Malcolm Gladwell is probably the most widely read writer of nonfiction alive. He’s sold over4.5 million books.
Recently, a Quartz reporter asked him what’s made him so successful, and Gladwell had the perfect response.
“What I try to do — try to be — is unafraid of making a fool of myself,” the “David and Goliath” author said.
Put into the language of psychology, Gladwell described himself as disagreeable — meaning that he doesn’t mind not having the validation of his peers.
Which is, by the way, a trait he believes made IKEA founder Ingvar Kamprad such an incredibly effective furniture entrepreneur.
“I will often say something that later I consider wrong,” he said. “I don’t mind changing my mind.”
This flexibility has given him a certain intellectual courage.
As we’ve noted before, Gladwell thinks that the only way he can pursue and say valuable things is by losing “the fear of standing corrected.”
He maintains that it’s a necessary part of his work as a writer.
“I’m not making fiscal policy for the United States where an error is catastrophic,” he said. “I’m provoking people to think.”
If that’s your job, then the appropriate mindset is “to be unafraid,” he said.
Gladwell’s tendency toward intellectual provocation has made him something of a lightning rod in the world of social science.
A signature Gladwell move is to explain human events by some unexamined force that becomes obvious after you look at it — like that Steve Jobs was successful because he had a sense of urgency.
Some people don’t like that. One Princeton study did a meta-analysis of 88 studies to dismantle the 10,000 Hour Rule so closely associated with him, and whenever a new book of his comes out, it’s greeted with a chorus of anti-Gladwell thinkpieces.
But for the author, that’s kind of the point.
“There’s a 40% chance I’ll be wrong, but that’s OK,” Gladwell said. “That’s the mindset you need to have.”
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