Between the years 1831 and 1840 something remarkable happened. The period was not one of devastating war, political revolution, climate crisis, social unrest or spectacular invention of new technologies.
Yet, this short nine year period could be called the best time ever to be born.
As Malcolm Gladwell tells the tale in his book, Outliers, during this nine year period, 14 of the 75 richest people in history were all born in America. That’s almost 20% of the worlds richest people in history all being born in a single country in less than a decade. Extraordinary!
Luck or Good Timing?
What happened? Was it a tidal wave of god-given talent? Were these individuals gifted the business gene? Or were they just plain lucky?
It seems that luck did play a part in their success in one crucial way. They may have literally been born in the right time and place to take advantage of America’s Industrial Revolution.
During the 1860’s and 1870’s the US economic transformation spawned a host of new industries. This included: Oil, Steel, Railroads, Banks, Electricity, Tobacco and Refrigeration. This is how these gentlemen made their money.
It seems that if you were born in the 1840’s you missed the opportunity. Too late. And, if you were born in the 1820’s you were too old – with your thinking likely to be tainted by Pre-Civil war paradigms. You were born too early.
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Gladwell also identifies a similar pattern for the founders of modern computing giants Microsoft, Apple and Sun Microsystems. Their founders were all born in a 3-year period between 1953-56.
And, we’re seeing a similar pattern emerging from the young guns of today…
- Pierre Omidyar – Ebay, 1967
- Reid Hoffman – Linked In, 1967
- Larry Page – Google, 1973
- Sergey Brin – Google, 1973
- Jack Dorsey – Twitter, 1976
- Mark Zuckerberg – Facebook, 1984
Sometimes making it to the top requires a little luck. It helps to be born at the right time. It helps significantly if you work hard. And, none of this matters if you’re not open to the opportunities that surround you. In other words, if you’re blinded to the context in which you live and work. And, that’s what this book is about.
When were you born? And, what opportunities are available to you right now?
- This article is part of the introduction for my book What the #$%?! Is Going On? For more info.
- For an audio version of this article
- Part 2 of this article: Master Your Context