Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Meaningful Work and Outliers

In his chapter “The Lessons of Joe Flom,” Malcolm Gladwell traces the backgrounds and experiences of a select group of people whose “world -- culture and generation and family history – gave them the greatest opportunities.” In particular, he pays close attention to the importance of ethnic background, demographic luck, and meaningful work. Given my remark that “hard work is often overrated” in the comments section of our last post, I was especially intrigued with Gladwell's alternative or refined consideration of work.

According to Gladwell, meaningful work is characterized by 1) autonomy – processes that yield senses of independence; 2) complexity – work that engages the mind and imagination; 3) a connection between effort and reward – a noticeable return on the uses of time and energy.

So rather than champion “hard work,” Gladwell makes distinctions and highlights “meaningful work,” indicating that such work heightens people's possibilities for success when they find their efforts freeing, thought-provoking, and fulfilling.

What determining factor -- ethnic background, demographic luck, or meaningful work -- did you find most compelling? Why?

Or, to incorporate a local concern, what do you think your individual department or the university in general here at SIUE could do to create a community that ensures that more students get engaged with meaningful work?


Robyn Rhone said...

I found the story about the Borgenichts most compelling because they came to the United States with barely anything, but Louis Borgenicht was very determined to make a living for his self and his family. I believe in order to achieve any goals in life or complete any one of lifes many tasks you have to be determined and motivated. Louis took the little sum of money ( Regina’s and his life savings) that he did had and turned it into a company or empire in a way. He constantly exapanded and made improvements to his buisness. The harder he worked, the more imput he put into his work, the more output he received enhanced his reward.
To answer the second question, I have met a lot of people who strive to receive good grades to enter the school of their choice (like nursing or education) . I guess what im trying to say is, a lot of people work to get the job done, but don’t put a lot of thought into the work, and don’t realize that eventhough they are taking prerequisite classes, those classes still matter down the long run. So I guess to answer the question, stress the importance of prerequisite classes.

Paris Young said...

The most compelling factor in my opinion is meaningful work. Eventhough other cultures have practices that determine success it is ultimately up to the individual to do meaningful work to get ahead in life. The Borgenicht family is a good example of this. When they arrived in America they immediately put forth an effort to make money and support themselves. As time went on he advanced his hustle and eventually made a business based on clothing specifically aprons. A person's background and demographic does not have as big of a role in success than meaningful work.
Meaningful work in my some of my classes is lacking because many professors are doing things that we freshman have done repeatedly. I grow tired of doing these things because I feel that I am not gaining much from my classes. I know that professors have to acknowledge the adjustment factor but sometimes the work is simply too easy and some may slack on putting their all into an assignment or class because it is uniteresting.
Paris Young

Wesley Sloan said...

I found all three factors to be compelling. It was just interesting how they combined to produce an outcome of success for immigrants like Joe Flom. Because of his Jewish background, his work as a lawyer was limited to whatever "came in the door." When opportunity,(in the form of corporate takeovers), appeared, he had already completed thousands of hours of "meaningful work." He also just happened to be in a very important time period and location in which corporate takeovers became a big thing. So because of all three factors mixing together Joe Flom was able to achieve success. The chances of all three happening in an individual case is just mind-blowing to me.
For here at SIUE I think a hands-on approach would be most beneficial, at least for me. Reading textbooks doesn't fall under any of the characterizations of Gladwell's "meaningful work." I think if a student knows what they want to be, then they should jump right into whatever it is like an internship. That way they can test out whether or not they want to pursue a career in that area instead of just studying and reading about it. Start collecting hours of "meaningful work" now, instead of later.

Keondra Walker said...

The determining factor that I found most compelling was meaningful work. I believe that demographic luck and ethnic background can play a role in your success, esp. demographic luck, but these are both obstacles that people can overcome. Like the Borgenicht family, there are many people who can overcome different obstacles in their lives.

Not everyone is brought up in wealthy neighborhood, and for some people, their ethnic background may have some effect on their success, but I believe if you can put in meaningful work, then you are very able to overcome these obstacles and strive on the road of success.

I think the major component of meaningful work is "a connection between effort and reward – a noticeable return on the uses of time and energy." Even if something is not intriguing to someone, if they can see positive results from their work, that is enough in itself to motivate someone to keep doing a good job and to progress, ultimately leading to their success.

Meaningful work related to my major of Nursing, is affected by the fact that some students do not feel that their efforts in their work is showing any positive outcome. Many of my classmates have gotten discouraged by the fact that they spend hours on top of hours studying and they still only come out with a low C on a test or quiz. It's hard to put forth more effort, when the much aggressive effort you are already putting forth isn't paying off. Also the grading scale in the nursing program is a little more difficult than the normal scale, which is also another discouragement.

