Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The Trouble with Outliers, Part I

In his “Trouble with Geniuses, Part I” chapter, Malcolm Gladwell begins to clarify his argument that we continually have trouble understanding outliers. Too often, researchers and an array of commentators rely too heavily on conventional measures of aptitude to predict the ingredients of those who become extraordinary successes. For example, we label those who perform exceptionally well on IQ tests “geniuses,” and that designation presumes (incorrectly according to Gladwell) that they will become highly successful.

But in order to do really well, Gladwell suggests that individuals hardly need to be exceptionally intelligent or super smart. They merely need to be “smart enough.” And those who are smart enough do not need to attend the very best schools to gain the knowledge and training to win, say, the Nobel Prize in Medicine. They just have to attend a school that is “good enough.”

In other words, you shouldn’t feel too bad about receiving those rejection letters from Harvard, Princeton, and Yale, especially if you and your educational institution are merely “good enough.”

So what, in your mind, is a crucial element in determining whether a collegiate environment meets the good enough threshold? Why is the element or factor you identify so vital?

Or, to approach "the trouble with geniuses" issue from a different angle, if many in our society, as Gladwell indicates, tend to overestimate the role of pure talent in determining success, then what is it that we regularly underestimate?

21 comments:

S. Curry said...

The crucial factor in finding a collegiate environment is that the environment must fit you. By this we are all different, all of us come from a different place and different background. Where one environment may be a good fit for some it may not be for the others.
No matter how smart you may be, if you cant feel comfortable at your choice for secondary education, whats the point of going to the school? There is always a chance to increase your aptitude through services such as tutoring, but you can't force your own personal self to feel comfortable at a place where it just doesn't feel right. So to me if the school is a comfortable fit for you and it feels right, then it for sure fits the "good enough" threshold.

Ian Caveny said...

While I agree with S. Curry that a collegiate environment definitely needs to have a level of comfort, I also think that there might be a few things above that in importance. The reason for this is that these factors can cause comfort.
So often underestimated, but also often appreciated, is the quality of creativity. Without creativity, there would be no use to do anything. A college that wishes to provide a comforting environment must first have a creative environment. Creativity fuels invention and art; are not most colleges labeled "College of Art & Science"? Gladwell touches on this subject in referring to the divergence test.

Without creativity, we would not be where we are today, and, while I will not say we are better today necessarily than the world thousands of years ago, we have accomplished many important things that we could not have otherwise accomplished without creativity.

Rohan Genge said...

I agree with both the comments above, in order to succeed you need both creativity and an environment in which you are comfortable but you also need motivation. Motivation is the driving force that separates those who are successful from those who are not. A college which meets the requirement of being good enough is one that is constantly testing, challenging and pushing you to go beyond your limits.
Another important aspect that goes overlooked is finding a field which interests you. Bill gates found programming, and he went to a school that catered to those interests. You are much more likely to focus your time and effort on something that is of interest to you versus something that is not. Also when you are in an institution that has programs and clubs for your interest you have opportunity to gain the experience you need to succeed in that field.

Anonymous said...

A. Obafemi
I thought it was interesting that Gadwell showed how the so called Genius "Termites" lived rather normal live. This pool of students were said to have very high IQs. However, IQ test are not the most accurate way to measure a student's intelligence because of the cultural ties that come with the test. Some students have not been influenced to some of the topics in an IQ test thus making it harder to come up with the "right" answers. As Ian says creativity is a good way to test a person's knowledge because as Gladwell says the ccreative people are the ones that recieve the Nobel Prize. These creative thinkers have the ability to think outside of the box, which does not limit thier think into a problem only having one right answer.

R. Connor said...

I can agree with the previous comments left. The environment, comfort level, creativity, motivation, etc. are all factors that need to be considered when looking for the proper collegiate environment. I would like to add that there needs to be a challenge in the environment. Just like the phrase, "Anything this isn't worth working for isn't worth having." I do not feel like my college degree would have as much value to it if I was not challenged to obtain it.

A good collegiate environment also needs to have the proper resources for success to use. There is only so much that can be achieved without having resources around you to complete research, study time, and to build up your brain power. I can imagine a college campus without a library, while we have access to a lot of information on the internet, the library not only is a prime resource for information but adds to the learning environment as a common place of study.

K. Clayborne said...

This reading makes you rethink the meaning of genius. It also made me rethink what it means to be "good enough." How smart do you have to be before you are "good enough?" A person with an IQ of 120 is "good enough" but what if you're right at average with an IQ of 100?

