What Are the Determinants of Individual Success?

A recent New York Times article debunks the notion that the current success in the U.S. of some groups with respect to income, test scores, etc. is due to any innate, biological or racial differences. Instead, the article says that such success is due to a “Triple Package” of traits. They are a superiority complex (a deep-seated belief in one’s own exceptionality), insecurity (a belief that what you have done is not good enough) and impulse control.

Although these traits are available to any individual from any background, the article states that “some groups are instilling them more frequently than others, and that they are enjoying greater success.” On the other hand, members of the  third generation of such groups do not enjoy the same degree of success.

The article admits that these three traits have disadvantages. A sense of superiority can foment intolerance and even worse.  An insecurity sense can produce a belief that the individual is never good enough. Impulse control can dampen or squash the ability to experience beauty, tranquility and spontaneous joy.

Nevertheless, according to the article, the Triple Package of traits should be instilled in children, contrary to U.S. beliefs and practices that focus on building social skills and self esteem and that emphasize living in the here and now.

The article’s authors, Amy Chua and Jed Rubenfeld, who are wife and husband and both Yale Law School professors, [1] will be elaborating on these ideas in their forthcoming book, The Triple Package: How Three Unlikely Traits Explain the Rise and Fall of Cultural Groups in America.

Amy Chua is not new to criticizing common American parenting practices. Her controversial 2011 book, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, did the same.

David Brooks, the New York Times columnist, disagreed with that earlier book. He said,  “a sleepover with 14-year old girls” is more “cognitively demanding” than practicing music. “Managing status rivalries, negotiating group dynamics, understanding social norms, navigating the distinction between self and group —and other social tests impose cognitive demands that blow away any intense tutoring session or a class at Yale.”

Brooks continued, “[M]astering these arduous skills is at the very essence of achievement. Most people work in groups. We do this because groups are much more efficient at solving problems than individuals . . . . Moreover, the performance of a group does not correlate well with the average I.Q. of the group or even with the I.Q.’s of the smartest members. . . . [Instead] groups have a high collective intelligence when members of a group are good at reading each others’ emotions — when they take turns speaking, when the inputs from each member are managed fluidly, when they detect each others’ inclinations and strengths.”

Brooks, in my opinion, provides a good counterbalance to the earlier book and to this article although I think he overstates the cognitive demands of a sleepover.

Moreover, based upon personal experience, I agree with Chua and Rubenfeld that success requires “the ability to work hard, to persevere and to overcome adversity” and that “perseverance and motivation can be taught, especially to young children” and that perseverance requires controlling impulses for instant gratification. These, in my opinion, are the important traits, not senses of superiority and insecurity.

What, dear readers, do you think?

[1] Chua is the John M. Duff, Jr. Professor of Law and specializes in the law of international business transactions and development, ethnic conflict and globalization and the law. Rubenfeld is the Robert R. Slaughter Professor of Law and specializes in constitutional law, privacy, First Amendment and criminal law.

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As a retired lawyer and adjunct law professor, Duane W. Krohnke has developed strong interests in U.S. and international law, politics and history. He also is a Christian and an active member of Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church. His blog draws from these and other interests. He delights in the writing freedom of blogging that does not follow a preordained logical structure. The ex post facto logical organization of the posts and comments is set forth in the continually being revised “List of Posts and Comments–Topical” in the Pages section on the right side of the blog.

5 thoughts on “What Are the Determinants of Individual Success?”

  1. I think it’s a severely limited definition of the word “success”. Perhaps “materialist achievement level” would be more accurate.

    Some would call things like longevity in good health success, or personal happiness, aside from how many degrees you earn or how much money you make.

    One of the biggest determinants is luck. Another is adaptivity.

  2. Review of “The Triple Package” Book. # 458B—2/2/14

    The Triple Package book by Amy Chua and Jed Rubenfeld, according to a recent New York Times review, is “part sociological study, part national call to arms [for U.S. parenting] . . . and even part self-help book . . . .” The book is also criticized for having very dull and repetitive language. The review also discusses a related book by Quanyu Huang, The Hybrid Tiger: Secrets of the Extraordinary Success of Asian-American Kids, which criticizes Chua’s earlier book (Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother) as an exaggerated presentation of Chinese childrearing practices. Huang, a Chinese-born professor at Miami University of Ohio, instead “proposes a kinder, gentler blending of East and West parenting practices in what he calls the Hybrid Tiger.”

    Sandra Tsing Loh, Secrets of Success, N.Y. Times (Feb. 2, 2014), http://www.nytimes.com/2014/02/02/books/review/the-hybrid-tiger-and-the-triple-package.html?ref=books&_r=0.

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