We Are Outliers
I recently finished reading the book Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell. The book chronicles several instances in which people became successful not based on talent or merit alone, but because of chance opportunities and advantages that were given to them, such as where and when they were born. For example, Gladwell suggests that if Bill Gates had not been born in Seattle, Washington in the mid 1950s he may have never founded Microsoft. The fact that Gates was born in 1955 meant that he was at the perfect age to take advantage of the technology needed to start his company when it became available in the mid 1970s. Moreover, Gates also happened to attend the only high school in the country and perhaps the world at that time that had access to a specific type of computer with the capability that it had, allowing him to practice and learn computer programming well before most of his peers. Yes, Bill Gates is a brilliant man, but he was also born in the right place at the right time.
The book also goes on to explain how some of the richest most influential people in human history like Andrew Carnegie, JP Morgan and John D. Rockefeller, among others, all happened to have been born in the same decade, the 1830s. This was due to the fact that by the time of the industrial revolution in the 1860s, they were all at the perfect age to take advantage of the opportunities and resources available to them. Like railroads, factories, oil and the increase in American wealth.
While reading Outliers, I began thinking about how this might apply to me. What advantages do I have? Was I an outlier? And then it hit me. I was born in Michigan, and I was born in the 1980s. Allow me to explain. Michigan, and most notably the city of Detroit, is hurting. Hurting badly. The state needs young, courageous and creative people to step in and make a change, and it needs to happen now. Those of us who were born in the 1980s are, today, between the ages of 21 and 30. We are at the perfect age make a difference. We are educated, and we are old enough to have had a taste of real world experience without being too deep into our career. The state of Michigan and the city of Detroit present a lot of challenges, but they also present a lot of opportunities. Those of us who were born in the 1980s are at the perfect age to face those challenges and take advantage of the opportunities available to us. If we had been born any earlier we would be too old to take advantage. On the same token, had we been born any later we would be too young.
I don’t mean to suggest that people born in any other decade cannot contribute. You’re never too old, or too young to impact your community. I imagine, however, that most people who were born in the 1980s, especially the early and middle part of the decade have relatively low expenses, and low responsibility because we don’t have families of our own to provide for yet. We are also just now in the early stages of our career. This means we can afford to take a risk on a city and a state that needs us most in the hopes of great economic return. The transformation of this state and city needs to happen, and it needs to happen now. Those of us who were born in the 1980s are, right now, at the perfect age to make a difference and also benefit from it the most.
We are outliers.
Rob McIntosh is a 2007 graduate of Michigan State University who is originally from Livonia. Since graduating he has lived in New York City, working for publications such as GQ and Esquire. Rob is currently working on starting a Detroit based clothing company.
- Rethinking ‘Talent Retention’ (December 7, 2009)
- If You Rebuild It, They Will Come, part 1 (November 16, 2009)
- The Great Job Myth (December 22, 2009)
- Lansing’s Entrepreneurial Revival (February 26, 2010)
- The New Age of Education: We Need It (January 25, 2010)