Outliers’ KFS … be smart, but not too smart

This is one of several posts extracting some key points from the book Outliers: The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell, Little Brown, 2008

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Gladwell’s Observation

Success requires intelligence plus personality plus ambition.  But, intelligence and achievement are far from perfectly correlated.  That is, high intellect doesn’t always translate into a greater likelihood of success.


First, because “general intelligence” does not assure “practical intelligence” … think book smart versus street smart.

[Often, people with high intellects tend to become linear logic specialists … that is, they may have vision, but not peripheral vision … they can connect the dots (convergence) but not think out of the box (divergence).]

Below a certain level of intellect, success is very unlikely.  But, there’s a “threshold effect” … if a person is just smart enough or talented enough to pass the qualifying threshold, then success is more a function of personality and ambition, moreso than incremental intellect.

Example cited: affirmative action law schools … some students may not have as high an intellect as others do, but they do well because they are “smart enough” to succeed.

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One Response to “Outliers’ KFS … be smart, but not too smart”

  1. Laj Says:

    Gladwell makes everything glad and well again so that people who have no interest in the issue take away his comforting conclusions… Most of this is all common sense. What Gladwell doesn’t deal with are the extreme cases of genius and invention etc.

    Gladwell is simply using the fact that most people are dealing with ideas of success that is within 2 standard deviations of the mean to argue that real giftedness isn’t important at much higher levels of success. Of course, gifts do not always come in the same form. Is Gladwell willing to argue that intelligence isn’t important when it comes to getting a Fields Medal? Or that the threshold isn’t so high that very few mortals will ever come within striking distance?

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