For those of you who don't know me well, I was born in England, grew up in Canada, and now I live in New York, where I work for the New Yorker magazine. I write about anything that interests me. Over the years that has included big things like decision making and crime and little things like the difference between ketchup and mustard. At the moment I'm most excited about my new book--David and Goliath. It looks at what really constitutes an advantage. When is it useful to have gone through adversity, or to have a handicap? Is it possible to be too rich? Should you really go to the best school you can? The book is just out in paperback in the U.K. Ask me anything about it!


UPDATE: Ok folks. The party is over! It's been very fun, and thanks to all who wrote in with questions.

Comments: 939 • Responses: 29  • Date: 

ningrim351 karma

What was your experience on Glenn Beck's program like?

_MalcolmGladwell1606 karma

A lot of people wondered why I went on Glenn Beck's show. I don't agree with a lot of what he says. But i was curious to meet him. And my basic position in the world is that the most interesting thing you can do is to talk to someone who you think is different from you and try and find common ground. And what happened! We did. We actually had a great conversation. Unlike most of the people who interviewed me for David and Goliath, he had read the whole book and thought about it a lot. My lesson from the experience: If you never leave the small comfortable ideological circle that you belong to, you'll never develop as a human being.

HEAVENKNOWS81258 karma

Hi Malcolm, What is the most common misunderstanding you encounter from people who have read Outliers? From my experience speaking with fellow readers, people take the 10,000 hour rule as a guarantee of success whereas I feel myself this is important, a lot depends on circumstance.where, when you were born etc. do u agree?

_MalcolmGladwell528 karma

Yes. There is a lot of confusion about the 10,000 rule that I talk about in Outliers. It doesn't apply to sports. And practice isn't a SUFFICIENT condition for success. I could play chess for 100 years and I'll never be a grandmaster. The point is simply that natural ability requires a huge investment of time in order to be made manifest. Unfortunately, sometimes complex ideas get oversimplified in translation.

NickHodges244 karma

Sorry, I haven't yet read your new book so you may already cover this, but I do have a question about college choice. Thirty years ago, I went to a snooty liberal arts college, paid lot of money, and in those 30 years, literally no one has cared about or even really asked where I went to college. Seems like I wasted my parents money and should have gone to the University of Minnesota for a lot less. Am I wrong?

_MalcolmGladwell538 karma

You aren't wrong. I have an entire chapter on college choice in David and Goliath. My point in that chapter is that prestige schools have costs: that the greater competition at a "better" school causes many capable people to think they aren't good at what they love. But your point is equally valid. People going to college and in college vastly over-estimate the brand value of their educational institution. When I hire assistants, I don't even ask them where they went to school. Who cares? By the time you're twenty-five or thirty, does it matter anymore?

bigfan17241 karma

What's tipping these days?

_MalcolmGladwell515 karma


zer0dark232 karma

has anyone ever told you , you remind them of side-show bob?

_MalcolmGladwell340 karma

yes. I take it as a compliment!

_MalcolmGladwell155 karma

Ok folks. The party is over! It's been very fun, and thanks to all who wrote in with questions.

shutyourgob120 karma

Hi Malcolm, I'm interested to hear your take on something we read a lot about on the Internet these days - privilege. Do you think there's much validity in the concepts of white/male/ableist/young privilege? Which privileges trump others? Am I, as a straight white male from a working class background more or less privileged than a black woman from an upper middle class background?

_MalcolmGladwell222 karma

That's a fascinating question. In David Goliaith I talk a lot about the paradoxes of privilege. If your parents are billionaires, that might actually be an obstacle to your own happiness and self-development. If you go to Oxford or Harvard, that might actually thwart your desire to graduate with a science or math degree. And so on. Those kind of examples suggest that "categories" of privilege aren't all that useful. Is it better to be black or white, male or female, rich or poor? Well, it depends on where you live and who you are and what you want to do. If you want to be President of the United States or the CEO of a company, its probably not a good idea to be female. But it is if you want to be a college professor. It also depends on how you interpret your disadvantage--which goes to the discussion of dyslexia in D and G. Some--but not all--dyslexics benefit from their "disablity." I suspect that is true of everyone who stands outside the center of society.

Donuil23119 karma

I made a comment once, about how you had addressed the correlation between DOB and success in certain fields, sports being one of them, in Outliers. I got a couple of pretty snarky replies. How do you feel about people calling what you do "pseudo science", which is so negatively loaded? I would just call it really well thought-out observations.

_MalcolmGladwell310 karma

Well, first of all, that's just a sign of the great thing about the internet, which is that its a place where people can say anything! But I think it is important for me to stress that I'm not a scientist. I don't write for academic journals. I'm a journalist who uses ideas and findings from scientists to try and get people to look at the world a little differently. That's a very different kind of intellectual enterprise that the writing that is done for academia. I think some people sometimes don't appreciate that difference.

residentalienband106 karma

Hello Mr. Gladwell! What do you think is the most bat-shit crazy common human characteristic?

