Who is Chris Langan and why is he significant?

In a book published published by Little, Brown & Company ten years ago, Outliers: The Story of Success, Malcolm Gladwell has this to say about Chris Langan:

“Over the past decade [i.e. 1998-2008], Chris Langan has achieved a strange kind of fame. He has become the face of genius in American life, a celebrity outlier…Langan took an IQ test specially designed for people too smart for ordinary IQ tests. He got all the questions except one. His IQ exceeds 200.

He was speaking at six months of age. When he was three, he would listen to the radio on Sundays as the announcer read the comics aloud, and he would follow along on his own until he had taught himself to read.” Later, in school and college, Langan could skim a semester’s worth of textbooks in two days or less…and sometimes a textbook in an hour or less– and then receive the highest test grade possible.

How important is IQ? Gladwell’s research indicates that the relationship between success and IQ works only up to a point. “Once someone has reached an IQ of somewhere around 120, having additional IQ points doesn’t seem to translate into any measurable real-world advantage.” IQ is a lot like height in basketball. Students only have to be bright enough…basketball players only have to be tall enough. There is a threshold. Intellect and achievement are correlated but, to repeat, only up to a point. “Every experience Langan had outside of his own mind had ended in frustration. He knew he needed to do a better job of navigating the world, but he didn’t know how.”

Gladwell reminds us that that not all outliers are super-achievers.  There are certain tasks that others, with lesser minds, could master easily. “But that’s because those others had had help along the way, and Chris Langan never had. It wasn’t an excuse. It was a fact. He’d had to make his way alone, and no one — not rock stars, not professional athletes, not software billionaires, and not even geniuses — ever makes it alone.”

To learn more about Chris Langan, please click here.

To learn more about Malcolm Gladwell and his work, please click here.

 

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