Malcolm Gladwell is probably the most famous nonfiction author alive. When a new book of his comes out, it takes over airport bookstores.
Each of his five books have become bestsellers, thanks to his incomparable ability to marry storytelling to social science theory.
This is an update of an article originally written by Aimee Groth and Elizabeth Bogner.
In Gladwell's debut bestseller 'The Tipping Point,' he talks about the Law of the Few, which states that a select few sets of people push ideas, diseases, and fads through social networks.
There are three kinds:
• Connectors: who know everybody
• Mavens: who become experts
• Salespeople: who push ideas on others
When these people get excited about something, it takes off.
The most controversial idea cited is the Broken Windows Theory, which posits that crime is an outgrowth of disorder. So if you clean the graffiti off of subways, the trash off the streets, and repair any windows that get broken, it will create an environment where people are less likely to commit crimes.
In 'Blink,' Gladwell zooms in on 'thin slicing,' a psychological process in which we're constantly reading people's personalities within seconds of seeing them.
Examples of thin slicing include:
The rule states that it takes 10,000 hours of deliberate practice to become an expert in any field.
It comes from the research of Florida State University psychologist K. Anders Ericsson, who studied chess masters and tennis players.
In 'Outliers' Gladwell discusses the Matthew effect, which takes its name from a Bible verse -- '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.'
Put another way: advantage accumulates.
Gladwell found that the top hockey players were born in the first part of the year. While the date of your birth is inconsequential when you're 25, it matters when you're 5 -- the kids born in January were bigger, stronger, and more ready to be stars, so their coaches developed their skills accordingly.
Raw intelligence doesn't guarantee success.
You need opportunities to open up for you to succeed.
In 'Outliers,' Gladwell uses the case of Bill Gates and The Beatles to build his case.
When the Microsoft founder was a boy growing up in Seattle, he had access to computers that almost no other teen in 1968 would have had -- giving him a leg up on everybody else. Gladwell finds an analogue in The Beatles, who were brought in to clubs in Hamburg, Germany, to play shows for hours upon hours, and thus had the ability to hone their live act.
In his newest book 'David and Goliath,' Gladwell tinkers with social conceptions of advantage and disadvantage.
He discusses 'relative deprivation' in one section, asserting that going to an Ivy League school or prestigious company can be counterproductive for high achievers, since they're less likely to succeed in the competitive crush of Harvard or Goldman Sachs.
'Rarely do we stop and consider,' he writes, 'whether the most prestigious of institutions is always in our best interest... The Big Pond takes really bright students and demoralizes them.'
What do Richard Branson, Charles Schwab, and Ted Turner have in common? Aside from being rich white men, they're all dyslexic.
In 'David and Goliath,' Gladwell argues that the condition can be an advantage.
'Dyslexia -- in the best of cases -- forces you to develop skills that might otherwise have lain dormant,' he writes.
It helped Branson guide Virgin, the superbly branded company he founded in 1970 that is now bringing in $US24 billion in revenue a year.
'My dyslexia guided the way we communicated with customers,' Branson reflected. 'When we launched a new company, I made sure that I was shown the ads and marketing materials... If I could grasp it quickly, then it passed muster.'
Business Insider Emails & Alerts
Site highlights each day to your inbox.