Wednesday, September 16, 2009
Accumulative Advantages of Outliers
Gladwell’s chapter “The Matthew Effect,” a title which refers to the biblical Scripture the Parable of Talents, illuminates how the talented greatly increase their talents. Biblical and popular retellings of the parable of talents often concentrate on the lesson that if talented people do not use or maximize their gifts, those gifts could be relinquished. But Gladwell, a writer always interested in providing an alternative take on familiar ideas, concentrates on the gifts talented people receive prior to attaining their most notable achievements.
Gladwell, drawing on a body of research from various scholars, illustrates that all-star hockey players, for example, do not simply become all-stars because of their accomplishments as professional athletes. Instead, their achievements are rooted to an entire system of rewards offered early in their childhoods and which continually compound, a process known as “accumulative advantage.” As a telling example, Gladwell shows how on average young people born in early months of a given year get a literal and significant head start over their peers who are born in later months of the same year in youth hockey and soccer leagues.
A cursory search of “accumulative advantage” on the internet connects that concept to inequality, showing how those fortunate enough to be born or situated in the right time and place receive tremendous advantages and benefits. But what do you think about the workings of accumulative advantage and how it plays out on the field of university life at, say, an SIUE? Or, how should we be thinking and talking about apparently hidden systems of rewards or disadvantages that exist on a college campus?
Prior posts in the series
A Community of Outliers
The Haley Scholars Outliers Project