Malcolm Gladwell and the Deshi Mother | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, October 23, 2010 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:00 AM, October 23, 2010

Tangents By Ihtisham Kabir

Malcolm Gladwell and the Deshi Mother

Off to school. Do their mothers provide a competitive advantage to Bangladeshi children?

We all know that to achieve greatness whether in the arts or sciences, in business, or in public service one has to work awfully hard. There are no shortcuts.
But how much work is really needed? Some say five years; others fifteen. We may look to history for clues. The Taj Mahal took 22 years to build, but the Dome of Florence took over 140. Dhaka's Baldha Garden was a 34-year job. James Joyce wrote Ulysses in seven years. So, historical data is no help.
But now, amazingly, a consensus has emerged for how much work is needed to attain greatness. It comes from Malcolm Gladwell.
Named by Newsweek as one of the most influential “thought leaders” of the last decade, Gladwell is a writer. His (non-fiction) books include Outliers.
In Outliers, Gladwell analyzes several successful people, including Bill Gates and The Beatles. What makes this book unique is that Gladwell quantifies the work needed to attain success. He claims that a minimum of 10,000 hours of work are needed, basing it on the work The Beatles and others did before they achieved greatness.
This “10,000 hours” has morphed into a benchmark for the world's ambitious. A Google search reveals thousands of people, from violin players with Carnegie Hall dreams to middle-aged marathon runners, who see their deliverance in this magic number.
Besides hard work, Outliers examines, in detail, other factors necessary for success: talent, timing (in economic cycle), luck, and family support and wealth. Gates apparently had all of these including a devoted Mother's Club at his school which started him on his 10,000 hours on computers.
So how do Bangladeshis measure up to Gladwell's success factors?
Agriculture works to our advantage. Gladwell claims that owing to the intense, round-the-year labour necessary in rice fields, hard work is built into the genes of the nations which produce rice. Indeed, those who once dismissed Bangladesh as a basket case are now eating their words because of the hard work of Bangladeshis in building this nation.
How about timing? In recent years Bangladesh has achieved sustained economic growth. Many more opportunities for greatness come during economic expansion, says Gladwell.
What about family support and wealth? True, most families here are far from wealthy. However, can they make up for it in support?
As an example, I offer the Bangladeshi mother. Rising before the sun, she makes breakfast and tiffin, irons her child's school uniform, gets her child ready, feeds it, finds a rickshaw, and braves traffic jams, flooded roads, inclement weather, potholes and wayward buses to deliver the child at the school's door. A few hours later, she picks up her child, feeds him or her, and drops him or her at the tutor's after a change of clothes. This daily cycle repeats for years.
If a Mothers' Club handed Bill Gates his crucial competitive advantage, who is to say the dedication of our mothers will not produce another Bill Gates or Beatles?

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