I’m reading Malcolm Gladwell’s book, Outliers, and it’s really making me uncomfortable in many points. He is talking a lot about particular cultures and how they help/hurt a person’s success. Jewish garment makers in New York City have successful children. Korean airplane pilots have higher incidents of crashes. Chinese rice farmers create good math students.

He is trying to make a point that success or failure is not completely dependent on the individual. It does depend on things like a good start (kids who are older by 10 months at the beginning of a sport are better at that sport for the rest of their lives) and a lot of practice (it takes 10,0000 hours to become good at something). A person’s IQ is not always helpful, if his (so far, Gladwell can’t seem to find one successful woman) culture works against him.

He is explaining a lot of things that I try to clarify as I talk about generational issues. For instance, it is often difficult for people over the age of fifty to understand why adults under the age of forty struggle financially. It seems, since we are living at the same time, the economic boom ought to have helped all of us out.

But, two of the things that helped Boomers financially are buying a house and getting a college education. Since the cost of these two things inflated drastically while adults under forty have been starting out, the very things that used to help with economic security have either put us in great debt, or they have been out of our reach.

Just as being born in January instead of December helps a kid become a great athlete; economically, in our country, being born in 1960 is different than being born in 1980. The sooner churches can begin to understand this, the better off we will be in reaching a new generation.

Another thing that I found interesting was that Gladwell pointed out that there are three things that make a job satisfying (and none of them have to do with money): (1) autonomy, (2) complexity, and (3) a connection between effort and reward.

This seemed incredibly insightful if we think about our calls as church leaders. Usually, if there is trust between the congregation and pastor, if there’s flourishing ministry, we have all three. But, in difficult situations, each one of these things could be compromised, and they could lead to frustration with the profession.

There’s a lot to think about, and write about, but I’m off to Charlotte, North Carolina, to lead a Presbytery event there. I’ll check in later!


6 thoughts on “Outliers

  1. I just finished reading “Outliers”. Gladwell is willing and able to let his topic, sucess, be complex and I appreciate that. One of the most interesting ideas in his book is his discussion of how our Western assumptions about individual effort and success blind us to the ways we may inadvertently be limiting success.
    I don’t know if he is right or wrong in what he suggests, but I would be glad if his work sparked more serious thinking and study into how we can help each other to live well and fully.

  2. I’ve always thought the need for a connection between effort and reward is one reason so many pastors are drawn to building projects (building a new church, a new wing, etc). When finished, it provides something tangible to see/feel. Preaching, pastoral counseling, and other elements of our profession show less direct results and can be less rewarding unless one develops a more macro/long term understanding of the impact. Doing something with tangible rewards outside of our ministries is very satisfying: producing art, home repair, gardening, etc.

  3. I’m listening to Outliers right now, to and from wherever I’m headed (audio in the car, woo!). There is *a lot* in there to think about.

    Thanks for your thoughts–I’m so used to fiction that I don’t often question the writer–why are there no women? Or, where is the female writer that will stir us the way Malcolm does?

    Hope Charlotte is agreeing with you,

  4. Thanks Carol for introducing this book into your writing. It’s being “pushed” as a recommendation for me by one of the big retailers and I wondered how it challenge our work within the Uniting Church in Australia around giftedness, vocation and appreciative processes for human transformation. Sound like I might need to add it to the sagging ‘yet to read’ bookshelf.

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