Is Age A Factor In Success

Posted Jan 06 2016 06:40 AM

By Anand Satheesh

Outliers is an international bestseller that has forever changed the way we think about success and its factors. Rather than focusing on the age­‐old values of grit and gumption, Gladwell focuses on the more “luck” based stats that contribute to success. He makes his case using facts such as that most successful Canadian hockey players are born in the first few months of the year or that most Silicon Valley entrepreneurs were born in 1954­‐55. He says in his book the reason for a disproportionate number of NHL players born in the early months of the year is that they are older than their peers. Because of this, they mature faster and have a physical advantage that leads to them getting picked for the higher level coaching and opportunities that help them become great players.
Gladwell says the reason for famous Silicon Valley entrepreneurs being born between 1954 and 55 is that they were just the right age to take advantage of the microcomputer revolution. They would be old enough to act on this revolution but not too old as to be close­‐minded. However is he correct? Does age destroy creativity? Is age really a factor in success?
Venture capitalist and former CEO of SUN microsystems, Vinod Khosla once said “People under 35 are the people who make change happen, people over 45 basically die in terms of new ideas.” Gladwell also seems to share this belief through the points shown in Outliers. Gladwell also says that many of these people were brought up with a sense of entitlement given to them by their parents. He says that these great people were often born in families at or above middle class and this gave them a sense of self worth that proved decisive in their success. He is saying that opportunity is the reason why these people stood out. I believe this is a whole load of crap.
Vivek Wadhwa, Fellow, Arthur & Toni Rembe Rock Center for Corporate Governance, Stanford University has an opposing view. In his seminal article “A Case For Old Entrepreneurs”, he makes the point that the average age of Nobel Prize winners and tech entrepreneurs is over 40. He says that this is a sign that experience given by age is simply irreplaceable. Young guns may be more publicized but they are no more important than older entrepreneurs. I believe this is also not entirely true.
Wadhwa correctly points out in his article that Steve Jobs produced his most influential innovations such as the IPhone and Ipad after the age of 45. Jobs used to be a young gun who quickly rose to super stardom back in the late 70s and early 80s through the Apple 2 and Macintosh. Believers in young guns would be quick to note that these innovations happened before his 30th birthday. However they are not looking close enough to see that he only became an exemplary entrepreneur after his 40th birthday.
The decade long ouster of Steve Jobs from Apple is considered a hallmark of perseverance and a testament to Jobs’ brilliance. However it also made him a better entrepreneur. The fiery young gun of years past was replaced with a creative, intelligent old man. With the new lease on innovation he gained at Pixar and Next, Jobs developed the revolutionary products we all use today. Without these experience Jobs would never have been able to innovate the way he did. However there is also beauty in the young gun.
Marc Zuckerberg, the founder of Facebook is the poster child of the young gun. He is only 31 years old but he already has a net worth of 35 billion dollars. Also his product, Facebook has over a billion users and it is showing no signs of slowing down. He is clearly younger than the Steve Jobs that produced the IPhone but he has arguably reached that level of success. Both these cases have achieved tremendous things but they are of strikingly different age groups. One is a young gun while the other is an old man. I think that these opposing examples prove that age does not matter at all in success.
However, the question still remains about the importance of opportunity and entitlement in success. In Outliers, Gladwell states that most great achievers are born to middle class or higher families. He says that this higher social status gives them a sense of entitlement and their high financial status gives them opportunities that poorer children could not get. For example, Bill Gates was born to a lawyer and a noted business woman. In Outliers, Gladwell also notes that Bill Gates had access to computers from a very early age, at a time when only universities tended to have them. Obviously, opportunity was on the side of Bill Gates and this seems to correlate with Gladwell’s point. However I believe this view also to be a whole load of crap.
Absolutely nothing can replace the age old values of grit and gumption. These are indiscriminate towards social class and are the true facilitators of success. Grit and gumption bring out a man’s true potential and allow him to climb seemingly insurmountable odds.
Perhaps, no one epitomizes succeeding despite handicaps more than Arunachalam Murugantham. In 2014, he was on the TIME 100 list of the most influential people in the world. He is renowned the world over as “the man who wore a sanitary pad” His journey from a poor village man working odd jobs to the TIME 100 list is truly inspiring.
Murugantham’s father died at a young age and he was forced to drop out of school at the age of 14 to look for work. Shortly after being married, he saw his wife using dirty rags for her menstrual cycle. When asked about this unhygienic practice, his wife answered that commercial pads would be too expensive and buying them would mean that they could not buy milk and other commodities. Troubled by this, Muruganatham started on a journey to create a low cost sanitary pad. During his research, he wore the pads himself due to a lack of female volunteers. He even offered his pads to college girls and asked them to return the pads after using them. Of course many of them ran away in disgust. His mother and his wife left him because they believed he had gone mad and the whole village stayed away from him. Menstruation is a taboo subject in India and a man going around wearing a sanitary pad is considered truly insane.
In 2006, Muruganatham won the Grassroots Technological Innovations Award organized by the government of India for his low cost sanitary pad machine. This put him on the map and subsequently led to him appearing on the TIME 100 list. It is only after this however, that his wife and mother came back to him.
Muruganatham was just a poor villager struggling to make ends meet and he certainly did not have the full support of his family and community. In fact, they outright deserted him. This does not seem like a man with opportunity. However Murugantham had pure grit and gumption. Despite the people around him ostracizing him, he persevered through his work and eventually made everyone in the world accept him. He is truly a case for grit and gumption surpassing all circumstance.
Gladwell has a point in saying the factors of age and opportunity are important. However they are at most only 5% of the puzzle. The remaining 95% is grit and gumption. Man is the most powerful creature on earth and he has enormous powers. No matter what stands in his way, he will find a way to get around it to reach his goal. This is the beauty of man that no other creature possesses. Other creatures can be conditioned into submission but man can never be subjugated to his circumstances. Let me end off with a quote from Napoleon Hill. “Whatever the mind can conceive and believe, the hand of man can achieve.
Anand Satheesh is a grade 8 student at Long Fields Davidson Heights secondary school in Ottawa, Canada. Anand is on a mission to shift the consciousness of youth. He believes, if an individual can work on Consciousness (your being), Compassion (your feeling), and Creativity (your actions) at a young age, the rest of his or her life will be filled with joy. Anand loves to express his thoughts through writing. His first book “Emerson For the Digital Generation” is ready for publishing.

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