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The Story of Success December 7, 2009

Posted by Hernan Haro in Outliers, [Books] Leadership & Change.
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This fascinating book by Malcolm Gladwell presents a new view on success. Malcolm picked up a number of famous success stories – from Bill Gates to The Beatles – and methodically finds the factors that helped them succeed. According to Outliers, success arises out of the steady accumulation of advantages: when and where you are born, what your parents did for a living, and what the circumstances of your upbringing were all make significant difference in how well you do in the world.

One of the stories that really caught my attention is what Malcolm calls “The Ethnic Theory of Plane Crashes”. The key to understand this theory is on the Power Distance Index (PDI), developed by the Dutch psychologist Geert Hofstade while working at IBM in the 1960s and 1970s. The PDI measures the attitude that a culture has toward hierarchy, specifically with how much a particular culture vales and respects authority. The famous plan crash of Avianca sadly showed the PDI in action. Avianca is a Colombian airline, and in the day of the accident the pilot was trying to land at New York, JFK airport. The Colombian culture has a very high PDI, meaning that they’re very respectful of hierarchy, whilst the US culture has a low PDI. What happened was that the Avianca’s plane was running out of fuel and they were told to circulate around JFK because of heavy traffic. The crew couldn’t explain to Air Traffic Control (ATC) that they were ALMOST out of fuel, until it was too late. They never said the word EMERGENCY, because they expected the ATC to make the decisions and didn’t want to interfere. On the other hand, ATC never knew the situation was sever, because in low PDI societies they would have expected the captain to shout commanding “immediate landing” instead of waiting.

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