Monday, November 03, 2008

The Outsider's Advantages

At one board meeting, Ellis writes, “a long presentation was being made that was overloaded with dull, detailed statistics. Number after number was read off. When the droning presenter finally paused for breath, Weinberg jumped up, waving his papers in mock triumph, to call out ‘Bingo!’ ” The immigrant’s best strategy, in the famous adage, is to think Yiddish and dress British. Weinberg thought British and dressed Yiddish.

Why did that strategy work? This is the great mystery of Weinberg’s career, and it’s hard to escape the conclusion that Carnegie was on to something: there are times when being an outsider is precisely what makes you a good insider. It’s not difficult to imagine, for example, that the head of Continental Can liked the fact that Weinberg was from nothing, in the same way that New York City employers preferred country boys to city boys. That C.E.O. dwelled in a world with lots of people who went to Yale and then to Wall Street; he knew that some of them were good at what they did and some of them were just well connected, and separating the able from the incompetent wasn’t always easy. Weinberg made it out of Brooklyn; how could he not be good?

Read the rest of Malcolm Gladwell's article from The New Yorker on the uses of adversity.

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