Humble Beginnings

Our exploration of the inner workings of Cumulative Advantage starts in 1968 with a Columbia University professor named Meyer Robert Schkolnick 

Meyer was born into a poor family of Russian Jews who had immigrated to the slums of South Philadelphia in 1904. “We were living the lives of those who would come to be known as the deserving poor,” he later wrote, “fueled with the unquestioned premise that things would somehow get better, surely so for the children.”

The immigrant family had trouble making ends meet in their new homeland, and a bad situation turned into catastrophe when his father’s uninsured dairy shop burned to the ground. Meyer had to go to work as an hourly laborer at an early age to help his struggling family. 

But despite his off-and-on schooling, Meyer became a serious scholar. By the age of five, he was walking by himself to the nearby Carnegie Public Library, immersing himself in books on science, history, and especially biographies. He was such a frequent visitor that the librarians adopted him as family.

As an adult, he later remembered that through this library, the “seemingly deprived South Philadelphia slum was providing a youngster with every sort of capital – social capital, cultural capital, human capital….everything except financial capital. 

From “Cumulative Advantage: How to Build Momentum for Your Ideas, Business, and Life Against All Odds” by Mark W. Schaefer