Tuesday, February 24, 2009

You may not be born to succeed

I've just started reading Malcom Gladwell's latest page-turner, the Outliers. I don't mention this to feign intellect or to appear well-read at all. I'm not. I mention it because the guy tells a helluva good yarn.

In typical Gladwell fashion, he makes some ludicrous assertions, then backs them up with countless examples that support his crazy claims. And usually in a pretty fascinating manner. In this particular case, The Outliers dissects how the most successful people in the world get where they are. Raw talent? Determination? Or just dumb luck?

He makes a case for the idea that often times, it is the latter. The book begins with an example about the Canadian youth hockey leagues. He figures out that the players who reach the height of this national pastime are most often born in January, February and March. He attributes this to the January 1st cut-off date for the junior level leagues. Thus, kids born in those first few months of the year are held back, so when they are ready to play, they are the biggest, strongest and most coordinated. They then get the most attention and the best coaching in those first few years, and they quickly move up into more competitive ranks. Of course, they don't go on to become the Jagrs and the Prongers of the world without a fair amount of talent. But as Gladwell contends, it doesn't have to be extraordinary talent if they're born in the right month and the system takes over.

As it happens, my wife is from Canada. Winnipeg actually. During a recent visit back, our 7-year-old nephew (born in October, mind you) was told that he didn't make the A or B squad. He made the C squad. We knew he was disappointed, so we were prepared to commiserate when we picked him up from school that day.

Apparently, our nephew wasn't the only one who felt wronged. In the parking lot of his school, I overheard a large, barrel-chested father screaming into his phone, reminiscent of a younger Harvey Weinstein, that his kid may be a little slow on the ice, but his stick-handling skills far surpassed some of those other punks that made the A squad. He plead to have his 7-year-old reconsidered, as if the poor kid's very future hinged on this critical decision. I still don't know the outcome.

While reading this excerpt from the Outliers, I couldn't help but wonder, did Mr. Gladwell ever consider the difference a whiny parent can make?

WARNING: May not be cool to listen to out loud. Anywhere.

1 comment:

Ian said...

We are looking at pre-schools for Henry, and I'm not disappointed that due to his Jan bday, that he'll be held back.

please keep posting about the book so i don't have to read it.