Why Did Malcolm Succeed? (Outliers 2)

Why did Malcolm Gladwell succeed? Is he a self-made bestselling writer? Is his story different than the story of why some succeed and others don’t that we looked at in my previous blog about Gladwell’s book Outliers? Does he have none to thank except his own hard work and native talent? In the epilogue to his book, he offers an answer.

The story goes back to Jamaica in 1784. An Irishman by the name of William Ford, having bought a coffee plantation, also bought a slave woman who became his concubine, an Igbo tribeswoman from West Africa. Their son, John, “was, in the language of the day, a ‘mulatto’; he was colored–and all of the Fords from that point on fell into Jamaica’s colored class.”

Being mulatto worked to the advantage of the Fords because as a class they were freemen and held higher status than blacks. “Whites saw mulattoes . . . as potential allies, a buffer between them and the enormous numbers of slaves on the island.” Education and economic opportunity were possible, many holding a large percentage of professional and prestigious positions on the island.

John became a preacher. John’s son Charles was a produce wholesaler. Charles’ daughter, Daisy, married Donald Nation and the two were schoolteachers. Their twin daughters, Faith and Joyce Nation, won scholarships to a boarding school and were later accepted to University College, in London. There Joyce met, fell in love with, and married Graham, an English mathematician. They had three sons, one of whom was named Malcolm–our very same Malcolm Gladwell.

Malcolm’s grandmother, Daisy, had ambitions for her daughters that pushed them on the road to higher education and a better life. These ambitions in turn came from a legacy of privilege she herself inherited from her father, her grandfather and the particular social circumstances of Jamaica that made it possible for those of “mixed race” to succeed and thrive.

So even Malcolm does not take sole credit for his writing success. He has history, circumstances and a family heritage to thank. The more we can offer to others similar opportunities, the more successes we will also see.

Next Installment: “I Complained to God” (Outliers 3)

2 responses to “Why Did Malcolm Succeed? (Outliers 2)”

  1. In your previous blog about Gladwell’s novel Outliers you referred to a problem Korean Pilots had due to their deference to authority and how the airline had to give its pilots intense training so they could tell and be told of situations without the prejudicial influence of deference to authority. The Germans had a similar problem; i.e., the father was the head of the home, the government official was in charge, and so on. Thus, when Hitler achieved power the whole nation fell in line with what authority ordered, never questioning whether authority might be wrong. One of the problems with the present Reform movement is its embrace of complementarianism, a commitment that could spell trouble ahead. I prefer to think that God’s family, His children, that is, are equals, and authority and complementarian matters are functional – not permanent and unquestionable positions. All who are in authority need a means of checks and balances; they need others who can question what they are doing, if they would avoid debacles like the Bay of Pigs, etc.

  2. You’re right, James, that we don’t fully realize what an influence culture has on us. Things we take for granted, like issues of authority, are often culturally influenced. Our individualism in American culture is another. Most of the rest of the world (and the Biblical world as well) is much more oriented to community. The individual has importance and value, but in the context of community. In America and much of the West, it is the reverse.