Malcolm Timothy Gladwell CM born September 3, 1963 is a Canadian journalist, author, and public speaker. He has been a staff writer for The New Yorker since 1996. He has written five books, The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference 2000, Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking 2005, Outliers: The Story of Success (2008), What the Dog Saw: And Other Adventures (2009), a collection of his journalism, and David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants 2013. All five books were on The New York Times Best Seller list. He is also the host of the podcast Revisionist History.
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.
Gladwell’s grades were not high enough for graduate school as Gladwell puts it, “college was not an intellectually fruitful time for me”, so he decided to pursue advertising as a career. After being rejected by every advertising agency he applied to, he accepted a journalism position at The American Spectator and moved to Indiana. He subsequently wrote for Insight on the News, a conservative magazine owned by Sun Myung Moon’s Unification Church. In 1987, Gladwell began covering business and science for The Washington Post, where he worked until 1996. In a personal elucidation of the 10,000-hour rule he popularized in Outliers, Gladwell notes, “I was a basket case at the beginning, and I felt like an expert at the end. It took 10 years exactly that long.”
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, 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. I mean, you or I could make a dress for $100,000, but to make a T-shirt for $8 – that’s much tougher.”
Gladwell gained popularity with two New Yorker articles, both written in 1996: “The Tipping Point” and “The Coolhunt” These two pieces would become the basis for Gladwell’s first book, The Tipping Point, for which he received a $1 million advance. He continues to write for The New Yorker. In July 2015 he was the subject of a reprise of several of his articles in a New Yorker newsletter by Henry Finder. Gladwell also served as a contributing editor for Grantland, a sports journalism website founded by former ESPN columnist Bill Simmons.
In a July 2002 article in The New Yorker Gladwell introduced the concept of “The Talent Myth” that companies and organizations, supposedly, incorrectly follow. This work examines different managerial and administrative techniques that companies, both winners and losers, have used. He states that the misconception seems to be that management and executives are all too ready to classify employees without ample performance records and thus make hasty decisions. Many companies believe in disproportionately rewarding “stars” over other employees with bonuses and promotions. However with the quick rise of inexperienced workers with little in-depth performance review, promotions are often incorrectly made, putting employees into positions they should not have and keeping other more experienced employees from rising. He also points out that under this system, narcissistic personality types are more likely to climb the ladder, since they are more likely to take more credit for achievements and take less blame for failure. He states both that narcissists make the worst managers and that the system of rewarding “stars” eventually worsens a company’s position. Gladwell states that the most successful long-term companies are those who reward experience above all else and require greater time for promotions.
In 2018, Gladwell began co-curating the Next Big Idea Club with Susan Cain, Daniel Pink, and Adam Grant, focusing on books about psychology, business, happiness, and productivity.
Fortune described The Tipping Point as “a fascinating book that makes you see the world in a different way”. The Daily Telegraph called it “a wonderfully offbeat study of that little-understood phenomenon, the social epidemic”.
Reviewing Blink, The Baltimore Sun dubbed Gladwell “the most original American sic journalist since the young Tom Wolfe”. Farhad Manjoo at Salon described the book as “a real pleasure. As in the best of Gladwell’s work, Blink brims with surprising insights about our world and ourselves.” The Economist called Outliers “a compelling read with an important message”. David Leonhardt wrote in The New York Times Book Review: “In the vast world of nonfiction writing, Malcolm Gladwell is as close to a singular talent as exists today” and Outliers “leaves you mulling over its inventive theories for days afterward”. Ian Sample wrote in The Guardian: “Brought together, the pieces form a dazzling record of Gladwell’s art. There is depth to his research and clarity in his arguments, but it is the breadth of subjects he applies himself to that is truly impressive.”
Gladwell’s critics have described him as prone to oversimplification. The New Republic called the final chapter of Outliers, “impervious to all forms of critical thinking” and said Gladwell believes “a perfect anecdote proves a fatuous rule”.Gladwell has also been criticized for his emphasis on anecdotal evidence over research to support his conclusions.Maureen Tkacik and Steven Pinker have challenged the integrity of Gladwell’s approach. Even while praising Gladwell’s writing style and content, Pinker summed up Gladwell as “a minor genius who unwittingly demonstrates the hazards of statistical reasoning”, while accusing him of “cherry-picked anecdotes, post-hoc sophistry and false dichotomies” in his book Outliers. Referencing a Gladwell reporting mistake in which Gladwell refers to “eigenvalue” as “Igon Value”, Pinker criticizes his lack of expertise: “I will call this the Igon Value Problem: when a writer’s education on a topic consists in interviewing an expert, he is apt to offer generalizations that are banal, obtuse or flat wrong.” A writer in The Independent accused Gladwell of posing “obvious” insights. The Register has accused Gladwell of making arguments by weak analogy and commented Gladwell has an “aversion for fact”, adding: “Gladwell has made a career out of handing simple, vacuous truths to people and dressing them up with flowery language and an impressionistic take on the scientific method.” In that regard, The New Republic has called him “America’s Best-Paid Fairy-Tale Writer”. His approach was satirized by the online site “The Malcolm Gladwell Book Generator”.
In 2005, Gladwell commanded a $45,000 speaking fee. In 2008, he was making “about 30 speeches a year—most for tens of thousands of dollars, some for free”, according to a profile in New York magazine. In 2011, he gave three talks to groups of small businessmen as part of a three-city speaking tour put on by Bank of America. The program was titled, “Bank of America Small Business Speaker Series: A Conversation with Malcolm Gladwell”. Paul Starobin, writing in the Columbia Journalism Review, said the engagement’s “entire point seemed to be to forge a public link between a tarnished brand (the bank), and a winning one (a journalist often described in profiles as the epitome of cool)”. An article by Melissa Bell of The Washington Post posed the question: “Malcolm Gladwell: Bank of America’s new spokesman?”Mother Jones editor Clara Jeffrey said Gladwell’s job for Bank of America had “terrible ethical optics”. However, Gladwell says he was unaware Bank of America was “bragging about his speaking engagements” until the Atlantic Wire emailed him. Gladwell explained:
I did a talk about innovation for a group of entrepreneurs in Los Angeles a while back, sponsored by Bank of America. They liked the talk, and asked me to give the same talk at two more small business events—in Dallas and yesterday in D.C. That’s the extent of it. No different from any other speaking gig. I haven’t been asked to do anything else and imagine that’s it.
In 2012, CBS’s 60 Minutes attributed the recent trend of American parents “redshirting” their five-year-olds (postponing entrance) to give them an advantage in kindergarten to a section in Gladwell’s Outliers.
Sociology professor Shayne Lee referenced Outliers in a CNN editorial commemorating Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday. Lee discussed the strategic timing of King’s ascent from a “Gladwellian perspective”. Gladwell gives credit to Richard Nisbett and Lee Ross for “invent[ing the Gladwellian] genre”.
Gladwell has provided blurbs for “scores of book covers”, leading The New York Times to ask, “Is it possible that Mr. Gladwell has been spreading the love a bit too thinly?” Gladwell, who said he did not know how many blurbs he had written, acknowledged, “The more blurbs you give, the lower the value of the blurb. It’s the tragedy of the commons.”
Gladwell describes himself as a Christian. His family attended Above Bar Church in Southampton, UK, and later Gale Presbyterian in Elmira when they moved to Canada. Gladwell wandered away from his Christian roots when he moved to New York, only to rediscover his faith during the writing of David and Goliath and his encounter with Wilma Derksen regarding the death of her child. Gladwell is unmarried and has no children.[