Dissecting the Success of Malcolm Gladwell

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Malcolm Gladwell

“For every hour I spend writing, I spend three hours thinking about writing.” – Malcolm Gladwell

Malcolm Gladwell (@gladwell) is the author of five New York Times bestsellers — The Tipping Point, Blink, Outliers, What the Dog Saw, and David and Goliath. He has been named one of the 100 most influential people by TIME magazine and one of the Foreign Policy’s Top Global Thinkers.

He has explored how ideas spread in the Tipping Point, decision making in Blink, the roots of success in Outliers, and the advantages of disadvantages in his latest book David and Goliath. In his latest podcast project, Revisionist History, Gladwell examines the way the passage of time changes and enlightens our understanding of the world around us.

In this in-depth, in-person conversation, we cover a ton, including:

  • His research and writing process
  • How he learned to ask good (and “dumb”) questions
  • Favorite books
  • Routines, habits, and tools
  • How he pulls together seemingly unrelated stories into a cohesive theme (and eventually a book)
  • Philosophies related to public speaking
  • His obsession with running
  • Why he eats as little as possible in the mornings
  • And much more…

If you only have 5 minutes, listen to Gladwell’s creative “recipes” for storytelling.

Enjoy!

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Want to hear another podcast with a great storyteller? — Listen to my conversation with Cal Fussman. In this episode, we discuss Cal’s interviews with the most influential people in history, how he made himself a guinea pig (Cal boxed against world champion Julio Cesar Chavez), and his best life lessons (stream below or right-click here to download):



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QUESTION OF THE DAY: What was your favorite quote or lesson from this episode? Please let me know in the comments.

Scroll below for links and show notes…

Selected Links from the Episode

  • Connect with Malcolm Gladwell:

Twitter | Facebook | Website | Podcast

Show Notes

  • What have been the easiest — and hardest — books for Malcolm to write? [08:05]
  • Who does Malcolm consider to be the “gold standard” of storytellers? [09:30]
  • What working at The Washington Post for 10 years taught Malcolm about dealing with writer’s block. [12:30]
  • Malcolm on story structure. [15:07]
  • As early as the research stage, sometimes good stories write themselves. [18:27]
  • Malcolm on taking and organizing notes. [22:18]
  • How does Malcolm determine what starts a chapter (or a book)? [24:49]
  • Trying different creative “recipes” for storytelling. [26:04]
  • How Malcolm plans his speaking keynotes (and how he got better at it). [28:24]
  • Malcolm’s speaking hero. [30:36]
  • The elements of a good speaking performance. [33:17]
  • Tying stories together to support a theme. [35:32]
  • Getting better at asking questions. [40:55]
  • The most worthwhile investment (of time) Malcolm has made. [45:57]
  • Malcolm’s favorite failures. [48:18]
  • Malcolm’s morning routines. [50:55]
  • Why is Lapsang Souchong a controversial tea? [51:30]
  • Why Malcolm prefers writing in noisy public places. [53:46]
  • How Malcolm winds down from a day of work. [54:42]
  • Malcolm’s bedtime routine. [55:45]
  • The worst advice shared with young people today. [57:27]
  • Malcolm’s flaws that turned into strengths. [1:02:07]
  • Malcolm on giving and receiving advice. [1:04:38]
  • The first person who comes to mind when Malcolm thinks of the word “successful.” [1:05:43]
  • Systems Malcolm relies upon. [1:10:28]
  • Two necessary contradictions elite runners face. [1:12:21]
  • Books Malcolm has gifted the most. [1:13:18]
  • The purchase of $100 or less that has had a positive impact on Malcolm’s life. [1:17:24]
  • The most articulate person Malcolm has ever met. [1:18:29]
  • Something Malcolm believes that other people think is crazy. [1:19:09]
  • Malcolm’s reaction to Peter Thiel’s disagreement with one of his positions. [1:22:14]
  • An innovator Malcolm finds particularly inspiring. [1:24:22]
  • Advice Malcolm would give to his 30-year-old self. [1:26:39]
  • How Malcolm started podcasting. [1:30:53]
  • What Malcolm finds most novel about creating podcasts versus writing books. [1:31:46]
  • How Malcolm feels about doing another season or two of podcasting. [1:33:14]
  • What would be on Malcolm’s billboard? [1:35:18]
  • Why does Malcolm believe in the legal maxim of “Difficult cases make bad law?” [1:36:07]

People Mentioned

Posted on: June 21, 2016.

The Tim Ferriss Show is generally the #1 business podcast on iTunes, and it was selected for iTunes' "Best of 2015." Each episode deconstructs world-class performers from eclectic areas (investing, sports, business, art, etc.) to extract the tactics, tools, and routines you can use. If you want to 10x your productivity, click here.

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79 comments on “Dissecting the Success of Malcolm Gladwell

  1. What a great conversation between two brilliant minds. I really love this one! Tim, I hope to hear from more female leaders and visionaries as this year of podcasts continues. I believe that across industries, there are women driving innovation, and they need to be more equally highlighted in your series.

    Thank you for always inspiring!

