“We Game The Things We’ve Given Up On” – Gladwell

Malcolm Gladwell has been re-examing some of the ideas he popularized in his book Outliers. He took a visit to Adam Grant’s classroom at UPenn’s Wharton School to run an experiment: 

Could a group of college seniors and recent graduates identify what shared but rarely discussed privilege they all had in common?

I won’t spoil the fun – it is a Gladwellian idea after all, so the anticipation, twists, and (his) takes are fascinating, so dive into the full WorkLife episode, “Malcolm Gladwell experiments with Adam’s class” for more. But! 

I will give you this quote because it speaks to how Gladwell’s mind has shifted when he thinks about success. Not only does success rarely (never?) happen in complete isolation, but the factors that emerge from the lazily set rules that institutions, systems, and cultures accept as dogma, can have unexpectedly outsized effects (emphasis added):

Now, do I blame them? No, I do not. This is what happens when we give up on fairness as an essential principle – all that remains is cynicism. The students of Penn do not see the point of changing the system because their parents did not see the point of changing the system. And their parents didn’t see the point because the schools didn’t see the point, and the schools, for goodness sake, can’t even rise from the slumber of their indifference to see that it makes no sense to give everyone an assessment test on the same day. 

We game the things that we’ve given up on. I tried my best in “Outliers,” but I subtitled the book, “The Story of Success,” and if I learned anything from that afternoon at Penn, it’s that we want to think about success as a word to describe ourselves, our own progress. But it’s not really people who are successful, it’s the systems around us. Great students and great hockey players, come from great teams and classrooms. And if you want to judge the success of those teams and classrooms, start by looking at their composition, like “When was everyone born?” And if we can’t get that one right, god help us with everything else.