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Curious Cat: 6 Key Tips from Malcolm Gladwell’s Best Books

Develop deeper insight into your life and the world we inhabit by exploring key lessons from books by Malcolm Gladwell.
by Michael Benninger | Oct 14 2020

Malcolm Gladwell is perhaps best known for his 2008 smash-hit bestseller, Outliers, and more recently, for his podcast Revisionist History which re-examines misunderstood parts of the past to see if we really got the right idea in the first place. His podcast company, Pushkin Industries, grew out of the success of the podcast and now produces shows such as The Happiness Lab with Dr. Laurie Santos.

As well as Outliers, Gladwell has written five other nonfiction books, the most recent of which, Talking to Strangers, was published in September 2019. He has also worked as a staff writer at The New Yorker since 1996, before which he spent nine years covering business and science for The Washington Post.

Named one of Time’s 100 most influential people in 2005, the subject matters of Gladwell’s work vary substantially from one project to the next, and each offers a wealth of wisdom readers can easily incorporate into their lives. If you’re eager to take wisdom from one of this generation’s greatest nonfiction writers, this article offers a glimpse of what you’ll learn from all six Malcolm Gladwell books.

Gladwell fans will also want to watch this space—something very exciting is brewing on Blinkist! Check the app on October 20 to find out more. In the meantime, here are six major tips you can glean from Gladwell’s books.

Tip #1: Help your big idea gain steam by leveraging the “connectors” in your life

from The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference

Gladwell’s 2000 debut, The Tipping Point, explores why some ideas, products, and behaviors experience explosive growth while others never take off. Gladwell demonstrates how immense popularity hinges on reaching an epidemic-like moment known as the “tipping point.” And while many factors can contribute to a concept growing like crazy, most of the time it only takes a few key people to trigger a transformative trend. These influential individuals are what Gladwell calls “connectors” — natural persuaders who have a vast social network and acquaintances from all walks of life. Gladwell details how these people play a critical role in the growth of any successful idea, and without them, widespread innovation would occur far less frequently.

ACTIONABLE ADVICE: Want your concept to spread like wildfire? Identify and impress the connectors in your life, and let them introduce your idea to the masses.

Tip #2: New adventures can help you make more intelligent decisions

from Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking

In Blink, Gladwell’s second book, the author explains how, as individuals, we make far more snap judgments than we realize, many of which aren’t entirely rational. He further notes how prejudiced thinking patterns can prevent us from achieving our full potential, but there is a way to break free of such psychological traps. Many of our decisions are rooted in unconscious associations, which may be deep-seated but can be overcome. By opening yourself up to new experiences, you can begin to use your automatic responses to your advantage and rid yourself of restrictive thinking.

ACTIONABLE ADVICE: Want to improve your outlook on life? Look for ways to change your unconscious attitude by meeting new people and embracing new experiences.

Tip #3: Talent is good, but only practice makes perfect

from Outliers: The Story of Success

Considered by many to be one of the best Malcolm Gladwell books, 2008’s Outliers argues that self-made success stories are nothing more than mere myths. The author explains how our trajectories in life are largely determined by invisible influences beyond our control, including when and where we’re born. Believe it or not, these factors have a tremendous influence over our future achievements. Yet while there are characteristics about ourselves we can’t change, one path to success is guaranteed: practice. Gladwell argues world-class mastery of any activity first requires roughly 10,000 hours of effort. And while that certainly is a sizable chunk of time, people achieve excellence every day. So while innate talent certainly plays a role for some people, practice is a stronger indicator that an individual will master their discipline.

ACTIONABLE ADVICE: Just because you weren’t born a wunderkind doesn’t mean you’re not destined for greatness. Through persistent practice, it’s possible to perfect any effort.

Tip #4: Identify your specific form of failure

from What the Dog Saw and Other Stories

Many people can rattle off the names of history’s most famous minds, but there are countless other examples of genius that aren’t as indelible in the cultural consciousness. In What the Dog Saw (2009), Gladwell investigates the lives of several geniuses to reveal not only their habits and beliefs but also their approach to their respective fields. These stories offer incredible insight into the creative process, illuminating the lives of brilliant innovators while simultaneously shedding light on a handful of truths about human existence. The lesson being, that when you’re able to immerse yourself in the mindset of a genius, you’re also able to discover new insights into your own life.

ACTIONABLE ADVICE: Like ice cream, failure comes in a variety of flavors. By learning more about how humans respond to defeat, you can more effectively bounce back from failure in your own life.

Tip #5: Never play to your opponent’s strengths

from David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants

Although being born into power and wealth lead to several advantages in life, success and prosperity aren’t always assured. Likewise, those who are born into underprivileged environments aren’t necessarily destined to remain in dire straits. In his 2013 book, David and Goliath, Gladwell combines scholarly studies with historical anecdotes and in-depth interviews to highlight stories of underdogs who defied expectations and defeated the odds. He explains how underdogs often overcome their much larger opponents through creative and unconventional methods. Much of the time, such individuals have won out by maximizing their own abilities and avoiding situations aligned with their opponents’ strengths.

ACTIONABLE ADVICE: March to the beat of your own drum. Rather than seeking validation from others, go it alone to identify your true passions and find real happiness.

Tip #6: Take time to understand others

from Talking to Strangers: What We Should Know About the People We Don’t Know

As individuals, we each realize that we are incredibly complex creatures with many intricate thoughts, beliefs, and attitudes. But when it comes to strangers, we often view them as one-dimensional characters who are exactly as they appear. The truth, however, is that although we’re quick to judge other people, humans are ill-equipped to understand those we don’t know well. In Gladwell’s latest book, Talking to Strangers, the author reveals the magnitude of this misunderstanding and the tragic consequences that can arise as a result. The book makes a powerful argument for demonstrating more respect toward strangers by taking time to truly understand them.

ACTIONABLE ADVICE: Think before you judge someone. You may think you can understand the essence of a stranger in an instant, but people aren’t transparent and you can’t know what they’re thinking.

These smart concepts represent only a small fraction of what you can learn from the breadth of Malcolm Gladwell’s books. If you don’t have enough time to read thousands of pages, count on Blinkist to come to the rescue. Blinkist is the best way for busy people to discover new authors, new books, and new ideas. Our app gives you access to thousands of nonfiction titles across dozens of categories. And don’t forget! We’ve got a very exciting new project in the works at Blinkist. Watch this space!

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