Thought Leader Malcolm Gladwell

Instead of writing about high-class fashion, thought leader Malcolm Gladwell opted to write a piece about a man who manufactured T-shirts.

Thought Leader Malcolm Gladwell

Thought leader Malcolm Gladwell's books and articles often deal with the unexpected implications of research in the social sciences and make frequent and extended use of academic work, particularly in the areas of sociology, psychology, and social psychology. Gladwell was appointed to the Order of Canada on June 30, 2011. When Gladwell started at The New Yorker in 1996 he wanted to "mine current academic research for insights, theories, direction, or inspiration." His first assignment was to write a piece about fashion. Instead of writing about high-class fashion, thought leader Malcolm Gladwell opted to write a piece about a man who manufactured T-shirts, saying "it was much more interesting to write a piece about someone who made a T-shirt for $8 than it was to write about a dress that costs $100,000.

"The Tipping Point is that magic moment when an idea, trend, or social behavior crosses a threshold, tips, and spreads like wildfire. Just as a single sick person can start an epidemic of the flu, so too can a small but precisely targeted push cause a fashion trend, the popularity of a new product, or a drop in the crime rate. This widely acclaimed bestseller, in which Malcolm Gladwell explores and brilliantly illuminates the tipping point phenomenon, is already changing the way people throughout the world think about selling products and disseminating ideas."

Writing Process

When asked for the process behind his writing, he said "I have two parallel things I'm interested in. One is, I'm interested in collecting interesting stories, and the other is I'm interested in collecting interesting research. What I'm looking for is cases where they overlap". This appeared to be the case when he wrote his book, Outliers, which investigated the psychology of success. Published in 2008, this book examines how a person's environment, in conjunction with personal drive and motivation, affects his or her possibility and opportunity for success. Gladwell's original question revolved around lawyers: "We take it for granted that there's this guy in New York who's the corporate lawyer, right? I just was curious: Why is it all the same guy?"

In another example given in the book, Gladwell noticed that people ascribe Bill Gates's success to being "really smart" or "really ambitious." He noted that he knew a lot of people who are really smart and really ambitious, but not worth 60 billion dollars. "It struck me that our understanding of success was really crude—and there was an opportunity to dig down and come up with a better set of explanations."

Only 13 percent of employees worldwide are engaged at work, research shows, meaning only about one in eight workers is psychologically committed to their job and trying to make positive contributions. That results in billions of dollars of lost productivity a year and a workforce that is largely unfulfilled. If people aren't engage in their work in a meaningful way, then they will never be able to commit to it properly. Thought leader Malcolm Gladwell made a powerful point about what helps people commit to and enjoy their work by saying energizing work is meaningful, which comes from having three distinct qualities: complexity, autonomy, and having a clear relationship between effort and reward. It follows that any worker doing rote tasks under the thumb of a controlling manager, where the effort of going above and beyond the base requirements goes unacknowledged, is likely to hate what they’re doing and feel discouraged from dedicating themselves to the job.

On the other hand, doing intellectually stimulating and challenging work, being able to take ownership over the outcome, and having the ability to reap the rewards of success creates meaning, which translates into personal commitment. And that may be why being an entrepreneur is one of the most satisfying jobs out there.

With all of his fame, thought leader Malcolm Gladwell still remains humble. Of course, no amount of self-deprecation can mask Gladwell’s phenomenal success. Since the 2000 publication of The Tipping Point, often considered one of the top Wall Street books, he has been less a journalist than, as Fast Company once deemed him, “a rock star, a spiritual leader, a stud.” Business executives seek him out for his insights, adoring fans stop him on the street to shake his hand, and other writers want to be like him and to emulate the genre he essentially pioneered. His idea-driven narrative upends the way we think about everything from cigarettes to ketchup.

Gladwell’s modesty isn’t entirely a pose. As he’s the first to acknowledge, his writing largely consists of taking the work of academics and translating it in a way that makes it understandable—and entertaining—to a lay audience. His job, as he describes it, “is to be this intermediary between the academic world and the public.” “When I wrote Tipping Point, my expectation was it would be read by my mom and that was it,” Gladwell says. “I had no notion I was creating a kind of public document. Now I realize I have a bit of a podium, so it seems silly to put the podium to waste.” Which raises the question: With his books that purports to tell “the story of success,” has Gladwell finally found an idea substantial enough to justify his own?

book reviewvirtuososintellect
Futurism Staff
Futurism Staff
Read next: Understanding the Collective Intelligence of Pro-opinion
Futurism Staff

A team of space cadets making the most out of their time trapped on Earth. Help.

See all posts by Futurism Staff