    Like

    • Working on it. For whatever reason, many of the innovative women we reach out to don’t reply. At least, it’s a much smaller % response rate than with the male guests. It’s a mystery. Thanks for listening!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Tim. Your interviews get better and better. I’ve listened to a lot of stuff with Malcolm Gladwell, interview wise, and this really stood out. I loved the croissant intro! I recenty started an interview/hybrid talk show podcast for a spirituality and culture group I work with. Next to Stern and Charlies Rose, you’re becoming one of the interview sensei’s in my life. I’d love to interview you about the relationship between self-improvement and self-acceptance. Keep ’em coming.

        Like

    • 4HC is mostly Slow-Carb Diet compliant, so I didn’t budget much space for bread. Lots of great books already written on that subject! Check out anything by Bakery Tartine or Arizmendi.

      Like

  2. Why write 4HWW? Was it passion or wanting to create impact? Or money (I respect that)?
    In similar position (had success, contemplating future and want to make difference) but wonder if it would matter and change lives.
    Topic: Why College is Stupid, System is Broken and You Should Fuck Corporate America.
    Background: 20 months traveling: Asia, South America, Europe etc. Experience: Turned 8k into 7 figure ecommerce business in one year.
    Would love to talk or advice? Keep up great show. Check out gene drives for interesting future topic!
    Cheers,
    Matt

    Like

    • If you have a book in you and you feel it is important, then for all means write it! Just do it!
      If you are looking to make quick cash, then a book is probably the worst possible way.

      Like

  3. Tim! Thanks so much for this. 2 of my favorite writers in one podcast..I thought my brain was going to explode with joy.

    Like

  4. Can’t wait to listen to this! My two favorite modern days writers together. Malcolm’s quote reminds me of Abe Lincoln’s “Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.”

    Like

  5. Tim Ferriss! I can’t believe this is your next guest…I just read Outliers for the first time over the weekend while recovering from foot surgery. Aha!!! It gave me the foundational insight that underlies the Podcast as well as the 4 Hour Chef…tipping the hat to the world class and then hacking into the 10,000-hour rule and creating the routines. Love him, Love you. Can’t wait to hear this. I’m going to go kick some ass, even with my foot in a post-surgery boot.

    Like

  6. Resources on asking better questions and curiosity.

    This lesson lands on the heels of your round two podcast with Jamie Foxx and the impact of thinking about thinking – asking questions to yourself. I loved hearing Malcolm Gladwell talk about his Dad. Talking about his dad, Malcolm said something along the lines of ‘He has zero intellectual insecurities. It never crossed his mind to be concerned that the world may think he is an idiot.’ I love this as both a curious question asking entrepreneur, and a father. A third connection that I am excited about is from one of your other recent episodes, I believe it was with Mike Rowe, that really caught my attention on the importance of curiosity itself. It allowed my to see the value in the ability to be able to inspire curiosity.

    Loved this episode Tim! Your hard work does not go unnoticed : )

    Like

  7. What a great conversation between you and Malcolm Gladwell. Great topics shared.. I found the portion related to higher education and college admissions most interesting.

    Like

  8. Amazing thought and people need to really embrace this,
    “Is it a place where I find myself late at night having deeply interesting conversations with people I like and find interesting? Go where you can do that.” – Malcolm Gladwell on college and post high school education. This is something I searched for my entire academic experience and although I ended up with an MBA, I never found that place. Very well said Malcolm and great podcast Tim.

    Thanks

    Like

  9. Amazing interview Tim. Thanks and Gladwell comes across a genuine author who has the best interests of the reader at heart. He has a wonderful knack of telling stories and as you said making complex truths easily accessible to mere mortals like me🙂. One suggestion is it possible to get transcripts I know you have them for a few earlier podcasts. Hope we can have that option for all of them. Thanks and have a wonderful weekend.

    Like

  10. どうもありがとうございました, Tim-Kun!
    I’ve got a small piece of love for fans out there – Brian Eno developed a bunch of statements/questions to challenge the mind to think differently about a problem, so if writers get stuck, look up Oblique Strategies.

    Like

  11. Gladwell is the type of conversationalist that makes listening feel like an indulgent escape. This interview is one of my favorites second to the conversation with Cal Fussman. Both of these men seem to be masters at digging into people and getting to the why. I would love a recommendation in the Ferris Book Club that takes a look at question asking/interviewing. These guys are incredible story tellers and great stories begin with great questions.

    Like

  12. Great show. Suggestion for future interviews: the light hearted question towards the end. “What are/were your guilty pleasures, or a thing you do or used to do when you have an X minutes/hours of free time that your are not spending on your normal pursuits?” It adds another humanizing, possibly humorous, element to your guest’s profile to learn for instance that your typical super star caliber guest plays Angry Birds while waiting in line at the grocery store. Just a thought….

    Like

  13. Thank you so much Tim! Great Episode.
    I literally made 10 pages of my own notes apart from the show notes here. The metaphorical information and the literally information in your shows is outstanding. After listening to your podcasts, my intellect is like on LSD and I’m completely getting the itch of creative stuff very frequently as opposed to my usual habit of creating something and then not following-up. You are killing it Episode after episode! This inspires me so much!