Brittney Spiller said...

I feel that my program enables us to participate in meaningful work, and that is the reason I am so dedicated to becoming a speech-language pathologist. I am only just starting in this field. Next semester I will be active in the clinic and finally be able to begin seeing patients, and I feel like I just may jump out of my own skin. I'm so eager to get in there and put to work all my twenty-one years of life experience has given me. Not just my educational learning, but life's lessons and hardships as well as being someone from a multi-cultural background.
I do not think I would be able to dedicate my all to something that does not show the benefits of my time spent. What better job to have than to help someone improve their quality of life?

Aurelia Daniels said...

When reading this chapter this there where three factors that were presented to the reason as to why these lawyers succeeded and the on that stuck out to me, and from what I read, many others was the "meaningful work" factor. However, I do think that this was the thing that stuck out to me for the same reasons that it did for the others. I think that the "meaningful work" was etched in my head because when he described exactly what he thought to be a "meaningful job" and an "un-meaningful" job, I totally disagreed.

I think that people that work as teachers and social workers are very meaningful people, however, those people like the toll booth worker and garbage men/women can also be meaningful as well. There are many people that no matter where you place them, career wise, they will make a difference in someone’s life and that is they definition that we are using when determining whether a job is meaningful or not.

I know lot of people who have ordinary jobs but make a difference in your life. Just think there are people like the mail carriers and the sales clerks that play little roles in the job market but if they have a positive attitude they can change the way a person's day is going just by telling and friendly joke or given a warm smile.

I believe that no job is meaningful but the people that do the job are. We can prove this because if you have a teacher that teaches the third grade but they don't like children. This would be pointless because she wouldn’t want to show up to work or help the children with their work because of her dislike for them, so in this case is this still a meaningful position? The answer is no, however, through meaningful people any job can be made meaningful as well.

Unknown said...

Adam Schneider
I like the fact that the nursing program requires its students to volunteer in the community. The requirements are for each semester for 12 or so hours. I think that it is nice for students to get a more rounded college experience by doing things that they are not accustomed to doing, (ie soup kitchens, nursing home help, helping in hospitals) It is also a way for students to network in their area of study. If you volunteer at a hospital, you could get valuable experience and connections that could lead to future employment. This type of work is not paid but it should mean something to each student.

I also found the story about Borgenichts interesting. I am always impressed with people who can take nothing and turn it into something. He was driven, passionate and showed a level of determination that is rarely seen.

Unknown said...

Erik Sanders

To me, the most compelling aspect of Gladwell's triad was the "demographic luck." I have always thought that doing something meaningful would in turn allow for more success. If one does something they love, they will undoubtedly put a great deal of passion into their work (10,000 hours?) and find success. Also, I can understand how someone's background can determine success in a given career path. But, I found it extremely interesting how Gladwell was able to link demographics to success in the work place.

As one knows, you don't have a choice as to when you enter into this world. Whereas the same holds true for ethnicity, times change and ethnic prejudices in many cases cease. It is impossible to foresee what lies ahead. Things could be great as in a period of economic boom or bad as in a war or a recession. His example of successful people born in 1930/1931 and 1955 demonstrates that success in certain industries is in many ways dependent on chance.

In many ways, I feel both a bit stressed, but also relieved by the notion of "demographic luck." On one end of the spectrum, no one could have foreseen the economic hardships that we are in now back when I was born in 1987. Many of my friends who are recent graduates cannot find work in their areas of study due to decreased spending on personnel. On the other hand, however, I am at ease. I am going to be entering into the healthcare field at a time when the "baby boomer" generation will be at an increased need for medical assistance. So, one may say that a person born in the late 1980's with an intent to enter into the healthcare field would find themselves demographically lucky. Only time can tell, but Gladwell's concept really has made me think how much chance goes into one being extremely successful.

Abagail Thompson said...

The factor that I found the most compelling was meaninful work. Meaningful work intrigued me because of the close relationship between genuine given effort and reward form it. The Borgenicht family displayed meaningful work and prospered because of it. Louis poured out genuine hard work and dedication, and because of it, flourished. Meaningful hard work enables people to truly strive for success and work for what they get.
In my individual department, I believe that their is a strong sense of meaningful work. As an English Education major, I have to put time and brain power into my essays and assignments to achieve and satisfactory grade. If I work hard and try my best, then in the end, I will recieve the best. If I put my heart into my writing and produce meaningful work, then most likely, I will benefit more in the end.

N.L.W. said...

