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Small business

Lessons from Jews and Mormons

March 7, 2014
Success: depends on self-control.

Success: depends on self-control.

It has become politically incorrect these days to look at specific cultural and ethnic groups and draw conclusions from how they think and behave. Even when those conclusions happen to be positive, there’s still a forbidden stench about them lest you make other groups feel inferior.  

And yet there are some statistics and characteristics so glaringly obvious and astounding they’re impossible to ignore. Consider, for example, the following, all of which are based on credible data in the United States:

  • The median household net worth is $99,500 but among Jews it’s $443,000.
  • Even though they make up 1.7 per cent of the American population, Jews account for twenty of the fifty richest people and a third of the top 400.
  • Despite constituting just 0.2 per cent of the global population, Jews have won half the non-fiction Pulitzer prizes and a fifth of the Nobel ones.
  • The amount of land owned by the Mormon church is larger than the state of Delaware.
  • The Church of England has assets of $6.9 billion whereas the Mormon church, with a fraction of the members, has assets of $30 billion.

Those findings are detailed in a fascinating and immensely readable new book, The Triple Package, written by Amy Chua and Jed Rubenfeld, both of whom are professors at Yale. Using enormous amounts of empirical research, they conclude Jews and Mormons (and a few others) share three attributes: (i) they feel superior; (ii) they feel insecure; and (iii) they control their impulses.

It’s true that feeling both superior and insecure is a conflicting paradox. Jews, for instance, fundamentally believe they’re the ‘chosen ones’ while simultaneously feeling threatened even decades after the end of World War II.

If you’re fortunate enough to be part of a group that tends to make its members feel that way, statistically you have a greater chance of success. But if you’re part of the less fortunate majority, here’s what you can learn – and emulate – from what those groups do that makes them so disproportionately successful.

Feel superior: As Chua and Rubenfeld note, feeling superior is especially challenging for those on the Left whose ideology encourages them to believe everybody is equal and that people shouldn’t judge themselves as better than anyone else. For progressives, “judgements are anathema. Group superiority is the stuff of racism, colonialism, imperialism, Nazism.”

And yet it is that sense of superiority that makes some groups strive to become more successful, if for no other reason than to prove their theory. The authors refer to it as the “I’ll show them” mentality. From an individual perspective, the same principle applies. Assess your talents and strengths, and convince yourself you have value to offer that others cannot.

Feel insecure: Another challenge outlined by Chua and Rubenfeld is that the self-esteem movement, particularly in regards to the indoctrination of it in kids, has instilled excessive amounts of preciousness to the extent many are unable to perceive or handle threats. Jews and Mormons, conversely, promote insecurity among their members and this fuels a cathexis of ambition.

For individuals, the key is to avoid complacency by vigilantly looking for threats in your pursuit of success. The more aware you are of the risk you won’t succeed, the more motivated you’ll become to try harder.

Control your impulses: This is about resisting temptation and staying focused, with the Mormons being a standout of such impulse control. The group’s teenagers, for example, are less likely to have sexual intercourse, drink alcohol, smoke pot, or watch X-rated films than teenagers of any other faith. 

When it comes to personal success, some of the most inhibiting impulses include procrastination, irresponsible spending and unplanned decisions. 

So, if all of the above increases your chances of becoming successful, is it also enough to make you happy? Sadly, no. Even Chua and Rubenfeld concede that “success to some extent necessarily implies a trade-off with happiness”. The question then becomes: which one do you crave the most?

Do you agree with these three success strategies? Why, or why not?

twitter Follow James Adonis on Twitter  @jamesadonis

28 comments

  • There's a handbook for supposed success (equated with wealth) at the expense of happiness. How can we seriously support teaching your kids to feel superior, or insecure? It is a recipe for isolation and fear, mistrust and winning at all costs, and selfishness.If that is how you want you kids to end up then I feel sorry for them. It is as unevolved as religion itself.

    Commenter
    Fat Cat
    Location
    Scratching his head
    Date and time
    March 07, 2014, 10:37AM
    • Easy for these religions to acquire these assets when you don't pay tax. I have a great idea. Make something up, say you believe in it and pay no tax. Brilliant!

      Commenter
      Steve
      Location
      Date and time
      March 07, 2014, 11:15AM
    • #4: Forget about enjoying life. Things like bacon, grog and sex are pretty good

      Commenter
      Franky
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      March 07, 2014, 1:27PM
  • To the moderator; what happened to all the previous comments from this morning? My comment has been taken down as have all others. What is going on?

    Commenter
    Roland
    Location
    Date and time
    March 07, 2014, 10:37AM
  • Interesting and brave attempt to bring these issues on the table.

    Since i'm not a Jew or a Mormon, the point i interpreted is about their ethics, however i like to know how these groups behave with outsiders of their circle? Aggressively? Deceptively? Illegally? It is the feeling superior that created Bernie Maddoff. Maybe a different forum scopes?

    Instead of calling it feeling superior, i may change it to self-confidence and self-esteem. But then this could lead to arrogance, which is a fine line in my opinions, as it is individual based.
    Instead of calling it feeling insecure, i call it risk assessment
    Instead of calling it control your impulse, i call it calculated risk taking.

    I am an entrepreneur!

    Commenter
    Entrepreneur
    Location
    Business
    Date and time
    March 07, 2014, 10:40AM
  • Superiority: American Jews are overwhelmingly political progressives as well. It's not felt superiority but rather strong self-esteem and self-worth that are culturally at play here.

    Insecurity: There is no paradox between this and feeling insecure within the broader society. Having one's forbears turned into lampshades and soap tends to produce such feelings.

    Impulses: The sociologist Max Weber identified such control with (Protestant) middle class values. In fact, as Freud clarified, all civilisation is the controlling of impulses.

    If it were only these three factors, then Muslims, Amish and Catholics should also be right up there in wealth and nobel prizes.

    Commenter
    Independent Always
    Location
    Sydney
    Date and time
    March 07, 2014, 10:41AM
  • That if enough people believe your fantasy and lies, you can make money?

    Commenter
    ij
    Location
    Date and time
    March 07, 2014, 11:04AM
  • do you think that because jews and mormons will only do business with other jews or mormons and live in enclaves where they work for the financial benefit of that enclave has anything to do with it?
    how about having laws passed so they can discriminate legally against non jews and mormons?

    Commenter
    smilingjack
    Location
    Date and time
    March 07, 2014, 11:25AM
  • Hmmm.....So it seems that I just have to cultivate a sense of superiority, insecurity and self control. Or maybe just become Jewish, or to be sure a Mormon Jew. Once I am a superior insecure self controlled Jewish Mormon my financial success would be virtually assured.
    Or would it? Would I be still poor in spite of my desire to be rich? Or would I be rich and unhappy?
    In my experience there is no shortage of people wanting to be rich, those who acheive it are often driven, by insecurity, a need to prove something although just being insecure doesn't mean that you will be wealthy.
    Isn't it symptomatic of our society that so many imagine that having lots of money will solve their problems and make them happy. Focussing on what you don't have is a recipe for unhappyness.
    People I see that are succesfull and happy are those that recognise their strengths and use them. Not those desperately foccused on grasping for more money

    Commenter
    Andrew
    Location
    Date and time
    March 07, 2014, 12:02PM
  • Aren’t we beyond this type of racial and religious stereotyping?

    Commenter
    Steve
    Location
    Sydney
    Date and time
    March 07, 2014, 12:13PM

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