiences often develop similar collective personas, and follow similar life-trajectories." For example,"studies have demonstrated that various traits, such as loyalty to organizations, vary across the generations. Some of these studies are cross sectional, however, examining different generations, such as Generation X and Baby Boomers, at the same time. Any differences across the generations, therefore, could be ascribed to age instead. Nevertheless, other studies have examined different generations at the same age--such as both Generation X and Generation Y during their late teens and early twenties. This research has also confirmed that anxiety, depression, and narcissism have increased over time (e.g., Twenge & Campbell, 2008)"studies have demonstrated that various traits, such as loyalty to organizations, vary across the generations. Some of these studies are cross sectional, however, examining different generations, such as Generation X and Baby Boomers, at the same time. Any differences across the generations, therefore, could be ascribed to age instead. Nevertheless, other studies have examined different generations at the same age--such as both Generation X and Generation Y during their late teens and early twenties. This research has also confirmed that anxiety, depression, and narcissism have increased over time (e.g., Twenge & Campbell, 2008)." Gladwell attempts to do multiple forms of comparisons in this work. He apparently does so in order to clarify the biases in modern education and dominant modern ways of looking at American society, thus arguing against Strauss and others over time.
This focus on cohort groups or generations are one of the main tools which enable the readers of outliers to observe why some individuals or groups are more successful than others over the centuries (or even millennia). Likewise, such generational research is also used in economics, advertising, consumer studies, game theory, historical narrations--and even by biologists and experts in DNA research who are constantly looking to prove or disprove hypotheses related to development, i.e. nature versus nurture matters.
Certainly, in some ways the cohort generational theory explains partially the success of the oldest presidential candidates in the the 2016 presidential race: Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, and Bernie Sanders . On the other hand, the out-of-the-box-thinking of that Gladwell brings to the table is that instead of generalizing generations and the successes of individuals or cohort groups, he focuses on the outliers, i.e. whose stories do not seem to be explainable by general cohort theories advocated by leaders in this field.
Gladwell tinkers constantly with the question of: Why are there outliers and what causes them to be successful? In doing so, he makes a strong argument that any generation is cocooned in other generations. Once must look at the definition of a generation and teh ones before or after it for fuller explanatory of outliers in history--either for individuals or groups. If one fails to see this as a necessity or if one fails to see how one or two current or newer generations affect the living older generations, you might well miss the mark altogether as a researcher, educator, scientists, story-teller, or economist.
Sometimes, Gladwell refers to the Matthew Effect, which considers the wording in Matthew 25:29 in the Bible, for explanatory power of the more common understandings or interpretations of cohort or generational theory. "For whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them." In stating the effect, Gladwell is indicating that a dominate explanation has been that if one does not use one's talents, one will lose out. If one uses one's talents, success will grow.
In discussing the success of Bill Gates (b. 1955) and his cohorts, Bill Joy (b. 1954) , and Steve Jobs (b. 1955) in his second chapter entitled, "The Problem with Geniuses", Malcolm Gladwell hits the proverbial nail on the head by asking whether geniuses are really to be seen as outliers of history or whether they are products of the cocooning and embedding of a very lucky generation or community, i.e. whereby the beneficiaries-to-be were both able and enabled to succeed by striking it rich in terms of the dates of their birth. This birth date for each provided a community and opportunity for the enable and only then were they able and capable of succeeding in the degree, in which they did or have succeeded.
In short, the formula for success as alluded to in this work on "outliers" by Gladwell requires both A and B. The latter being (B) enabled by that community and environment of a generation while (B) being able within the context of society to take the bull-by-the-horn and strive for success for all it's worth.
On the one hand, the community one's born in, and raised in, and goes to school in effects one's life chances and choices. Meanwhile, he confidence-to-try is considered essential, as well, for success. Moreover, (C) appears to be important in this narration, too. C would stand for soft skills and/or connections or networking skills that were passed to one along the way. He gives the example of several struggling geniuses, like Christopher Langan, whose works might never be read (nor heard of) by the scientific community he longs to belong to due to the fact early on he did not have the networking and personal relations skills to get them where they desired to be.
Gladwell's narration makes clear that all three elements (A+B+C) need to be leading an individual to their success or successes. In short, all (A+B+C) must prove to be positive values (empowering the individual in his or her road to success).