Despite the fact that we tend to think that success is achievable by anyone. In reality just few people make it. Those “successful” are idolatrized and treated like semi-gods on earth. We all listen to them, look for their advice, and try to emulate them. In short successful people directly or indirectly influence our lives. Not by chance Malcolm Gladwell in his book uses the word “outlier” or statistically speaking “the observation that is markedly different value from the others of the sample”.
The myth of the Self-Made man
Each culture has its own way of conceiving success. In the western culture in particular there is a strong tendency to personalize success. We all would prefer to live one day as “hero” than an entire life as anonymous. Let’s not forget that we come from a culture highly influenced by ancient Greek philosophers and Roman writers. The father of all writers “Homer”(we are not even sure of his existence), author of the Iliad and Odyssey for first created the figure of the ancient hero. For example, Achilles and Odysseus (the protagonists of Iliad and Odyssey respectively) fought against other man although they were regarded as semi-divinities. While Homer introduced the concept of the hero he did not make us think of him as a “self-made man”. In fact, by the pages of the Homer’s stories you will notice how fragile was their existence. Depending at times on the grace received by one god or the other. In addition those gods acted in a way that none could predict who would be the next graced “Hero”. In other words the protagonist of those stories was the result of faith rather than his own power. But if the key point in Homer’s stories was faith; who then invented the concept of “self-made man”?
Before introducing where the concept of self-made man came from let’s give a look at the predominant theory existed before that. The Greek philosopher Plato was the one who strongly introduced the theory for which the born leaders are the ones who should lead our societies. Those leaders have innate abilities that distinguish them from the rest. They are heroes, enlightened, and should be idolatrized. In other words, you were either born leader or slave. Does this theory have any foundation?
Leadership is an acquired skill
The theory of the few elected to change the world does not have any scientific foundation. Indeed US was the country were the theory of leadership was abandoned to give space to the theory of the self-made man. In fact, ever since his declaration of independency from England, Northern America became the land of opportunities. Men without economical resources, heritage or any other kind of advantage thrived to build the greatest empires of all time. From Vanderbilt to Carnegie; Ford to Gates; Gates to Zuckeberg. America became the land of opportunities where all could become successful. But what determines success?
Opportunity is the Mather of success
As Malcolm Gladwell puts it in Outliers success is a matter of opportunity. In short, assuming the capability of all those who reached the top. What really makes the difference in achieving success are the opportunities given to people who eventually become successful. If we lived in a perfect society were all had the same opportunity how many Warren Buffet would we have today? Did those successful people have innate abilities that made them “special” since childhood or were they simply given opportunities that others didn’t have? And if success is a matter of opportunity was US as any other country a place where opportunity was given to anyone?
Those interrogatives and much more will be the quest of Gladwell in Outliers from the meanders of success.
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