Malcolm Gladwell and Outliers

Cross-posted from Scimatic.com

Was out at UofT’s Convocation Hall last night, where I got to listen to Malcolm Gladwell riff on, well, lots of stuff.

Gladwell has always been one of my favourite writers, not only because he writes well and raises interesting questions, but also because he’s one of the only writers I know who is willing to admit when he’s wrong. He and Adam Gopnik (another fantastic writer) wrote a great discussion piece on Canadian versus US health care. Gladwell came back a few years later to say everything he wrote was wrong, and Gopnik was right.

Gladwell is out promoting his new book, "Outliers: The Story of Success." It’s received some bad reviews from Michiko Kakutani in the New York Times, and from uber-tech guy Joel Spolsky (although it wasn’t clear to me if Joel read the book, or only the review). The main complaint is that Gladwell extrapolates from anecdotes to broad themes without any studies or empirical research.

However, in person, Gladwell seemed to have total recall of not only the anecdotes of his book, the catchphrases, but also studies that back them up. He credited all the scientists who did the original research when talking about anecdotes that illustrated those studies.

He was "in conversation" with Roger Martin, Dean of Rotman’s, who turns out is an old friend. That was convenient, because I don’t think the questions were all that great, and fortunately Gladwell just went off a bit and talked about what was interesting him at the time. Martin was mentioned lately on StartupNorth in a blog link for "phoning in" a report about VC in Ontario.

Gladwell’s talk had lots of interesting ideas, and I think that I will write more about them in a later post. Jay Goldman was also at the talk, and took detailed notes on his Macbook.

PS. He does look like Sideshow Malcolm Gladwell. Or Phil Spector.

Malcolm Gladwell and Outliers