‘Outliers’ and Providence

And who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this? ~ Esther 4:14

Question: What do the following have in common?

  • Elite Canadian hockey players;
  • Bill Joy, Bill Gates, & Steve Jobs;
  • Some of the most successful corporate lawyers in Manhattan;
  • 14 of the 75 richest people in the history of the world?

Answer: They were born in the right places in the right times.

In Outliers, The Story of Success, Malcolm Gladwell investigates the stories of some really successful people (and some who are not) to discover the intangibles that made them different from the rest of us.  Outliers are, “…men and women who, for one reason or another, are so accomplished and so extraordinary and so outside of ordinary experience that they are…puzzling to the rest of us…”

About the book, Gladwell said:

You know how you hear someone say of Bill Gates or some rock star or some other outlier—“they’re really smart,” or “they’re really ambitious?’ Well, I know lots of people who are really smart and really ambitious, and they aren’t worth 60 billion dollars. It struck me that our understanding of success was really crude—and there was an opportunity to dig down and come up with a better set of explanations. (http://www.gladwell.com/outliers/index.html)

What better set of explanations did Gladwell find? He continues,

“What I came to realize in writing Outliers, …is that we’ve been far too focused on the individual—on describing the characteristics and habits and personality traits of those who get furthest ahead in the world. And that’s the problem, because in order to understand the outlier I think you have to look around them—at their culture and community and family and generation. We’ve been looking at tall trees, and I think we should have been looking at the forest.

In a word, what Gladwell found operating in and around the lives of the Outliers he studied, was Providence.

Providence is the beneficent outworking of God’s sovereignty whereby all events are directed and disposed to bring about those purposes of glory and good for which the universe was made. These events include the actions of free agents, which while remaining free, personal and responsible are also the intended actions of those agents. Providence thus encompasses both natural and personal events, setting them alike within the purposes of God. (New Dictionary of Theology)

Ouliers is a great read that will cause you to reflect on your own life, remind you of the providence of God, restructure your sense of success, and, I think, restore a sense of worship in the One who does all things well.

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