“The truth is that only a tiny fraction of people get lucky.” (Gove, 2013)
Simon Cowell said: “I didn’t work hard when I was at school. I left at 16 and I didn’t have any qualifications. I was useless. The secret is to be useless at school and then get lucky.” Gove responded: “This is an irresponsible and stupid thing to say. Teachers strive every day to ensure children understand the importance of learning, hard work and discipline. Simon Cowell’s comments undermine their efforts. The truth is that only a tiny fraction of people get lucky.”
In Malcolm Gladwell’s book ‘Outliers’ he describes the importance of opportunity and circumstance in becoming successful, “Success is not a random act. It arises out of a predictable and powerful set of circumstances and opportunities.” (Gladwell) – the contrast with Cowell is that opportunity is one part of the success equation. Opportunity is nothing without Grit or the “persistence, doggedness and the willingness to work hard for twenty-two minutes to make sense of something that most people would give up on after thirty seconds.” (Gadwell)
A short insight into outliers, 10,000 hours and what makes people successful is provided in this interview of Gladwell: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hz4hPbHIZ6Y – it ends with Gladwell urging, “society to build institutions that provide opportunities to work hard.” …it is opportunity that is seized that creates success not chance or luck or talent alone.
David Beckham provides an excellent example. Whilst at Man Utd Under 15 Academy, he spent every school holiday in Manchester. Like many other successful individuals Beckham had four things, opportunity, competition from like-minded individuals, GRIT and deliberate practice…he writes:
“The incredible thing about that generation of lads, who came into the youth team (1. opportunity) with me in 1991, is that they were committed to hard training, as I ever was. We couldn’t get enough of it. Gary and Phil Neville had a Dad whose basic motto was ‘give everything and you will reap the rewards.’ At the end of practice, while most of the older lads were sitting in the canteen with their feet up, Gary was still pounding the ball against the wall… I already had a strong work ethic because of my family background (rise review – background counts four times more than school attended). Practice was like second nature. But with these guys (the Nevilles, Giggsy, Nicky Butt, Scholsey) (2. competition from like-minded individuals) I knew I had to take it to another level, to put in the extra shifts, to leave nothing to chance. We had to show commitment like never before…and that is exactly what we did. (3. GRIT)”…”The more we practiced the better we became. Soon we were overtaking the older boys who were realising, a little to late, that they had taken things to easy…It wasn’t just the quantity of practice, it was the incredible focus on quality. (4. deliberative practice)” (David Beckham, 2013)
Even with opportunity, only effort and commitment over time (GRIT) combined with practice that is …”intentional, aimed at improving performance, designed for your current skill level, combined with immediate feedback and repetitious.” (Malcolm Gladwell) … will allow individuals to succeed, to become over-performers based on their context and background and to be outliers.
Creating these conditions will allow individuals (and groups) to over-perform and become Outliers;
- Opportunity (getting teaching and learning right – teaching that is… intentional, aimed at improving performance, designed for your current skill level, combined with immediate feedback and repetitious?
- Competition from like-minded individuals (Peer groups, ethos, language, aspiration, pastoral support, House system?) – growing an epidemic of strong work ethic.
- GRIT (an ethos of possibility for all through effort) Outliers focus on long term goals, ignoring short-term distractions. – they are unswervingly future-focused.
- Deliberative practise approach… learn-revise-test-feedback-learn…marginal gains increasingly creating outliers compared to starting points.
Whilst in the world of celebrity the role of luck maybe high; we live in a world that requires a series of conditions to exist and an attitude and approach that enables individuals to succeed. Education and schools are increasingly providing, supporting and developing these enabling conditions and opportunity … indeed we cannot afford not to secure over-performance, to buck-the-trend and to create the conditions that increase the occurrence of OUTLIERS.
“To build a better education system we need to replace the patchwork of lucky breaks, context and arbitrary advantages that determine success…with a system that provides opportunities and the conditions for all to feel success.” (Malcolm Gladwell, adapted)