Jan 23, 2009
Malcolm Gladwell and the cultivation of success
It’s been fascinating to watch the progress of Malcolm Gladwell’s latest release, “Outliers: The Story of Success” (out last November). In his 2000 book, “The Tipping Point,” Gladwell translated a previously obscure sociological notion in a way that resonated everywhere. His second book, “Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking” (2005), explored some people’s ability to make great snap decisions. And now “Outliers” champions the idea that success is, really, a product of good luck (upbringing, environment, right place, right time) and lots of dedication.
Gladwell has legions of admirers, not least the American Sociological Association, National Public Radio and the BBC. He also has plenty of detractors, who cite everything from shaky methodology to stating the obvious. But love him or loathe him, there’s no denying he has a great talent for getting people thinking and talking and arguing about ideas. For all their popular appeal, his ideas stimulate serious debate. Gladwell hits the sweet spot between academic rigor and popular accessibility, and the world at large is a more thoughtful place for his efforts.
I suspect neither “Blink” nor “Outliers” has a core idea as sticky as that of “The Tipping Point,” which has truly become a meme of our times. But sometimes all it takes is one bull’s-eye meme to turbocharge a career and elevate a thinker to big-time influencer: Richard Dawkins (“The Selfish Gene”), John Gray (“Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus”), Seth Godin (“Permission Marketing”), James Surowiecki (“The Wisdom of Crowds”).
And even without a bull’s-eye meme, Gladwell’s “Outliers” is an incredibly relevant invitation to create positive conditions that may cultivate success—perfectly timed for the Ultimate Reboot.