Malcolm Gladwell interview

Gaby Wood in The Telegraph:

Malcolm-gladwell-p_2683360bMalcolm Gladwell says he never knows what people will take from his books. “It’s never what I think it’s going to be,” he shrugs. “Parts that you think are going to make this big impact are ignored, and parts that you wrote in a day are like the 10,000 hours stuff – I thought no one would ever mention that again. And it is, in fact, all people talk about. Who knew?” Not dissimilarly, the story of Malcolm Gladwell himself has taken off in ways that would have been difficult to predict. Once a journalist, he is now a phenomenon, revered and scoffed at in different quarters, somewhere between social scientist, motivational speaker and preacher-like source of consolation. He plays one-man shows to packed theatres on both sides of the Atlantic; he gives talks to businessmen about subjects such as Fleetwood Mac, earning tens of thousands of dollars per speech; his books are automatic bestsellers. His work has coined an adjective – “Gladwellian” refers to a sort of nerdy and captivating formula, against which there has been an inevitable backlash. A website called The Malcolm Gladwell Book Generator mocked up fake Gladwell covers: “Blank”, one read, referring to his book Blink, “300 Empty Pages to Fill With Your Own F—ing Thoughts”.

Gladwell is often accused of stating the obvious. The topics he covers – turning points (The Tipping Point), acting on instinct (Blink), working hard to achieve success (Outliers) – are, on the face of it, the bland raw material of everyday life. He is now famous for the observation that in order to succeed at anything you need 10,000 hours of practice. But that calculation wasn’t entirely what Outliers was about, and “stating” is not what Gladwell does. Even if he’s interpreting the obvious or diagnosing the obvious, that’s a big step further. And 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. His new book, David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits and the Art of Battling Giants, is his most accessible. Some would say it's too accessible – perhaps because of Gladwell’s mass audience or his habits as a speaker, he can swerve oddly into diction worthy of Richard Scarry – “Can you see why no Israelite would come forward to fight Goliath?”; “Would you send your child to Shepaug Middle School?”; “Do you know how few things 77 per cent of Americans agree on?”.

More here.