_MalcolmGladwell463 karma

There are so many to choose from! How's this. I do not understand the impulse that many people have of looking first for what they DISAGREE with in another person or idea, instead of looking first for what they might learn from. My second is that I don't understand why we are so scared of changing our minds. What's wrong with contradicting yourself? Why is it a bad thing to amend your previous opinions, when new facts are available? If a politician hasn't flip-flopped at some point in his career, doesn't that mean he's brain dead?

lxpatterson102 karma

what do you think of the latest pushback in the medical community against distance running and other aerobic sports?

_MalcolmGladwell94 karma

I think its moronic--and based on very questionable data. The runners I know are healthy and happy. Would we really be better off lying on our couch watching tv?

Fuzilli76 karma

Big fan Mr. Gladwell. Do you consider yourself to be an outlier?

_MalcolmGladwell355 karma

I'm a Canadian. I'm not sure its legal in Canada to think of yourself as an outlier. We're a pretty modest bunch.

mshughes12362 karma

Hi Malcolm, I've been intrigued by so much of your work. I think that there may be a link between two of your most famous themes, the 10,000 hour rule (Outliers) and the loss of a parent (David vs Goliath) I am of the opinion, an opinion formed by my own subjective experiences, that the death of a parent and the abnormal family practices that tend to follow this allows an individual more time to do 'productive stuff'. There is a significant time burden that relates to the family; birthdays, Christmases and other celebratory events etc, remove the ability of individuals to undertake 'productive stuff' and accumulate that 10,000 hours of work. I speak from experience, as somebody whose mother died when I was young and has spent many a Christmas day, New Years Eve etc studying. I ended up with a place at the University of Cambridge, working my way out of poverty and I wouldn't change my background for anything, all of the tough times were worth it.

What do you think? Can you see the link?

_MalcolmGladwell128 karma

I hadn't thought of that! The argument about parental loss in David and Goliath has a number of dimensions. The question is this: when we look at groups of very successful people (English Prime Ministers, for example) why did such a disproportionately high number of them suffer from the loss of a parent in childhood? The standard answer is that an event as devastating as that has a polarizing effect. It either destroys you. Or, for a small portion of people, it provides a crash course in adaptation and resilience. It forces you to grow up fast, and it makes all the other setbacks and difficulties the world throws as you seem minor by comparison. Does it also give you more "time"? Quite possibily. Although I would also point out that very often people who suffer parental loss are forced to support their family from a young age by working. I think a better way to phrase it might be that it certainly makes someone get serious about life at a far earlier age--and that might be a crucial factor in later success.

C8-H10-N4-O245 karma

Hi, Mr. Gladwell. Big fan here.

What did you think about Macklemore's mention of you in his song, Ten Thousand Hours? Did he ask your permission to use your name?


Ten thousand hours
I'm so damn close I can taste it
On some Malcolm Gladwell
David-Bowie-meets-Kanye shit

_MalcolmGladwell77 karma

He didn't need to ask my permission! The whole episode might have been my finest hour. :-)

Trace31042 karma


_MalcolmGladwell78 karma

I have complicated thoughts about Steve Jobs. He fits very clearly into the idea I write about in David and Goliath about how entrepreneurs need to be "disagreeable"--that is, that in order to make something new and innovative in the world you need to be the kind of person who doesn't care about what your peers think. Why? Because most of the greatest ideas are usually denounced by most of us as crazy in the beginning. Steve Jobs was a classic disagreeable entrepreneur. That makes him a difficult human being to be around. But were he not difficult, he would never have accomplished an iota of what he did!

jimjimmyjames30 karma

Your books have a really interesting 'critical thinking' aspect to them. Do you have any idea what your next book/piece will be about?

_MalcolmGladwell80 karma

I'm writing a bunch of pieces for the New Yorker right now. One is about crime--which has been a recurring theme in many of my books. It asks the question: is crime a means of economic mobility? That is--is it a way for outsiders to join the middle class? It clearly was once. The children and grandchildren of Mafia dons ended up going to law school and becoming doctors. But is that still the case? It's kind of wierd question, but it gets at something that we rarely consider, which is that there might be a downside to cracking down too successfully on organized criminal activity. The New Yorker is a great place to explore complicated questions like this. Plus, when my ideas are simply crazy, the editors there are smart enough to step in and save me from embarrassing myself!

mattyice87130 karma

Hey Malcolm! Thanks for doing this AMA. My brother is a huge fan of yours and has read all of your books. He recommended I start reading your books. I am half way through The Tipping Point. My question is this. With so much happening with social media and the way information spreads now with technology, would you want to go back and add more to Tipping Point? or even write a sequel to it?

