A Gladwellian "Opportunity" For Women

On International Women's Day, I thought it was fitting to write about an auspicious "opportunity" for women.

In the Outliers: the Story of Success, Malcolm Gladwell explains the factors at play in making an outlier, or someone who does something out of the ordinary. He cites, among others, Bill Gates (Microsoft) and Bill Joy (Sun Microsystems), but the author deviates from the tired, old narrative that these men are outliers simply because of their ambition and intelligence. Although these two factors are important, they are not enough to make an outlier.

Instead Gladwell claims that the success of these two men has to do with their unique opportunities in the early years of their lives. In both cases, Gates and Joy had access to computers at a time when few other people did. They were also able to spend 10,000 hours on programming, the amount of time Gladwell claims is necessary to master a skill. What is more, both these men turned 20 or 21 (working age) when personal computers became available to the general public, creating yet another opportunity.

As most of you are well aware, the news media are undergoing profound changes, as its readers are relying increasingly on the internet as their primary news source. At the same time, we are witnessing the meteoric rise of Web 2.0, or social networking, wikis and blogs, as means for exchanging and gathering information.

In recent decades, we witnessed the number of people controlling our news media dwindle to a select few. Today, anyone with a PC and internet hook-up can be a citizen journalist or social commentator with a blog. We no longer have to wait for our newspaper to publish a story. We can scour the net for a story, add some commentary and post it ourselves. Web 2.0 has also given us more reader feedback and interaction between writers and readers than traditional media ever allowed for. Sounds like the playing field has been leveled, and I smell an opportunity.

There are many people out there who are just as ambitious and intelligent as "the Bills." And if they put in, say, 10,000 hours honing their writing skills and creating a high-traffic blog, we may have another outlier. And given the huge number of stay-at-home mothers and freelance workers who make up the blogging population, that outlier may just be a woman.

Although Mr. Gladwell referred to the factors contributing to his mother's success in the last chapter of his book, he never called her an outlier. In fact, he didn't mention any women who were outliers. Maybe he'll address women outliers in his next book. If he has any problems coming up with some names, I can give him a few.

Happy International Women's Day!


Admin | March 8, 2009 at 4:09 PM

So, who are some of the female outliers on your list?

Heather | March 10, 2009 at 8:06 AM

You can check out my survey, but I think it should be Oprah who had to overcome both race and being a woman to become a media mogul. JK Rowling would follow. A single mother, she had to deal with financial difficulties and finding decent childcare,which I doubt Mr. Gladwell's outliers had to contend with, while she wrote a book. I chose Dooce because of her large faithful following, and because she represents the popularity of mommy bloggers. Finally, I chose Martha Stewart because she, too, has built her own empire, and she appeals to another demographic. The interesting thing about three of the four is that their markets are for the most part women, a market with an increasing amount of disposable income. In JK Rowling's case, her market was mainly children.

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