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Inside the Outliers

Are successful people primarily the beneficiaries of luck, timing and cultural legacy?
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What is the difference between Joe Six-Pack, Joe the Plumber and Joe Biden? One is vice president, and the other two are not. Why? The answer depends on a host of interactive variables that must be factored into any equation of success: genes, parents, siblings, peers, mentors, practice, drive, culture, timing, legacy and luck. The rub for the scientist is determining the percentage of influence of each variable and its interactions, which requires the use of sophisticated statistical models.

Journalists unconstrained by research protocols churn out selfhelp books that focus on select variables that interest them. Few do so better than Malcolm Gladwell, and in his new book Outliers: The Story of Success (Little, Brown, 2008), the New Yorker writer claims that successful people are not “self-made” but instead “are invariably the beneficiaries of hidden advantages and extraordinary opportunities and cultural legacies that allow them to learn and work hard and make sense of the world in ways others cannot.” (continue reading…)

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Turn Me On, Dead Man

What do the Beatles, the Virgin Mary, Jesus, Patricia Arquette and Michael Keaton all have in common?
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In September 1969, as I began ninth grade, a rumor circulated that the Beatles’ Paul McCartney was dead, killed in a 1966 automobile accident and replaced by a look-alike. The clues were there in the albums, if you knew where to look.

Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band’s “A Day in the Life,” for one, recounts the accident: He blew his mind out in a car / He didn’t notice that the lights had changed / A crowd of people stood and stared / They’d seen his face before / Nobody was really sure if he was from the House of Lords. The cover of the Abbey Road album shows the Fab Four walking across a street in what looks like a funeral procession, with John in white as the preacher, Ringo in black as the pallbearer, a barefoot and out-of-step Paul as the corpse, and George in work clothes as the gravedigger. In the background is a Volkswagen Beetle (!) whose license plate reads “28IF” — Paul’s supposed age “if” he had not died. (continue reading…)

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