I’m in the midst of reading Malcolm Gladwell’s wonderfully written book called, “Outliers,” which argues that a person’s pathway to success isn’t always what it seems. For example, Gladwell illustrates how elite hockey players don’t necessarily rise to elite status beased on their own merits or abilities. They happen to rise to elite status because of a peculiar combination of birthdate and age-cut-off dates set by the organizing officials.

What really interested me was Gladwell’s (based on work by sociologist Annette Lareau) description of “concerted cultivation,” and the role it plays in determining successful (or unsuccessful) outcomes. The idea of concerted cultivation is, in one sense, the idea of intentionally grooming or cultivating a child’s practical and social communicative intelligence. When Gladwell speaks of practical intelligence, he draws a stunning comparison, one that couldn’t be more opposite,  between the lives of nuclear physicist Carl Oppenheimer and a humble genius, Chris Lanagan. Practical intelligence allowed Oppenheimer to win over people in power, to convince or persuade them, even apparently after he had attempted to poison his tutor. Gladwell superbly unravels the tale of Oppenheimer as a truly polar opposite to Chris Lanagan, someone who had a genius’ mind (IQ beyond Einstein’s). Yet, Lanagan would never be evidentially successful, at least not on a public stage, because he lacked concerted cultivation. He didn’t have the parental or familial care that is demanded of, or expected of, successful people. 

I found this level of parental intentionality so engaging, not only because of the way Gladwell unpacks the whole story, but by the way the very concept explains some of the successes we see around us.  It really does show us how there’s a story behind the success, and it’s never a conclusion we’d make upon first glance.

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