Great Success

There’s been a bit of talk lately stemming from Malcolm Gladwell’s Outlier, which basically suggests that luck and circumstance tend to have far greater impact on individual success than work ethic. Ezra Klein remarks:

I’ve always had a lot of trouble with the idea that success come more, or at least as much, from hard work than from luck. If success is an outcome of effort, then that suggests that success accrues to individuals with some sort of relative advantage in how hard they work. But I’m pretty successful, and it’s certainly not that I work harder than the guys fixing my street in 30 degree weather, or the folks at Muddhouse coffee who arrive at 6:00am every day to start the grinders, or the women who are at the Mt. Pleasant laundromat six days a week. Indeed, I’d find that work a helluva lot harder than my own.

Not having read a page of Gladwell’s book — so this is probably covered — “luck” shouldn’t be purely evaluated as being in the right place at the right time, it’s also a function of the genetic lottery. Someone who looks like Quasimodo isn’t likely to grace the cover of People and someone born with an IQ of 87 isn’t likely to become a physicist. Of course, the possible manifestations of “aptitude” are diverse and evolve with the changing needs of the world, but there’s simply no escaping the fact that being in the right place at the right time doesn’t mean much if you don’t have the requisite ability to perform whatever task is needed.

It seems pretty obvious that circumstances are not the only variable for determining success, so I’m not really sure what my point is, but it’s worthwhile to remember that equal opportunity isn’t anything more than potential.


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