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Success

by Elaine Schwartz    •    Aug 3, 2010

In a  wonderful NYC Radio Lab podcast about success, Malcolm Gladwell also explains why genius is closely related to love.

Recorded at the  92nd Street Y in NYC, writer Malcolm Gladwell and Radio Lab host Robert Shulwich preceded their conclusions about genius with reasons that people are successful. Gladwell began with a list of birth dates for Canadian hockey players. Pointing out that 17 of a group of 25 were born between January and April, he said the reason was the cut off date for children’s hockey leagues. With a January 1st cut off date, the boys who just missed the deadline were the biggest and oldest in the next class. The result? They were the best, got reinforced as the best, and excelled at hockey.

Similarly fortuitous, Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates attended a private school whose students were given the opportunity to use a computer long before before PCs and Apples existed. As a result, he knew when mainframe computer time was available in the middle of the night at a university and, as a teenager, regularly snuck out of his home to use it.

And this takes us to love. Not only did Bill Gates have an opportunity but he loved what he was doing. According to Malcolm Gladwell, most of us are successful and even rise to the genius level because of more than brains. It often is a combination of luck, talent, and love.

Malcolm Gladwell also looked at success in a 2008 New Yorker Magazine article. Commenting on football players, teachers, and financial advisors, he discusses how tough it is to predict success. People can earn the right degrees, function well during interviews, and perform optimally in similar situations. Still, selecting the person who will be truly successful in a job happens less frequently than we might expect.

The Economic Lesson

In our mixed economy, with the market and government both affecting production and distribution, success is nurtured through a variety of incentives. Starting with demand and supply, many of the the market’s incentives focus on self-interest. Through taxes, spending, and regulatory policy, government can target incentives more specifically to shape our behavior. Consequently, aren’t the market and government providing a definition of success?

And then, we can return to Malcolm Gladwell with his recipe for achieving success and his observation that success is tough to predict.

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