I like Malcolm Gladwell. Tell me why I shouldn't.

I’ve read Outliers, have started on Blink, and received *Talking to Strangers *for Christmas. Just reading the introduction I learned that Sandra Bland, jailed in Texas for changing lanes without signalling while black, where she “committed suicide,” went to high school with my kids. ( “That was four years ago, dad. Do try to keep up.” ) I love his explanation of David and Goliath, turning a miracle story or parable of Little Israel versus it’s larger neighbors, to a simple story of artillery versus infantry and now you shouldn’t assume your enemy will fight by your rules. I assume that in his book he’ll make a comparison with the U.S. versus the Vietcong. I’ve even played the game Gay, Black, Canadian, Jewish, or a Runner (don’t know, yes, yes, no, and yes).

So, I find him an entertaining and informative writer who makes me think as hard as I care to think these days while being a speaker who is all that and kind of annoying. But is there any reason I shouldn’t be impressed by him?

He’s entertaining, and informative, but gets criticized for a lack of depth and understanding of the complexity of some subjects. I’d say he doesn’t make a great authoritative source all the time but otherwise is decent reading.

He’s an easy and fun read for sure. And I find his stuff thought provoking.
But my sense is it leans more towards anecdote than data. Certainly the 10,000 hours theory in Outliers has been abused pretty heavily by quite a few experts.
Doesn’t stop my from reading them (Taking to Strangers only one left on my list) but more to make me think in a different way.

Finished TTS two weeks ago. I’ve read all of Gladwell’s books and they do make you re-evaluate the world around you, so maybe that’s a good reason not to read him… :smiley: PLus, he’s Canadian and you know they can’t be trusted … :smiley: :smiley:

I agree with all this. I listen to his podcast and enjoy it, but after a while, I kind of want to punch him.

His argument that you can become expert at something by doing it for 10,000 hours, doesn’t that negate the role of innate talent? Some people are just naturally better at certain things than others.

You can become fairly good at something with practice, but a lot of it is also just innate. I’ll never be a great mathematician no matter how hard I try because it doesn’t come naturally to me.

His point is this:

  1. Talent means nothing without practice

  2. “Genius” is dependent on practice, but more importantly on the privilege of having the opportunity to practice. If you don’t have the access to the resources to practice or the time to devote to it, then it doesn’t matter how much talent you have. To me, what’s important is that we as a society are losing the benefit of many geniuses who don’t have the time, money, or access to spend on becoming geniuses.

  3. “Talent” to a large extent may also be dependent on those privileges, and talent and genius both may be largely dependent on what he identifies as “love,” that is being so consumed by an activity that a person isn’t sacrificing anything by devoting so much effort to it.

He has discussed other factors concerning success, and I don’t think he said 10,000 hours of practice would make you the best in the world, but it is just too simplistic, and empty. If you do anything for 10,000 you will be good at it, does anyone argue that? Does anyone believe you won’t be any good if you only practice for 9,000 hours? I didn’t need Malcolm Gladwell to find out how to get to Carnegie Hall.

I would think that if you don’t have the innate talent and passion, you simply would not have the opportunity to put in 10,000 hours. Like you would get frustrated and quit instead of spending 8 hours a day for the next 5 years to become a world class mathematician. Or you wouldn’t get selected into academic programs that would provide those real hours of skill-building work.

It takes that long on the job to become an AutoCAD god. For most people. I mean, those that want to learn all the ins and outs without making a special study of it. Not my coworkers, who knew no more after five years than they did after five days. Or me, who was doing productive work after skimming TFM (less in depth than RTFM) over a weekend. It seems like a good rule of thumb for the less godlike. :wink:

He is clever and entertaining. But I keep reminding myself that he is a commentator, rather than an expert in much of what he writes about.

Malcolm Gladwell responds:

He’s an expert researcher and explainer, like Isaac Asimov. With David and Goliath I think he’s stretching it regarding Goliath’s blindness, claiming that he needed to be led into the valley because he was blind instead of having a shield bearer like every great warrior.

:confused: What game is that?

The David and Goliath thing was an incredible stretch, extrapolating a remarkably detailed explanation from a story that is both vague and probably fiction.

I like Gladwell, and really enjoyed “Talking to Strangers” this past week - it may be his finest work - but that David and Goliath thing was ridiculous.

Not at all, at least the way I was fed it in elementary school. It was miraculous the way this little kid, much like us, bested a giant who scared all the grownups with what amounted to a toy.

My teachers didn’t credit David with being in his teens, didn’t know that slingers and archers were the artillery of their day, capable of landing fatal shots from quite a great distance away, and that a shepherd guarding sheep from wolves, foxes, and eagles would have nothing better to do all day than practice.

I was formerly an eager Gladwell reader but I think he jumped the shark with OUTLIERS, or maybe before. Maybe I tired of glib short-cuts.

[quote=“Thudlow_Boink, post:12, topic:845629”]

Malcolm Gladwell responds:

Originally Posted by Malcolm Gladwell
There is a lot of confusion about the 10,000 rule that I talk about in Outliers. It doesn’t apply to sports. And practice isn’t a SUFFICIENT condition for success. I could play chess for 100 years and I’ll never be a grandmaster. The point is simply that natural ability requires a huge investment of time in order to be made manifest. Unfortunately, sometimes complex ideas get oversimplified in translation.

I don’t have Outliers handy but didn’t he illustrate the point talking about Canadian Youth Hockey age cutoffs?
And I’m not sure the idea that a large time investment is required is all that complex an idea. Or shocking.
I still like Gladwell but I think in this case he’s trying to spin more out of something than is there.

That was where I decided he was Canadian. Nobody else would care that much about hockey.

Of his work, I have read only Outliers, and heard a couple of his podcasts. It is very entertaining and I’m sure that much of what he presented is based on facts, but I think he plays fast and loose with conclusions. He started out OK by looking at hockey players’ birthdays but then went off the rails.

He would like us to believe that he is a scientist but he is nothing of the sort. He has a degree in history and is a journalist. He strikes me as someone who hears a scientific “gee whiz” fact and extrapolates it beyond all justification, like the relationship between tending rice paddies and math ability.

I won’t tell you that you shouldn’t like him, but don’t confuse his writing with science.