I’m ½ through Malcolm Gladwell’s popular book – “Outliers.” Although I’ve criticized some of his past theories as being based on insignificant anecdotal evidence, I am quite enjoying this – his latest work. Among his empirical observations are some interesting comments on social structure and familial background, and how those things contribute to a person’s sense of entitlement. Below are two arguments and two conclusions.

Argument 1) Entitlement is an element that Gladwell states leads to such positive personal attributes as challenging authority, making our voice heard and convincing people to do what we want. Entitlement affects the way we approach almost every social situation and can be the single factor that determines whether we live to be rich and successful, or poor and unhappy.

Argument 2) Another argument that Gladwell makes involves immigrants. The argument states that successful Jewish doctors and lawyers living in New York were mostly third generation immigrants who learned invaluable skill sets (hard work, autonomy, sacrifice) from their poorer parents. Only by living through poor and challenging times were these Jewish immigrants able to succeed in life.

Conclusion 1) These two arguments highlighted above run somewhat contrary to each other. In one – wealth begets entitlement which leads to success, in the second hard work and sacrifice paves the way to success. The logical conclusion is that both paths can lead to success, however a more broad definition of success may suggest otherwise.

Conclusion 2) In the case of the Jewish immigrants, hard work led to personal success, but also success of the society. These doctors and lawyers contributed in a way that made living conditions better for everyone and bolstered the economy – they created wealth where there was no wealth before.

In the case of entitlement leading to success, wealth and societal status led to personal assets that allowed one group of people to succeed over others. Although it does lead to personal success, entitlement is a zero sum game – every opportunity that entitlement gives, it takes from someone else. Entitlement definitely helps dictate how wealth and opportunity are distributed, but it does not create opportunity where previously none had existed.

Thoughts?

Entitlement
  • Julie Dembert

    Andrew, Entitlement has a somewhat negative connotation, I think. Is your use of the word interchangeable with ambition? Is personal drive and ambition an acquired trait or an inherent trait? Nature vs. nurture? I don’t necessarily agree that entitlement is a zero sum game…

  • Andrew_Eifler

    Thanks for commenting – it’s interesting to think about how Entitlement relates to Ambition – I think that it may be more of a correlation rather than a causal relationship. As for Nature vs. Nurture I think you can make a case for both, but I find adoption to be pretty compelling argument to say that nurture plays the most significant role in personality traits. Look forward to discussing more!

  • Alex

    Negative connotation or not, the idea that entitlement leads to success is deliciously nuanced. The power of positive thinking.

  • Chris

    Interesting. I don’t think the two arguments are necessarily contradictory. While entitlement often has a negative connotation, as when it describes a spoiled kid, I think it can also be positive in the context of an individual who asserts those rights to which he or she feels entitled. I would argue that many people who are successful succeed because they don’t let other people take advantage of them and seize opportunities to which they believe they are suited (i.e., entitled). The immigrants that achieved success notwithstanding their earlier poverty could still have felt a sense of entitlement during the tough times, likely learned from their parents, that drove them to succeed where people with a more defeatist attitude would likely fail. I don’t think entitlement and affluence necessarily go together (although they likely often do).

  • Andrew Eifler

    Awesome! I like it. When trying to think about things like “success” or I often think that all you have to do is define all the antecedent variables (entitlement, family support, work ethic etc…) and then evaluate them each individually relative to your conclusion (e.g. the more entitled you are the more positioned you are for success). But this sort of linear thinking can be problematic when you explore all the different sorts of ways that entitlement can manifest – or, to your point, the different things that can lead to entitlement. Excellent!