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Malcolm Gladwell

      . . .  reporter. Author of The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference, Mr. Gladwell is a staff reporter for The New Yorker magazine. He is a former business and science writer at the Washington Post. He was born in England and grew up in Canada, where he graducated with a degree in history from the University of Toronto.


Great things spring from everyday efforts, Malcolm Gladwell reports Ordinary people have real power. Mr. Gladwell wrote The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference to give those people hope.

Social power -- not political or economic power -- is what really matters, says Mr. Gladwell. Social power rests on the kinds of ideas, arrangements, groupings, and pairings that arise out of our normal conversations, our chance meetings, the regular people who put us in touch with others.

The people who really matter in our lives, he says, are those we admire, not those we envy -- people with specialized knowledge, people who are deeply connected to others, people still savvy in meeting our primal human needs.

Mr. Gladwell found that in a world that seems increasingly abstract, complex and impersonal, things are far less predictable and more complex than we think. We've been numbed in the last 25 years into thinking that to make something happen requires celebrity, multi-million-dollar budgets and media blitzes. Not so, he insists.

It's human networks that count -- no one can defeat the human impulse to be surrounded by people we love and respect. It's an impregnable human impulse, he reports. We make our decisions based on what and whom we like, not on dry rational analysis. Time and again, Mr. Gladwell found what interests us is what feels right. That includes the approval and endorsement of people we respect. We're irrational creatures who respond to charisma (especially when associated with integrity,) a social power more subtle, weird, interesting and wonderful than we usually think. Mr. Gladwell speaks of charisma as a dance -- some of us are better dancers than others.

Mr. Gladwell was intrigued to find that ideas are as likely as germs to create epidemics. He also identified ":connectors," "mavens" and optimum sizes for social networks, along with other mechanisms most of us overlook or never see because they pass as common sense. He's deeply respectful of the enormity of the power he's making available -- the potential for evil always lurks. But he's been inspired by the good that common people do, diverse people from all walks of life, engaged in everything from enhancing big cities and reducing crime to igniting fads.

      Mr. Gladwell found his inspiration where journalism typically does not go -- women who came of age in the 1940s and 1950s. But what Mr. Gladwell found applies to us all. The people we look up to are the people we respect and trust, who are part of our world but have a special place for us. That social engagement is what make us tick, he concluded, makes us do the things we do. The question Mr. Gladwell leaves to the reader as an exercise is -- what will we do with the power he's made available to us?

[This Program was recorded January 18, 2001, in New York City, New York, US.]  

Conversation 1

Malcolm Gladwell tells Paula Gordon and Bill Russell of his great interest in "social power" (as compared to economic or political power) and explains why he thinks the people we admire are more important in our lives than the people we envy.


Conversation 2

Explaining the origins of The Tipping Point, Mr. Gladwell sets his work in the context of his family history. He describes why he found the power exercised by women in their 60s and 70s a riveting subject. He gives vivid examples. Mr. Gladwell describes personalizing ideas about non-linear systems and network effects on which he'd reported previously. He talks about fundamental ways in which people are connected, describing the experiment which launched the idea of six degrees of separation.


Conversation 3

Mr. Gladwell describes himself as a student of people who are "connectors" and explains his concept using personal examples of how powerful such individuals are in holding the world together. He describes how his ideas now affect his everyday perceptions of the world. Mr. Gladwell gives examples of "mavens" and amplifies on the concept. He considers the vital importance primal social structures still have for humans.


Conversation 4

Describing how complicated the world has become, Mr. Gladwell describes the socially marginal kid who once ran the school movie projector growing up to be the much-sought-after computer whiz. He expands to show how a more complicated world involves more kinds of people in social interactions, then relates his general observation back to middle aged women. He makes a case for a new role for new technologies. From this vantage point, Mr. Gladwell champions the concept of affirmative action, with examples of why he thinks it is vital. He comments on both the up and down side of the power in his ideas. He suggests the role charisma plays in his ideas and expands with examples. He distinguishes between enhancing one's abilities in these realms and being born with them.


Conversation 5

Anyone trying to get an idea across can benefit from the ideas he's presented, Mr. Gladwell contends, as he explains why he would not be comfortable as a consultant. He describes today's world as quite different than commonly assumed, with potentially dramatic consequences for individual power. He explains how important integrity is to many of his observations, as is personalizing shared information. He suggests that people's choices are usually based on what feels right, not rational analysis. He tells the story of Paul Revere (from the Canadian perspective) to amplify his observation that ideas are susceptible to epidemics.


Conversation 6

Naming the audience of two for whom he writes, Mr. Gladwell describes The Tipping Point as one long happy surprise. He remembers and shares the hopes with which he went into the project.



Mr. Gladwell made us welcome at The New Yorker offices just off Times Square in New York City, which made our conversation twice memorable.


Little Brown's Karen Auerbach and her assistant, Alicia, made it possible for us enjoy The Tipping Point in plenty of time to be ready when Mr. Gladwell was. Among the unsung heroes of the world are publicity people who get things right the first time and in plenty of time!

Related Links:

The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference is published by Back Bay Books.

Mr. Gladwell expands on the ideas in his book and gives further background at his website. You'll also see his youthful vision of himself there.

In Blessed Unrest, Paul Hawken argues that the means by which capitalism will change already exists in the one to two million NGOs spread aroung the world and focusing on the environoment and social justice.

Walter Truett Anderson has looked indepth at the connectedness among humans in All Connected Nowand The Next Enlightenment.

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