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Ladder Award: Malcolm Gladwell on factors that influence success & failure

This week a Ladder is awarded to Malcolm Gladwell for his work on the factors that influence success and failure in his new social science book, Outliers: The Story of Success.

Gladwell was interviewed about his book on Radio New Zealand with Kim Hill Saturday, 8am 13 December 2008.

Gladwell’s main point is that too much credit is given to the individual for their success and too little to the cultural ecology that enables them to succeed. In other words, the focus is on the individual and not on their opportunities and breaks, including why some individuals are able to take up such opportunities and recognise breaks and others are not. He makes the case that, no one, no matter how talented and brilliant, makes it alone.

The Ladder is awarded because Gladwell gives needed attention to the cultural ecology and the profound ways that culture affects the way we think and behave.  Culture is, of course, much more than what we eat and drink, the clothes we wear and the music we listen to.

Gladwell shows how cultural ecologies enable some individuals and organisations to have opportunities to be successful, and can limit others.  He shows how people from poor backgrounds may have very high IQs but not be successful. He stresses the need to talk about culture, and understand factors which lead to individual success or failure, rather than focus on the individual to try to understand their success.

Malcolm Gladwell seems to be someone who can identify social patterns that many do not notice and in this way be able to reformulate the theory of achievement. A further development would be to look at how to create social environments where such achievement could be nurtured.

A main aim of Village-Connections is to get conversations going between people and organisations that can help develop a new village culture which supports its inhabitant’s development and ability to achieve. It recognises the need to understand how the social environment, in this case the Village, can support individuals. This would be a truly smart village. This approach differs from many Western societies and theories of achievement which focus on the individual without reference to wider cultural ecologies.

What do you think? Is innovation simply about talented individuals, or are cultures of innovation important? Could there be a relationship between smart villages and smart individuals?  Send in your own Ladder of Shovel Award.

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