David Brooks wrote a very thoughtful column in the New York Times yesterday on "Outliers." Much of what he said was very flattering.
I have just two comments in response.
1. Brooks argues that I "slight the centrality of individual character and individual creativity" by focusing so much on the cultural and contextual determinants of success. Successful people, he says, must begin with two beliefs--"that the future can be better than the present, and I have the power to make it so." I completely agree. The chapter on lawyers, for example, is devoted to the idea of "meaningful work," which is just what Brooks is talking about here, the perception that there is a connection in our daily life between effort and reward. It's such that I think that the belief in meaningful work is socially constructed. Those highly successful children and grandchildren of Jewish immigrants who are the subject of that lawyers chapter were not successful because each, independently, happened to be endowed with the magical genetic trait of self-efficacy. They were successful because their very fortunate cultural circumstances gave them that belief in meaningful work. Nurture here is driving nature, not the other way around.
2. Brooks suggests that Outliers represents a kind of social determinism. But that's an odd comment to make in the context of a column championing the role of nature over nurture. It's only nature that is unchangable and deterministic. Nuture, by definition, isn't. And the last half of Outliers is devoted to showing that when we confront our cultural legacies--whether it's in the cockpit or the classroom--we can make a big difference in how well we do our jobs.