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?
- Alexander, K.L. et al. (2007) Lasting consequences of the summer learning gap. American Sociological Review 72(April) 167-180.
- Barnsley, R.H. & Thompson, A.H. (1988) Birthdate and success in minor hockey: The key to the NHL. Canadian Journal of Behavioural Science 20(2) 167-176.
Related post: Let the right one in