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The Advantage of Disadvantages

Malcolm Gladwell's latest book Outliers is getting lots of buzz these days. I just ordered my copy on Amazon, so obviously haven't had a chance to read it yet.

A lot of the online chatter revolves around his claim that 10,000 hours of practice/ study/ dedication is the pre-requisite to becoming an expert in a field. This should sound familiar to reader's of this blog.;)

Anyway, while I haven't read his book yet, I did read his latest New Yorker column about how being an outsider can actually work to your advantage of at times. In this article he profiles the success of Sidney Weinberg who rose literally from the mail-room to become the managing director of Goldman Sachs for 30 years. A true rags to riches story where the article claims that Weinberg actually benefited from not being a product of the the system.

As Gladwell states, alot of people view success "as a matter of capitalizing on socioeconomic advantage, not compensating for disadvantage." But contrast that with what he notes was Andrew Carnegie's view:

[h]e believed that poverty provided a better preparation for success than wealth did; that, at root, compensating for disadvantage was more useful, developmentally, than capitalizing on advantage.

I think there is some truth to Carnegie's view. Deprivation inspires people to want more and to achieve more. They always say that the life cycle of most family businesses last 3 generations, because the third generation always screws it up.

Why the third generation? Because they're the generation that grew up with all the advantages. The first generation built the business with hard work and raised their children (the 2nd generation) with these same values. The third generation didn't have the advantage of disadvantages. They were born to privelege and accordingly were perfectly equipped to screw it up.

Obviously there are no hard and fast rules here, but the article has lots of interesting observations in it and is worth the read...


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This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on November 16, 2008 9:09 PM.

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