12 Mind-Blowing Concepts From Malcolm Gladwell's Bestsellers

Malcolm Gladwell

Photo: Pop!Tech via flickr

Malcolm Gladwell’s first two bestsellers, The Tipping Point and Blink, earned him a place on Time’s 2005 “Most Influential People” list; and with Outliers, the “10,000 Hour” theory made its way into the zeitgeist.

Though he’s been criticised for his choice selection of scientific and sociological research that he highlights in his books, it’s unarguable that Gladwell has had a tremendous impact on national discourse.

We paged through his titles and pulled out 12 of his most mind-blowing theories.

The Tipping Point #1: Law of the Few -- How a disproportionate few affect so many

The business of spreading the epidemic of an idea, product or preference -- including your own -- is why Gladwell lands on so many business must-read lists.

Understanding who changes minds and influences people, and the small but critical ways the change takes place, is the first step to sweeping your audience up in your epidemic. This theory also explores how you can convert minds from hostility to acceptance.

What you need is one of those special people who have the power to connect with others and bring them over to their way of thinking.

Tipping Point #2: Connectors -- People with an extraordinary knack for connecting people and ideas

These connectors

  • Have social networks of 100 people or more
  • Have something intrinsic in their personalities that allows them to span many different worlds
  • Combine confidence, interest in and curiosity about the world in the broadest sense, social energy, and a high level of enthusiasm
  • Translate and make accessible to all with whom they come into contact what they care about

Tipping Point #3: Mavens -- They know, they tell, people listen


  • Are 'information specialists'
  • Are the ones others rely on for the newest and the best
  • Accumulate the latest and best information on what is out there
  • Are 'almost pathologically helpful' - they can't help but know, they can't help but share
  • Are the source of word-of-mouth epidemics: they know and they know how to communicate what makes things worth knowing about

Tipping Point #4: Salesmen -- You want what they are selling, whatever it is


  • Are the persuaders
  • Through charisma, a level of engagement with what they know, and the skill to speak to a particular audience
  • Are the ones people want to agree with

The Tipping Point #5: The Stickiness Factor - Why some ideas stick

  • There are specific ways to present a message for maximum impact.

The Tipping Point #6: The Power of Context -- We are exquisitely and unknowingly sensitive to ambient influences

  • The Broken Window Theory is all about context
  • Environment directs a person in one direction over another in tacit and therefore powerful ways
  • Marketers, policemen, or any agency looking to direct human behaviour is aware of this

Blink #1: Thin Slicing -- How a little bit of knowledge goes a long way

Our ability to gauge what is important, relevant, or meaningful from a very narrow slice of experience. In other words, spontaneous decisions are often as good as--or even better than--carefully considered ones. We live in a world so information-saturated, the idea is radical.

In one example, a psychologist observed married couples:

  • For each he knows a core set of facts
  • The couples interact in response to a set number of questions posed
  • He predicts whether or not they will be married in fifteen years.
  • Observed for one hour, his accuracy is 95%
  • Observed for fifteen minutes, his accuracy rate dropped to only 90%

Blink #2: Analysis Paralysis -- Information overload is worse than too little information

  • It can be difficult to focus on only the most critical information to make a decision
  • Examining a large amount of data makes it hard to weed out the irrelevant and confusing
  • The act of collecting more and more information is too often just a search for facts that reinforce assumptions made

Gladwell suggests decision making performed with a 'frugality' of information -- learn to recognise when enough information has been gathered.

Blink #3: The Secret Life of Snap Decisions -- What they say about us can make us squirm

What we say or think before we've had time to remember what we want to say or think comes from the unconscious; they take place behind what Gladwell calls a 'locked door.'

The problem? The snap decision doesn't always reflect the best we want to be: we may be more racist, sexist, anti-short people than we would hope to be.

The solution? 'Priming.'

  • First impressions are based on experiences and environment.
  • This means they can be changed by the simple act of changing, mixing up, the experiences we have which result in the impressions we walk around with.
  • Exposure, positive experiences, and familiarity with more and different kinds of people result in first impressions of others that are different than those with a more narrow sense of the world.

Blink #4: The Delicate Art of Mind Reading -- And why a face can say more than words ever could

Or, rapid cognition.

  • When we are around other people, we are in a constant state of predicting and inferring what that person is thinking and feeling.
  • First impressions of a job candidate and an officer faced with a person who may or may not pose a threat are both cases where rapid cognition come into play.

The Facial Action Coding System, or FACS, offers up ideas on lip movement, brow furrowing, and every other facial movement (or lack thereof).

  • We can understand why we interpret faces the way we do
  • We can teach those for whom this kind of cognition does not come naturally
  • We can challenge assumptions in order to change responses when they are based on prejudices or stereotypes

Outliers #1: The Matthew Effect -- Talent is one thing, luck is another

'For whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them.' Matthew 25:29

'The biggest misconception about success is that we do it solely on our smarts, ambition, hustle and hard work.'

There are so many more variables involved in a person's ability to succeed than any of us care to admit, we want to believe the chance to succeed is available to anyone who puts their mind to it.

Gladwell found the top of the field, whatever the field, to be dominated by those born in the first part of the year. Their advantage: they are bigger, been around longer, have developed just a bit more than those poor souls born in the later months.

The Outliers #2: The 10,000-Hour Rule -- It's less about natural talent and more about how much time you put into developing a talent

One of the most oft-quoted Gladwell-isms, it takes 10,000 hours, plain and simple, to be the best.

This involves a level of dedication that far exceeds even a significant interest. So much for the idea that talent is enough.

The Outliers #3: The Trouble With Geniuses -- IQ is not enough to succeed

The correlation between high IQ and success is wobbly at best. Rather, one who has a supportive family and community that fosters, encourages, and values success -- and subscribes to some form of the 10,000 hours theory -- is much more likely to be successful.

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