How To Become As Interesting As Malcolm Gladwell




To be made into an adjective is probably the closest to immortality that any of us are going to get–and every time Malcolm Gladwell comes out with a new book, we’re reminded of the writer’s everlasting ability to remain interesting. But what is it to be “Gladwellian”? With the release of his new book, David and Goliath,we can see that the adjective summons constructive criticism, as in SlateGQ, andTime. And when the New York Times asked him how he feels when a book is called “Gladwellian,” he said: I’m flattered, naturally. Although I should point out that it is sometimes said that I invented this genre. I did not. Richard Nisbett and Lee Ross did. Aside from setting us scrambling for the work of Nisbett and Ross–who authored The Person and the Situation: Perspectives of Social Psychology, a book exploring how our individual identities are so dang socially contextual–Gladwell’s answer on the question “Gladwellian” still feels incomplete.Getting to the bottom of the (Glad)well(ian)

If Fast Company has learned anything, it’s that if we need greater illumination, we should look to Adam Grant. The Wharton organizational psychologist wrote Give and Take: A Revolutionary Approach to Success, which might just be the best business book of the year. He also blogs an insane amount–including a post on what makes Gladwell so fascinating.

As Grant argues, Gladwell’s books resonate for the same reason that certain academic papers (and, we might say, certain blog posts) tend to catch fire: They’re interesting. But “interesting” has many moving parts–and it turns out that sociologist Murray Davis provided a taxonomy of the interesting back in 1971.

Summarizing Davis’s ideas, Grant says:

The difference between the dull and the interesting lies in the element of surprise. When an idea affirms what we already believe, we’re bored–we call it obvious. But when an idea is counterintuitive, we’re intrigued. Our curiosity is piqued, and we’re motivated to ask questions: How could this be? Is it really true? What else might this explain?

“Interesting” has many parts.

Gladwell has mastered making narratives that are just counterintuitive enough.

Davis, the sociologist, made an Index of the interesting, tracing the different ways that counterintuitive ideas can get us all excited. And as Grant notes, Gladwell fits along this index remarkably well. For example:

If it’s bad, it’s good: In David and Goliath, disadvantages–like dyslexia or a tough upbringing–are made into advantages.

What’s individual is collective: In Outliers, we learn why professional hockey players aren’t the best simply due to their hard work, but also due to the month that they were born.

What’s local is global: In the Tipping Point, we discover that sexually transmitted diseases, pop culture trends, and crime sprees all have the same dynamic systems behind them.

Funnily enough, Davis predicted these successes in the context of sociology. His steps of writing a successful paper also hold for penning a best seller or a viral post. So if you ever want to do any of those, it only takes four steps:

1. The author articulates the taken-for-granted assumptions of his imagined audience by reviewing the literature of the particular sub-tradition in question (‘It has long been thought…’),
2. he adduces one or more propositions which deny what has been traditionally assumed (‘But this is false…’),
3. he spends the body of the work ‘proving’ by various methodological devices that the old routinely assumed propositions are wrong while the new ones he asserted are right (‘We have seen instead that…’),
4. [and] in conclusion, he suggests the practical consequences of these new propositions for his imagined audience’s on-going social research, specifically how they ought to deflect it onto new paths (‘Further investigation is necessary to…’).”

Counterintuitively enough, becoming Gladwellian is pretty intuitive.

About bambooinnovator
Kee Koon Boon (“KB”) is the co-founder and director of HERO Investment Management which provides specialized fund management and investment advisory services to the ARCHEA Asia HERO Innovators Fund (, the only Asian SMID-cap tech-focused fund in the industry. KB is an internationally featured investor rooted in the principles of value investing for over a decade as a fund manager and analyst in the Asian capital markets who started his career at a boutique hedge fund in Singapore where he was with the firm since 2002 and was also part of the core investment committee in significantly outperforming the index in the 10-year-plus-old flagship Asian fund. He was also the portfolio manager for Asia-Pacific equities at Korea’s largest mutual fund company. Prior to setting up the H.E.R.O. Innovators Fund, KB was the Chief Investment Officer & CEO of a Singapore Registered Fund Management Company (RFMC) where he is responsible for listed Asian equity investments. KB had taught accounting at the Singapore Management University (SMU) as a faculty member and also pioneered the 15-week course on Accounting Fraud in Asia as an official module at SMU. KB remains grateful and honored to be invited by Singapore’s financial regulator Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) to present to their top management team about implementing a world’s first fact-based forward-looking fraud detection framework to bring about benefits for the capital markets in Singapore and for the public and investment community. KB also served the community in sharing his insights in writing articles about value investing and corporate governance in the media that include Business Times, Straits Times, Jakarta Post, Manual of Ideas, Investopedia, TedXWallStreet. He had also presented in top investment, banking and finance conferences in America, Italy, Sydney, Cape Town, HK, China. He has trained CEOs, entrepreneurs, CFOs, management executives in business strategy & business model innovation in Singapore, HK and China.

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