Side question. My brother saw you while on a visit to New York recently, but I think he was a little nervous to introduce himself to you. Could you give him a shout out on here? His name is Michael.

_MalcolmGladwell164 karma


colindoc8424 karma

How many times have you begun writing a book and scrapped what you had so far in order to start the project over again? Do you often make a big change to your vision for a book halfway through, and if so, do you have any stories about this process?

_MalcolmGladwell39 karma

All the time! The best way to think about writing is that it is an experiment--with lots of false starts.

saritasmusica20 karma

There's a lot of discussion here about college choices based off your book. What's your opinion on the Thiel Fellowship over at MIT where Peter Thiel is giving away $200K to a student to leave school and start their own start-up? Do you think it's wise for these students to take an investment in their future at the cost of a potentially valuable education?

_MalcolmGladwell84 karma

Thiel's idea is really interesting. But let's be clear. He's not saying that it is a good idea for MOST people not to go to college. He's saying that if you are really really driven and ambitious and smart and already have a great business idea at the age of 18 or 19, college probably isn't going to do you much good. And he's right! But that really only applies to those students in the 99th percentile. This fits into one of my pet peeves, by the way. We spent an awful lot of time as a society fretting over the quality of educational opportunity at the top: gifted programs, elite universties. People actually freely give money to Harvard, which has an endowment of 50 billion! But surely if you are smart enough to get into Harvard, you are the person least in need of the benefits of a 50 billion dollar endowment. We need to spend a lot more attention on the 50 percentile. That's where money can make a real difference.

lydzhere20 karma

Good Morning, Malcolm! Fellow Canadian from Toronto here.

I am an avid reader of everything you've published, but as the daughter of Chinese-Jamaican immigrants, nothing resonated more profoundly for me than the Epilogue chapter of Outliers - "A Jamaican Story". Growing up, I would hear stories from family members of the shops my grandparents owned back home in Jamaica and of the racism they encountered. Reading about it in a bestselling book from your mother's point of view just brought their experiences to life for me. Thank you so much for that!

Just a couple questions for you... 1. Is there anything you miss about living in Canada? 2. Is there a single topic/issue that you have written about that has generated more discussion/controversy than others?

_MalcolmGladwell68 karma

What do I miss about Canada? Canadians are the nicest people in the world. Hands down.

DrCJWisky18 karma

Hey Malcolm! HUGE fan.

I've been arguing with people for years about how you don't have to go to an "elite" school to get a great education and be setup for success. Your chapter regarding this in David and Goliath reinforced what i already suspected and I'm curious as to the reactions you've received to this section in your conversations with others. Was this something you were inclined to believe prior to starting the book, or were you surprised? Thx in advance!

_MalcolmGladwell45 karma

You are right that this has been one of the most talking about chapters in the book, mostly because the hysteria over college is probably now at an all-time high. Prior to writing that chapter I had a vague suspicion that we place too much emphasis on prestigious schools. Why, for example, did I know so many Harvard and Yale graduates who were so unimpressive after graduation? Why were most of the most interesting people I knew from "terrible" schools? What I didn't appreciate, until I did the research in David and Goliath, was that there might actually be a real cost to going to a "great" school. If you are trying to get a degree in science or mathematics or engineering, the data suggests that you shouldn't go to your first choice. The risk of dropping out is too great. You should go to the school where you have the greatest chance of finishing in the top third of your class.

WearyWeasel13 karma

What sparked your interest in journalism? What advice would you give to someone who wants to be a journalist/author after college?

_MalcolmGladwell38 karma

I got into journalism by accident. I couldn't get a job in advertising! My advice to anyone starting out is figure out what you WANT to write about first. What really interests you? All the best writing comes from passion.

greyandblue12 karma

Hi Malcolm! Huge fan of all your books! I always direct people to your ketchup article to demonstrate your voice and style. Do you have an article or chapter that you feel particularly demonstrates your style?

Have to ask, what is the next topic that interests you this morning?

_MalcolmGladwell31 karma

In "David and Goliath," there is a chapter about Northern Ireland, in which I try and explain the conflict by telling the story of what happened to one woman over the course of one weekend in 1970. It's the chapter I'm most proud of in the book, and its a good example of what I attempt to do in my writing. When it works--and it often doesn't work!--I'm trying to use stories to communicate something more complicated. In the Northern Ireland chapter, I don't want the reader to agree with the position of the IRA. But i do want them to understand why a Catholic living in Belfast in 1970 might have been sympathetic to the IRA.

CanadianGladiator11 karma

Hi Mr. Gladwell! Big fan!

1) Where do you see yourself in 5 years?