It's interesting how they use all these test to measure how intelligent a person is, but how much does creativity play a role in intelligence? Creativity I think gets you much farther than intelligence ever could. Without creativity how far can intelligence take you?

The reading pointed out there is no correlation between intelligence and success in life which I think is an important fact that everyone should keep in mind.

Katie D. said...

I think that everyone has very good suggestions aboutwhat to look for in a college environment. The most important factors for me are creativity and challenges. I find that I'm not as motivated if I'm not challenged.
The best thing a college can teach its students is how to think well and creatively. As A. Obafemi mention earlier, a person can be as smart as whip but won't be able to solve a real world problem because they won't be creative enough to see the different angles.
Society underestimates willpower. It takes a lot of willpower and determination to study something for 10000 hours. And, apparently, if you're good enough and you put in the time, you'll be more successful than someone floating by on talent alone.

Anonymous said...

C. Allen

I completely agree with the above answers, but I'd like to add two more factors that come into play when it comes to a "good enough" collegiate enviornment. Stimulation. It is extremely important for the learning enviornment to be stimulating. While the above answers are valid, I find it hard to tap into my creative side, and be motivated and challenge myself if the learning enviornment is not stimulating.

When it comes to "good enough" collegiate enviornment, the institution must mandate a well rounded curriculum. Taking general education class is crucial when it comes to becoming a well rounded individual. Most of us know what field of study we want to go into, and that is wonderful, but limiting oneself to just one field of study isn't good. It's a great feeling knowing that after taking so many general education classes, I'm able to have a conversation about anything because of the classes I 'had' to take. Upon graduation, students should leave their respective institutions with a well rounded education. That is a "good enough" collegiate enviornment.

Shanna Evans said...

I noticed that the previous posts approached the good enough threshold issue, so I will go the other way and talk about how people tend to underestimate the other factors of success. I think the most significant determinant of success that is underestimated is perseverance.

Sure, being intelligent does help in the real world, as Gladwell said, but there are so many people with normal IQ’s that I would call successful. Oprah Winfrey would definitely be considered as one of the most successful people alive today, but I do not think she would be in the 99th percentile if she took the American Scholastic Aptitude Tests. In fact, we all know that Oprah went through some hard times as a child, but she never gave up.

Perseverance is one of the few qualities that is important as raw talent. I am not saying one can succeed with absolutely no talent, but all the celebrities, famous thinkers, and history makers used determination along with their talent to become successful. To put it in a different way, talent is the vehicle, and perseverance is the engine.

LaToya Bond. said...

We tend to underestimate how successful minority students can be. I was reading that they let some minority students in a school that had lower test scores and they did a follow-up study on them after they graduated. They found that the minority students were making the same amount of money and working the same kind of jobs as the white students. I think that is remarkable and this situation can apply to us as Haley Scholars. Sometimes teachers and our peers underestimate us because we are the minority, but we have shown them and we will hopefully continue to show them we can rise to the occasion and do just as well as, or better, than the other students.

Christen Maul said...

I agree with the previous posts concerning the collegiate environment especially those concerning the need for stimulation and a challenge. I find it hard to do well unless i am being challenged.

I find it more interesting though, going back to what we underestimate when it comes to success, is the power of hard work and opportunity. I didn't realize until reading this book how much more successful you can make yourself if you work hard and seize the opportunities presented to you.

We have more power than we think when it comes to our own success and if we rule ourselves out because we are not born "outliers" then we are underestimating ourselves as well.

Ashley Wilson said...

I agree. Envirnment confortably plays a big role in a person reaching his/her full potential. A large lecture of 500 plus students might work for one person while small lectures of 50 or less works for another. Even if one was to attend Harvard or Yale, if they are not comfortable being in that environment, they will not reach their full potential.
Also success in academic work does not always mean someone has reached their full potential. Reaching one's full potential is about learning material and being able to apply it to different circumstances and situations. In a sense it is thinking outside the box.

I agree that one's choice of school should cater to personal needs. There needs to be a motivational factor that also guides the person. If I attend a school for math and I'm interested in fashion, I might not perform as well. But If I attend a school for fashion, I will be motivated to attend class and push myself to be more creative than the next designer.And my IQ test score may not be high but I could possibly make headways in the fashion world.
If a person gets straight A's but does not feel comfortable in the environment and therefore does not interact with others or participate in extracurricular activities do they really reach their full potential?

Aurelia Daniels said...

