Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Karlgaard, Late Bloomers

In a world that fixates on the achievements of the young, we tend to push our kids too hard and to write off anyone who hasn’t hit his or her stride by some fixed age. To help counter this trend, Rich Karlgaard, the publisher of Forbes magazine who himself took quite a while to find his calling, has written Late Bloomers: The Power of Patience in a World Obsessed with Early Achievement (Currency/Penguin Random House).

The book is part critique, part inspiring stories. Karlgaard takes aim at the ubiquitous tests of intellectual potential, where “success today is represented by the high-IQ, high-SAT wunderkind test takers beloved of Bill Gates and other IQ farms like Goldman Sachs, Google, and Amazon.” Admittedly, high test scores often appear to be predictive of worldly success. After all, Bill Gates, Larry Page, Sergey Brin, Jeff Bezos, Mark Zuckerberg, and Steve Wozniak all scored 800 on the math SAT. But, Karlgaard argues, “this pressure for high test scores and early achievement has created its own perversities” and cites the case of Elizabeth Holmes of Theranos. Moreover, it tends to discard as less talented or lazy those young people who have abilities that can’t be measured by a standardized test.

Although Karlgaard focuses on late bloomers, much of his work has universal applicability. He describes the sometimes destructive power of social norms, the pitfalls of perseverance (sometimes quitting is the right decision), and the positive potential of self-doubt (turn it into information and motivation).

Karlgaard concludes that “blooming has no deadline. Our future story is written in pencil, not carved in stone. … Research supports the idea that as we lose some capabilities, we gain others that far outweigh what is lost. Therefore the question we should be asking ourselves is not, what can we accomplish in spite of our nature and life experiences? Instead it should be, what can we accomplish because of them?”

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