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Was he born in January?

I have just enjoyed reading Malcolm Gladwell’s new book Outliers. It is a book about success — extraordinary success — and what is behind it. As with Gladwell’s other books, Outliers contains a treasure trove of surprising facts that make you stop in your tracks. Why are most successful ice hockey players in Canada born in January, February or March? Why did many of the most successful corporate lawyers in New York have almost identical biographies? Why were commercial planes flown by Korean pilots more likely to have accidents than those flown by Americans?

Gladwell takes on the pervasive myth that extraordinary success is purely the result of extraordinary talent in individuals. He examines the social, cultural, racial and systemic factors that hide behind the success stories.

As I was reading the book various career theories popped into my head: Opportunity Structure, Community Interaction, Planned Happenstance, Social Capital, Habitus, etc. (Sad, I know!) He talks a lot about the structures that inadvertently give bigger advantages to those who already have a slight advantage.

One particular bit of research about the impact of long summer vacations on the educational attainment of disadvantaged children made me think of an earlier blog post about social mobility and access to the professions. This suggests a way of narrowing the achievement gap. Instead of giving performance targets to teachers and slagging off careers advisers, why not just shorten the school holidays? I didn’t see that in the policy document.

  • What structures do we put in place that give further advantages to the already advantaged?
  • Why do sociologically based career theories always leave me feeling slightly depressed?

Further reading

Related post: Let the right one in

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  1. #1 by Aminder K Nijjar on 30 October 2009 - 18:30

    I thoroughly enjoyed this book and it made me really stop and think too – opening up completely different perspectives on taken for granted ‘facts’.
    Sociologically based career theories can have that effect because they can make us feel helpless – which never elicits a feel good factor!
    In terms of what structures we put in place for the already advantaged, gosh, where do we start! By acknowledging and celebrating the advantages many people have, we can continue to try and work towards improving structures for all to benefit – it is important for each of us to recognise how we are influenced by, influence, and actually form part of the many structures.

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