‘Outliers’ Puts Self-Made Success To The Test

Can Culture Determine Success?

[pullquote align=”left|right”]While American students often say math skills are innate, Asian students more frequently attribute success in math to hard work.[/pullquote]

Gladwell says he felt it was impossible to talk about achievement without talking about culture; he wanted to untangle long-standing puzzles about success and nationality.

“One of the puzzles that educators have thought about for years is why is it that kids from Japan, Korea, Singapore, Hong Kong [and] China vastly outperform their American or Western counterparts in math,” Gladwell says. “They score way, way, better than American kids do.”

Gladwell says he thought that Asian children might be inheriting a particular cultural legacy from their parents and their society that was helping them succeed in math — and he says he found the answer in the agricultural tradition of rice farming.

“Rice farming lays out a cultural pattern that works beautifully when it comes to math,” Gladwell hypothesizes. “Rice farming is the most labor-intensive form of agriculture known to man. It is also the most cognitively demanding form of agriculture … There is a direct correlation between effort and reward. You get exactly out of your rice paddy what you put into it.”


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