I think that the element that determines the threshold of "good enough" is whether or not the person is able to succeed in that environment. I believe that if a person is able to keep up with the others that are pass the threshold then they are "good enough." Let’s use, for example, those students motioned in the chapter, that where accepted into that university under the affirmative action clause. Those students were able to keep up with the work given to them, and they were able to apply what they learned in school once they graduated.

This threshold can also be determined by looking at how these people perform in other aspects of life. I say this because after reading this chapter and seeing the question about the "brick and blanket," I was able to see that a person's imagination can also play a part in their intelligence as well. This can level the playing field and allow them to function on the same level.

Rese said...

Teresa G.
Going along with Shanna's focus on perserverance, the desire and willingness to learn have a very large impact on how individuals will react to their environment. Little habits, such as using a dictionary when we read or hear words that we don't know or not being afraid to ask a teacher to elaborate on a topic after class or find an article related to it, show that students may not want to be just sponges. Its important that school's stress to students that they are ultimately in charge of what they learn.

And I agree with an above comment that included challenges as being important to his college experience. Many of my professors this semester have stated that they do not feel like grading non-multiple choice test, but it is the challenge of having to express my understanding of a topic in my own words or being able to apply my knowledge to real life that encourages the type of creativity that the "termites" may have lacked.

Denita Campbell said...

I agree to the above perspectives of others, but I feel that the crucial factor in finding a collegiate environment should be focused on diverse population,academic excellence, and creative outlook. All three of these components help a college or university to challenge its students in real world scenarios. In life you'll work with a diverse group of people and diversity is good because you can learn new ideas from new people which helps increase your creative outlook. An abstract mind can also help increase your academic ability because you can solve a problem in more than one way.

Josh Jefferson said...

Josh Jefferson

One topic we have not yet discussed is the role of diversity in a learning environment especially at the collegiate level. Being in a melting pot of ethnicity can open someones eyes to a lot of different experiences. If someone were to reach a stature that fits into Gladwell's outlier description I believe it is safe to say they will eventually come into contact with these cultural diversities in their job. Being at a university with this in mind could be potentially crucial depending on the career.

The consensus seems to be that college should be comfortable and what fits you. I agree 100% with this. But what makes a College comfortable? For the masses anyway... Who knows maybe it's something a little more literal like the giant bean bags we have at Lovejoy and the SSS. To me, It's the atmosphere. When I walk into a building on campus do I feel like I'm suppose to be there? Do I feel at liberty to explore without repercussion? If you can capture a safe, layed back environment, then I believe the "good enough" boundary has been transcended.

Olufunmilola Ajala said...

The reading reminded me that there are different things other than an IQ test that can show how intelligent a person is. The reading also made me think about why minority students usually have lower scores on standardized tests than white students. I believe than an important factor in determining whether or not a college meets the 'good enough threshold' is the curriculum and diversity of the college. If the school has a diverse population with a challenging academic curriculum, graduates of the 'regular' college regardless of race will be able to obtain the same education that graduates from ivy league schools receive. All graduates of colleges will be able to meet the 'good enough threshold' to do well and have similar scores on standardized tests.

Charnelle M said...

I agree with S. Curry the most crucial element of determining which collegiate environment is "good enough" would be the college that fits you best. If you feel comfortable at the college you attend then there are more opportunities for you to succeed. This includes being able to get tutoring and involved in programs that can increase your chances of achieving your goals. I say this because in the book Gladwell says that achievement is more about opportunity. Basically the more comfortable a person feels the more opportunities they will have.

Natalia H said...

Minorities tend to be underestimated and therefore are not challenged to their full potential. I agree with what others have said about not being challenged in that those who aren't challenged, do not better themselve because they are not constantly striving for a goal. Being challegenged causes a person to make goals and reach them which helps the reach their full capacity. Colleges should be a place that make this possible. A college degree should challenge, but not be extrememly out of reach.

Kacee Aldridge said...

The terms genius and sucess seem to be a question of nature versus nurture. I think we underestimate the influence of those around us. In most cases success is not achieved alone. There is a saying "it takes a village to raise a child" although sometimes cliche, it speaks to the nurturing that is involved in raising a successful person.  

sent via iPhone 3gs

SierraCarmichael said...

I feel like there are many contributions to success. Whether it ranges from our environment to Preservance. However, I believe ultimately we have to think sucessful in order to be successful. There will always be obstacles in life that will try and throw us off track, and we can use those obstacles as an excuse or we can triumph from them. As I mention before if we think sucessful we will be sucessful.