Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Outliers, Motivation, Our Kids and the Future

Harold Jarche has some key takeaways from his reading of Malcolm Gladwell's Outliers (see below). He also does a great job of linking these ideas to Daniel Pink's concepts of Motivation 3.0.
Motivation3pt0Pace logoI recently referenced Gladwell and Outliers when I represented the college at a PACE graduation event. PACE (Program for Acceleration in Careers of Engineering) is a volunteer organization which:
aspires to be the premier organization for developing future African-American and Hispanic college students who are interested in pursuing career paths in science, engineering and technology. ... PACE fosters academic and career excellence with the primary purpose of developing future generations of scholars, professionals and entrepreneurs who will positively shape their communities.
The message I shared with these graduates - who had persisted through middle school, and high school, showing up Saturday mornings for Math, Science and Engineering classes - was simple:
Like Steve Jobs and Bill Gates, You were born at the right time. Even though you can't see it now, you are living in and starting your education and your careers in an extraordinary era. The Internet, mobile devices, the post-PC era - it's all happening as we speak.

You have before you unprecedented opportunities - you can be the next Steve Jobs, or Bill Gates or Mark Zuckerberg - you can create the next iPhone or the next Facebook. But - and this is a big but - these opportunities are meaningless if you're not prepared to grab them.

What does this mean? It means work! It means the 10,000 hour rule - 10,000 hours of disciplined practice to get better. Michael Jordan's natural abilities didn't make him a great player - he was also the hardest worker on his team. He practiced more than anyone else on his team - not in the areas where he excelled, for example dunking - but in the areas where he knew he needed to improve - his jump shot and defense.
Through hard work, Jordan became a deadly jump shooter and probably the best defender in the game. If you find yourself struggling with Calculus, Chemistry or C++, then immerse yourself, dedicate yourself, put in those 10,000 hours to become the best!

So while this is a day to celebrate your accomplishments and look forward to the next chapter in your lives, it's also a day to rededicate yourselves to the hard work and perserverance that got you here and will take you into the future.
Outliers, success and chance:
When and where we were born have a significant impact on our chances for success. Just being intelligent or creative is not enough. We need chance to favour us; such as reducing competition during periods of low birth rates, or to be born early in the year so that we physically develop ahead of our peers and are perceived as “better”.

It takes a long time to develop deep skill in an area, about 10,000 hours, says Gladwell. The advantage is to those who develop these skills just before they come into great demand, like computer programming before the 1980′s or tailoring prior to an explosion of the garment industry. Like being born at the right moment, timing is everything.

Echoing Dan Pink’s Drive (Autonomy, Mastery, Sense of Purpose), Gladwell concludes that meaningful work has three defining attributes:

Those three things – autonomy, complexity, and a connection between effort and reward – are, most people agree, the three qualities that work has to have if it is to be satisfying. It is not how much money we make that ultimately makes us happy between nine and five.

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