As I write this, the Malcolm Gladwell lecture held
by the Arthur Lok Jack Graduate School of Business as part of their
Distinguished Leadership and Innovation Conference has not yet taken
place, but I have had a glimpse of Malcolm Gladwell. I just introduced
myself to Malcolm Gladwell who was sitting in the Hyatt veranda, his
signature afro delightfully askew in the sea breeze working on his
I made the mistake of telling this to a businessman
and his daughter with a kind of hopping excitement they both associate
with teenagers and attending a Lady Gaga concert. Pat came the answer
from the 17-year-old. “Who is Malcolm Gladwell?”
And the businessman’s response was this: “Why does
he matter? Don’t get me wrong, I respect journalists but they can’t tell
me how to make money or manage my staff. Why should anyone care about a
former Washington Post and current New Yorker journalist who writes best
selling pop economics self help books?
“I have better things to do with a thousand US
dollars than spend it on his lecture.” I wanted to let them know that
covering a Gladwell lecture, if not as titillating as Lady Gaga, was at
least as valuable. I trotted out the stuff I thought would impress them.
Gladwell was named one of Time Magazine’s 100 Most
Influential People. He was chosen for Foreign Policy’s Top 100 Global
Thinkers 2010 and 2009 list; is ranked number ten on ‘The Thinkers 50’
2011. Newsweek has also chosen him for the Top 10 New Thought Leaders of
They were unmoved. Both father and daughter would
at this stage prefer Lady Gaga in a giant spider outfit with suspenders.
I said, if you care about success, if you care about the success of your
company, your employees, your community, your city and your country,
then you should care about Gladwell.
I tried again. He has written four best-selling
books The Tipping Point-Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking
(2005), Outliers: The Story of Success (2008), and What the Dog Saw: And
Other Adventures (2009).” Their eyes glazed over. And besides, he
commands about $600,000 TT or more for one hour of his time. The world
is listening. They listened.
The first reason to care about Gladwell is his book
The Tipping Point, because it dissects the anatomy of change to bring
about an epidemic of change which we in T&T desperately need.
A small oil rich twin island republic in the
Caribbean approaching T&T has been longing for an epidemic of change to
sweep away illiteracy (40 per cent functional illiteracy is eating away
at the heart of our society); an epidemic of change to become a proper
tourist destination (its humiliating on the flight home from London to
see all the tourists get off in St Lucia or Barbados); an epidemic of
change to bring down our statistics of having highest rate of HIV/Aids
in the world after Sub Saharan Africa. Most of all, we are longing for
an epidemic of change away from having one of the highest rates of
murder in a non warring country. We are at our wits end. Why not try
some Gladwellian thinking?
In the The Tipping Point Gladwell says that human
behaviour is hugely influenced by its environment. So, in Trinidad it
will mean that our personalities, our propensity to litter, murder,
place a lower value on books, not keep time, place a huge value on the
“smart men” and entertainment celebrities comes from within each of us.
Gladwell gives the example that the “zero tolerance efforts to combat
minor crimes such as fare-beating and vandalism on the New York subway
led to a decline in more violent crimes citywide.”
They were listening. The second most powerful
reason that you should care about him is that if we study his book
Outliers seriously we could finally get a work ethic and a far more
equal society. Gladwell’s theory is that Outliers, extraordinary people
are simply those who have followed the 10,000-Hour Rule based on a study
by Anders Ericsson.
He says “natural talent” or very high IQs rarely
don’t play much of a role in success. Extraordinary success comes to
those who firstly, work hard for 10,000 hours over ten years, are
supported by family and community and finally are at the right place at
the right time. He uses the Beatles and Bill Gates among others as
In Outliers he also says that we personalise
success and make rules that frustrate achievement. We miss the
opportunity to lift others to the top rung. We prematurely write people
off as failures and are in awe of those who succeed. But he completely
won me over with his writing which he does with great clarity (his
Jamaican psychotherapist mother’s advice). His 10,000 or more hours of
observing people, products, life, events with a mathematicians detail
(his British father was a Math professor) results in extraordinary
insight and compelling stories. His essay “true colours” which links the
feminist movement with hair dye is my favourite. It’s beautifully
researched, hilarious, and has a kick in its tail as extraordinary,
whimsical and curious as the man himself.
Next week...My 20-minute one-on-one with