Gladwell Breaks it Down in H-Town: Where the Heck is the Magic Dust?!

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Welcome readers of the Houston Chron.com!! Thanks for visiting :)

Secret’s out. I have an Internet crush Malcolm Gladwell. I know I already blogged about him here and here… and also tweet about him all the time, but I just saw him speak at a Greater Houston Partnership luncheon and I’ve got just a hundred a little bit more to say.

First of all. Malcolm Gladwell is a GREAT speaker. To read the man is not to hear him. I have read his books and as much as I love them, at times he can come across as pretty clinical. In person he comes across as anything but.

And second? Outliers is much more than just a book… it’s more than a case study on human nature or an expose of secrets kept for years by Sociologist. Gladwell was able to captivate me on a higher level with his prose and my thoughts on Outliers were reoriented. Today, the concepts that make up Outliers leapt off of the pages and really became a cause; they became something to believe in.

In my blog post about Outliers on the Schipul blog, I talked about how Gladwell insists that “to build a better world, we need to replace the patchwork of lucky breaks and arbitrary advantages that today determine success – the fortunate birth dates and the happy accidents in history – that provides opportunities to all.” Gladwell’s talk today was focused on the constraints that are holding us back from obtaining this better world. He does discuss these same constraints in Outliers, but hearing them out loud, punctuated by a fist in the air, turned them into a call to action and not “just” words on a page.

Okay. I’m gonna put a brake on things before I get to the constraints because I would like to explain what exactly we are being constrained from: an abundance of Social Capitalization. That missing abundance is what is keeping us from this mythical “better world” but…. What the hell does that even mean?!! Social Capitalization is the rate at which a given community takes advantage of its collective human potential. We are not taking advantage of ours.

To really understand the idea of capitalization, check out this article on Wikipedia. Yeah, it has to do with the accounting aspect of capitalization it but really helped me grasp the concept.

So. What is keeping us from an abundance of Social Capitalization? Gladwell says there are three things.

  1. The Poverty Constraint: In ways we cannot even begin to appreciate, poverty affects us more profoundly than you would ever think. No matter how intelligent you are, where you com from really matters. “Poverty trumps IQ” says Gladwell.
  2. The Stupidity Constraint: We think the way we have of doing things is perfect when in reality we are creating rules that get in the way of letting people realize their talents. Gladwell uses Hockey teams as an example to illustrate this constraint. “Isn’t Hockey a meritocracy? NO! We think we are choosing the best but we’re not! We’re choosing the biggest!” Hockey leagues are based on certain age cut offs. Those cut offs can mean a lot when you pit two little boys against each other…. one who was born on January 1 and the other born after Christmas.
  3. The Attitude Constraint: It is a proven fact that people from Asian countries score better on their math tests. Is this because they are smarter than Americans? No. James Flynn actually proved that Caucasians have a slightly higher IQ than Asians. What’s the deal then? Turns out we Americans are just lazier. Give us a math problem and we’ll give up after an average of two minutes while Asians will toil away forever.

We as a society need to throw the magic dust out the window. The issue in this country is NOT that we are by nature untalented. The issue is that we are squandering our talent. Outliers calls us to fix that.

**Two other things that have NOTHING to do with changing the world but are sort-of Malcolm related:

  1. David mashed this picture of Malcolm and Bob together and it is HILARIOUS.
  2. Malcolm Gladwell looks really great in skinny jeans.
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