Nia Williams...
Compelling factor: The Garment Industry and meaningful work.
Like the Borgenichts and most people that open up stores and start businesses are dedicated. They gave it their all to get where they want to be: successful. People that have a skill or idea that want their ideas to take flight should definitely take a note or two to be just as successful. It's not easy and I've seen it firsthand.
A good family friend of mine has finally got their business card company (Cardz R US) up and running after about 8yrs of hard work, dedication, and just simply trying to get their name out there. They basically gave it their all for the business (sold house and downsized to save money, practiced and used friends for examples) It's not easy getting clients when no one is in need of the product that you're offering.

I would say that the Borgenichts had an advantage seeing that the economy was in need for the skill that they were offering at time. (Making clothes) It was as if the opportunity was handed to them.

Today with the recession going on many people have been getting laid off and losing their jobs. Meaning that the people trying to start to start their own companies should make sure that their product or service that they're offering is in demand. If no one needs what you have, how far are you going to get?
Also, if you are trying to get a job and a certain skill if required, if you're not good at what someone wants. You’re basically no good.
Hard work, good skills, and sacrifice are important things to have in life. I believe and I would do it. I admire the Borgenichts.

Lauren Leohner said...

I found the section about demographic luck to be very interesting. I never thought the time and place of someone's birth could effect their success. With Maurice Janklow's story, he had all the right qualities but it was his son that became successful because of his current environment.

When considering the second half of the post, I would say meaningful work is more important than hard work. Both types can get a person far but if it means nothing to the individual then it will not last. The person has to be engaged with their work in order to gain long term success. If one was to just work hard all the time without any personal gain then they will lose interest.

Clifford Rush III said...

Clifford Rush III,

All 3 of the factors are very compelling. I would have to say meaningful work is the one that sticks out the most. As the post pointing out, 3 things makes work meaningful.

When I apply that to my life, school work can fill all 3 but only if you truly enjoy the subject. Engaging my mind? Classes throughout my schooling career have failed to do that. The second factor to make "meaningful work" is often lost.

Borgenichts story shows a situation where "meaninful work" gave a huge reward. Other inspirations fueled Louis. I come from a struggling life situation but nothing compared to his.

Ethnic backgrounds can hinder or help depending what ethnicity you are. Demographic factor was shown in a previous chapter with Gates, Beatles, etc. Obviously a huge factor.

Joe Hines said...

From not reading too deep into the three terms listed, I would say that meaningful work and ethnic background would definitely be the most important. I leave "demographic luck" out simply because I think if you're interested in "high heel shoes" and see that a particular geographic area is "booming" with business for high heels/ a particular population was buying them would definitely move or tailor your sells toward them.

Ethnic background is also important-although I find it hard to say exactly why. However, it definitely plays a large factor. It was no coincidence that all those families were Jewish (especially when considering from a bible standpoint.) There are just certain "things," lessons, people, experiences that you may not have depending on what particular ethnic background you come from. ( and those seemingly insignificant "things" can make a world of difference)

Meaningful work is def. important simply because of what it is- according to the definition given of it within the question posed.

I know in the chemistry dept. they have a research program where students research with the professors; which is very good thing for experience, knowledge, etc. As far as the university as a whole (every department)- i think that there should be more "action" rather than all theory, speculation, discussion, etc. I just feel within a lot of areas of school there are so so so so many discussions about "what could we do," "how would this benefit," "what do you think" yet there is so little action. For Example the public speaking class i took last year was good however not once did we ever actually speak in front of people we weren't familiar with.- they could have combined classes sometimes or many other things to more emulate a real setting.

Unknown said...

I happen to admire the Borgenichts the mos because they came to the US to make a better life for themselves. Louis Borenicht very determined man who refused to fail. He was going to make a better life for his family.
I also happen to think that is what is wrong with most Americans today. We all feel that we don"t have to work for anything anymore. We have acquired a mentality that states that we are better than everyone else and that things should be just handed to us on a silver platter. We are not willing to work. This leads back to the concept of meaningful work. If most are unwilling to do any work at all. How do we make anything meaningful?

tiawanathomas said...