2) How has your Mennonite heritage and faith affected your work?

3) Got any hidden talents?

_MalcolmGladwell16 karma

In five years, I hope I'm not underwater after the south pole has melted. Also--I don't have Mennonite heritage! My family are immigrants to the Mennonite world. And lucky for us, they have been delighted to let us in.

ReasonablyConfused11 karma

Does this new book make you at least more open to rooting for the "underdog"? I recall that you are someone who generally hates to see the underdog win.

_MalcolmGladwell44 karma

Here is my position on rooting for the underdog in sports. It dates to when I was little boy and watched Dwight Stones--who was far and away the greatest high jumper in the world--lose in the 1976 Olympics, because it happened to rain, and that threw off his intricate timing. When the favorite loses, that causes the favorite an incredible amount of pain, because he or she has failed to live up to expectations. When an underdog loses, that causes the underdog far less emotional distress, because he or she never imagined that they were going to win anyway. The truly empathetic position, therefore, is to cheer for the favorite. I am only half joking! Think of it this way. The Brazilians will be a lot more upset if they lose the World Cup than the English will be. How can you be a thoughtful and caring person, then, and not cheer for the Brazilians?

danwyd11 karma

You have so many stories about interesting episodes in history that aren't widely known (e.g. about art, about Jewish life). 1) Do you have a system for finding under-reported stories? 2) Are there certain periods of history that are especially ignored relative to how much went on?

_MalcolmGladwell29 karma

I have no system! I think i just have a series of serial obsessions. I get fascinated with, for example, spies--so I read lots of spy books. (I'm in one of those spy moments right now). I get fascinated with Silicon Valley, so I read lots of tech books. It's just a matter of following my curiosity--which is something we all do naturally as kids. My favorite thing is to read old autobiographies by semi-obscure people, because you run across the wierdest things. I think sometimes that semi-obscure people who write their autobiographies assume no one will ever actually read them. Wrong!

willbull39 karma

Good morning Malcolm, thank you for joining us this morning. I really enjoy your work.

Two questions for you:

First, I loved David and Goliath, particularly the chapter about dyslexia and challenging our ideas of whether an advantage is truly an advantage. My younger brother is dyslexic and hates reading, so it was really encouraging to me. I've tried to get him to read the chapter, but he says he doesn't have time. What advice would you give on encouraging someone with dyslexia, or any other "disadvantage" to look for the positives?

Second, can you speak more about your faith, particularly on how seeing grace and forgiveness in the family, whose names I've forgotten, for their daughter's murderer?

_MalcolmGladwell20 karma

The dyslexia chapter from David and Goliath has generated an enormous response from dyslexics. It's been quite gratifying. I wrote about the surprising fact that so many successful entrepreneurs (and successful professionals) are dyslexics. But, in anything, the response I've gotten suggests that the numbers of successsful dyslexics may be even higher than I imagined. The key is that these people seemed to view their "handicap" not as a handicap, but as an opportunity to develop alternate skills. What do you do if you can't read well? One possibility is fail. The other possibility is adapt: build a team of people around you, learn problem solving skills, learn how to communicate more effectively orally etc. etc. The question I've never quite been able to answer is why some dyslexics are able to take that approach and why for others the disorder remains a handicap. I suspect it has something to do with the kind of family support you get, or your general level of resilience.

Brother_Thelonious8 karma

Hi Malcolm. I love your books. I was wondering what your stance on twitter and how you utilize the platform? I only ask because your output seems to be a bit less then other writers/journalists. Thank You!

_MalcolmGladwell24 karma

I love twitter. Alot of my reading online is the result of suggestions from my twitter feed. But I think I'm a bad tweeter! I can never think of anything interesting or funny to say--except to let the world know about great developments in long distance running. ;-)

choixpeau8 karma

  1. What percentage of the people you interview end up in your books/articles?
  2. Do you have the thesis of your books/articles in mind when you start researching and interviewing, or do you just start researching interesting things and interviewing interesting people and see where it takes you?

_MalcolmGladwell35 karma

I would say that probably half of the interviews I do end up on the cutting room floor--or, at least, are used in later articles. The purpose of reserach is to cast as wide a net as possible. I tend to start researching something with only the vaguest idea in mind of where I want to end up. It's a mistake to make up your mind too soon.

danwyd6 karma

The works of which economists interest you as much as those of Albert Hirschman's?

_MalcolmGladwell39 karma

I dont actually read a lot of economics, mostly because there are very few economists who can write like Albert Hirschman! He was that rare academic who could write brilliant things in a way that was accessible to people (like myself) who aren't nearly as brilliant as he was. For those who don't know Hirschman, he was (among other things) Einstein's cousin. If i were Einstein's cousin, I think I would begin every sentence: "As Einstein's cousin . . . "