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Outliers: The Story of Success

by Malcolm Gladwell

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According to "The Trouble with Geniuses, Part 1" in Malcolm Gladwell's Outliers: The Story of Success, what is more relevant to high success and notoriety than intelligence?

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What matters more than intelligence is being able to think in an imaginative and flexible way. While having an adequate IQ matters, at some point the threshold effect (as Malcolm Gladwell calls it) kicks in. People above a certain threshold can all achieve greatness—and people that are a higher amount above the required threshold may not be more likely to be majorly successful. If an IQ of 130 is the threshold required to win a Nobel Prize, for example, a person with an IQ of 135 may be more capable of winning one than someone with an IQ of 160 if the person with the lower IQ is more creative and innovative than the person with the higher IQ.

Gladwell explains a divergence test that challenges people to think of different uses for a brick and a blanket. One student, Poole, comes up with creative, interesting, and challenging ideas for the two items. Another, Florence, only thinks of the most basic uses for both items. Gladwell says that since they're both above the IQ threshold, it doesn't really matter that Florence has a higher IQ than Poole. He infers that Poole is more likely to "do the kind of brilliant, imaginative work that wins [Nobel Prizes]."

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In "The Trouble with Geniuses, Part 1," Gladwell dispenses with the notion that success is always the result of innate intelligence. Instead, he states that it is a result of opportunities and cultural inheritances that some people enjoy while others don't. Using the Matthew Effect—a term coined by sociologist Robert Merton—Gladwell explains that those who are born with certain advantages are able to further capitalize on those advantages, furthering their success.

For example, students who are born into families who support their early literacy skills by reading to them arrive in preschool or kindergarten with better verbal skills. These kids then attract the attention of their teachers, who devote more time to making these already advanced students even better students. Another example is kids in sports who are larger at any earlier age. They attract the attention of the best coaches, allowing them to become even better players.

It is not mere intelligence, but a constellation of luck and advantage, that propels these children forward while others are left behind.

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In chapter 3 titled "The Trouble with Geniuses, Part 1" of his book Outliers: The Story of Success, author Malcolm Gladwell uses Christopher Langan as the primary example to show that there is a limited relationship between high IQ and success. Langon has an IQ that's even higher than Einstein's, with Einstein's being 130 and Langan's being 195. Yet, from a traditional standpoint, Langan cannot be seen as very successful because he does not have a college degree, has not published any work, and has not made a profound impact on the world of academics. In contrast, Einstein made profound, long-lasting contributions to physics and won the Nobel Prize in 1921. Gladwell asks, if Langan's IQ is so much substantially higher than Einstein's, then why has Langan's success rate also been so substantially lower?

Gladwell's answer is that "intelligence has a threshold." To illustrate his point, he demonstrates that professional basketball players need to be at least between 6 feet and 6 feet 3 inches tall to play well; however, past that point, extra height does not matter. Someone who is only 6 feet 6 inches tall, like Michael Jordan, can become the best player in the world as opposed to someone who is 6 feet 8 inches. The same holds true for intelligence; one only needs to be intelligent enough to be successful. After that point, additional intelligence does not matter and does not equate to additional success.

Instead of intelligence mattering, Gladwell argues that being able to think creatively and innovatively will equate to more success. The same can be seen as true for notorious people as opposed to just successful people. Those who become notorious usually think the most outside of the box; they think creatively and innovatively in ways that nobody likes. Hence, the ability to think creatively and innovatively are far more important than intelligence alone. In addition, working 10,000 hours on any talent is the only way to become successful using that talent.

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