On Malcolm Gladwell

Malcolm Gladwell was on very good form at the Lyceum Theatre in London last night. He is as fine a storyteller stood on a stage as he is at his keyboard.  The Lyceum was sold out for two performances last night – it seats 2,000.

Gladwell writes regularly for the New Yorker but he is probably best known for his books. I found Tipping Point and Outliers enlightening, I was much less convinced by Blink, I have not yet read David and Goliath.

I do not think I discovered any profound truths in either Tipping Point or Outliers – but both books gave me a language of analysis through which I could more easily share and  articulate my understanding of how ideas become viral – and Responsible Tourism has gone viral.

Some argue that Gladwell merely states the blindingly obvious, I think he makes thongs blindingly obvious through his story telling. He is an arch communicator, he enables the reader to see what he is talking about and to own the ideas through identifying their own examples. In a culture dominated by the slick and the quick, an age in which the cult of celebrity is all pervasive and dominating he has, in Outliers, reminded us that it takes 10,000 hours to master a skill, a field of knowledge or to become a real expert – application, perseverance and a little inspiration. We should thank him for that.

As Gaby Wood has written in the Telegraph of Gladwell

“most of the time he synthesises zanily sourced evidence with such alchemy that you can’t work out if it was obvious all along, or if it only seems obvious now that it has passed through Gladwell’s hands. That is his trick. He’d say he is just telling stories, which makes him a Scheherazade for our time, stringing out tales about the power within us, talking to keep us going and make us think.”

“In a footnote – many of Gladwell’s jokes are in the footnotes – he offers up a self-mocking anecdote in which his father accuses him of oversimplifying things. Well, since he’s brought it up, I ask. “I get that all the time,” Gladwell replies, undefensively. “But it’s this impossible thing: you have a continuum – at one end is academic writing, at the other end a book for a 10-year-old. You try to figure out where you want to be on the continuum. But you don’t always get it right.” The book takes some very well-known stories – the biblical tale of the title, the Blitz, the Impressionists, Northern Ireland, the Civil Rights movement, the French Resistance – and sets them up as fables that will be elucidated or expanded by stirring examples taken from the lives of unknown people.”  more

The Staves were great too – it was good night out




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