Although I can relate to all three, the determining factors that I found to be the most compelling is demographic luck and meaningful work.
I believe that if you have a family history of success then, you have a great chance of having success as well. It has been proven that if there is a parent(s) in the home who have graduated from college, have a well paying job, and who's very successful then the children will usually model them in same way or another. Insteeling meaningful work traits in children at an early age can help that child along in his/her future. Caldwell said "Success is not a random act. It arises out of a predictable and powerful set of circumstances and opportunities."
I agree with Caldwell when he said "Those three things- autonomy, complexity, and a connection between effort and reward-are the three qualities that work has to have if it is to be satisfying." Because I am continuing my education at a later age than most others, I consider my age to be a factor in deciding which career path to choose. Right now I am learning business and computers. The business side doesn't doesn't seem to impress me too much. But, this field pays extremely well. However, I enjoy and have a great amount of experience behind me in the field of education. Starting out, the field of education doesn't pay as good as the field of computers but I have been confirmed through this chapter of the Outliers that becoming an educator would be more meaningful and fulfulling for me.
I am enlighten that the field of business would be "a prison sentence" for me at this point.

dominic williams said...

Meaningful work is the most compelling factor. When we set our minds on goals, we always look for a reward or something to get out of it. It is human nature. No one does nothing without some type of goal that they want to achieve. In sports, you work hard to become the best. But on top of that, you give it your all to become a champion. In school, you do your work so you can be one step closer to your dream job. I study about2 hours everyday to ensure my passing of a class, no matter how much I hate it. That is what life is all about. Doing things to achieve your dreams and goals.

TaNeal Walls said...

The Borgenicht family used meaningful work and gained a lot from it. The story was very inspiring and goes to show the rewards due to determination and effort. Meaningful work has given me a much stronger definition than just the word "work" now. Meaningful work leads to success. Striving for a goal, doing your absolute best, and never giving up is the optimistic message I perceived in the story about the Borgenichts. Their determination into this country earned them much respect.

Glennda Lyles said...

Glennda Lyles

Of the three determining factors, I found meaningful work and Louis Borgenicht's story to be the most compelling. I believe that all three factors can contribute to our success. However, meaningful work is essential. Louis was a struggling immigrant from Poland. However, he and his family were still able to overcome their ethnic and demographic background in order to achieve success. It wasn't just hard work that enabled Louis' clothing business to be successful but rather it was his "meaningful work." Although Louis' business allowed him to have finacial success, it also allowed independence, mind involvement, and a connection between his long efforts and rewards. Many of us are in the process of choosing careers and it is important for our careers to not just involve hard work but also meaningful work.

Alycia Peebles said...

Meaningful work is successful work and successful work is work of an outlier.Everything is done for a reason and whenever people do work that will benefit them, they are doing work with a purpose behind it which makes that work meaningful if wanting to accomplish the task. Whenever I do work I have to keep my mind on the reason why I'm doing it which is not just to get a good grade, or to have income, its to get that good job or save money for something worth purchasing. I cannot give meaning to where and what I'm going in life if I cant visualize what i'm heading for. For example if i got of a bus, and i see the front door to my home, my walk to the door will be easier because knowing what i will do when i enter that door will comfort me. But if i were not to see that door, my walk would maybe stress me to the point that i may not even want to take that walk and give up, or i would even question how long it would take for me to get there. So the work that we do as individuals should always be meaningful, but we should always have in our minds on what and where our meaningful work would lie.

Katrina Sivels said...

Again, I am truly sorry for my late post.

It's remarkable what goes into the success of a person. I like how it is proven that people are not a product of their community but they are who they are because of their community. It just shows that you are in charge of your future but there are outside contributors sometimes. There are not a crutch though.

The most interesting bit of information was that there are so many successful people that come from people who worked what others might consider low class jobs such as garment workers and grocers. Lawyers and doctors come from humble beginnings. That is promising.

Janssen Shaw said...

I found the determining factor "meaningful work" the most compelling because everybody could have their own definition of it. I do agree with Gladwell's 3 elements of meaningful work, but who's to say that less thought provoking or rewarding efforts aren't meaningful? For example, those people that work in mail rooms sealing envelopes, stamping, and other things of that nature could be considered meaningful work because without them, people wouldn't get their mail. There is nothing thought provoking or rewarding about this job but it serves a very important purpose.

As for the local aspect, my department is Mass Communications. A lot of opportunities are available in that department and all of them require "meaningful work." The community in that department is a good one, the faculty is helpful and they are awlays around to push students towards success.

Chris jones said...

"Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life." -Confucius

I found meaningful work to be most compelling, mostly because I can relate directly to it. Perhaps I'm interpreting the term wrong, but I take it to mean a job that is engaging, both in mind and body, and requires a degree of skill.

Meaningful work is somewhat lacking in my life as of late, as a variety of unrelated problems are causing my interest and level of attentiveness to decrease, particularly schoolwork. I feel the SIUE could possibly provide more support for students who feel emotionally lost, and it's causing them to suffer in other departments. (I must state that these institutions may exist already, and I simply haven't looked hard enough.)