    Malcom interview was a good one! Jamie Foxx one was a bit downer this time! However your part (in which you answer his questions) was awe-inspiring, even though Jamie Foxx didn’t do much good this time as he was the host.Looking forward to the next one!

    Thanks for Doing what you are doing!
    Himanshu Sachdeva (Most likely your greatest Fan From India)

    Like

  14. Tim! This is impressive. Mind was blown when you decided to interview him. I dont usually download a podcast, but these couple latest episode had me to do it even in 2am in the morning. It is so awesome I repeatedly listening to it. Very constructive question and even practical for us to apply. Thanks a lot Tim macha.

    Like

  15. I’ve been enjoying your podcasts for some time, Tim. I adore Malcolm’s insights and I share them with my budding teens. On a side note, would you consider interviewing Eckhart Tolle? I manage his digital world.

    Like

  16. Love this one. Loved MG’s books, and totally felt like I was a part of an Outlier situation growing up more than one time over. Love your podcast; even met some of the Li.st developers recently at an after party at the bowl and had to give a shout out to your show.

    Like

  17. Didn’t you flat out say on youtube that his ten thousand hours idea was wrong? Why the change of heart?

    Oh yeah, here it is.

    Like

    • No change of heart. I think we agree to disagree, and I didn’t see the value of creating a tense and defensive podcast. Not much good would have come from that. These episodes are about actionable tactics, not “gotchas” or scandal.

      Like

      • That’s a reasonable point. I suppose it’s actually a plus point that you are open to interviewing people whose ideas you don’t entirely agree with. Have you ever considered interviewing someone who is very, very far removed from your world (i.e. that of technology, money, overachieving, etc)? Someone like Matthieu Ricard would be an interesting one; he’s a scientist turned Buddhist monk who’s done absolutely fascinating research into the functions of the brain, especially the brain which meditates.

        Like

      • Love how you gently slipped in reference to Peter Thiels’s view on Outliers. Malcolm’s response “That would be a reasonable view”. Classy!

        The beauty in all of this is that our opinions are sometimes based on a data sample of one person. “In God we trust, all others bring data.” W. Edwards Deming

        Like

  18. Malcolm Gladwell talks about his admiration for Brian Eno’s music and then reminds people about the power of music with this adage:

    “The music you discover when you’re 18 is the music that stays with you the rest of your life.”

    Tim – what’s the record/track you listened to at 18 that you can’t get out of your head?

    My biggest takeaway of the podcast though: You’ll find your stride if you can delay gratification.

    You probably won’t see this but I often blog my favorite highlights from your podcasts:

    http://www.bombtune.com/?tag=tim+ferriss

    Like

  19. Hi Tim !
    could you kindly do yourself, and your fans, the courtesy of updating your website to HTTPS for a whole variety of security reasons
    It also ensures you are on the cutting edge where you should be, not
    stuck 30 years behind with your security
    and also, with your five bullet friday – can you please use plain ordinary links not highly complex unintelligible links. such lack of transparency would be considered highly suspect and manipulative if encountered anywhere else.
    we have to ‘trust’ that the email comes from you, (no HTTPS makes this worse) that there’s no malware or spyware hidden in the links, or that some dodgy corporate entity gets paid a dollar for every time someone clicks on your links.
    So, I don’t click on them. Nor do many people I know. We read the paragraphs you write and, well, that’s it.
    Incidentally it’s really easy to steal emails and other personal information from this word press comments page. i use a linked alias email for that reason which can act as a filter. Many people may not be as astute.

    Like

  20. Tim, I love your content and I’ve listened to every podcast thus far (as well as read your books).
    This podcast was just a little disappointing for me. I felt that it would have been great to delve deeper into Gladwell’s ideas and philosophies written in his books as I believe that they complement your own quite a lot. There was barely any comparison between Gladwell’s philosophy of how people become successful and how you have designed your own life with an ability to strategise, exploit hacks and accelerate learning!😦

    Maybe I am completely wrong and I am sure that everyone else liked the podcast. I just feel that you focused on Gladwell’s writing habits (like coping with writers block) for too long and missed an opportunity to probe him about his actual content. After all, his books are about success and successful people.

    Maybe a sneaky opportunity for a follow up?😀😀

    Keep up the good work.

    Like

  21. Great conversation. I really enjoyed Malcolm talking about his father’s endless appetite for understanding through questioning and the idea of being intellectually secure enough to ask “dumb” questions without fear of judgement.

    Like

  22. Tim I was hoping the two of you would of talked about the whole 10,000 hour theory as you did in Success Magazine on the CD with Darren Hardy. When you have round two please discuss your side as well as Malcolm’s. What does Malcolm’s brother do? I was hoping to hear about that since he mentioned being an introvert. I too wanted to know his writing process and being one myself it is always interesting to hear how some of the greats (like you Tim) have crafted their books. As a podcaster I was first told that I should not do long form. Great job Tim!! Love your shows.

    Like

  23. Who was the guest who discussed something in regards to the benefit of tragedy? I remember hearing in a past podcast it didn’t connect with me at the time but I could really help me now. Any help is much appreciated.

    Thank you for what you do! I discovered your podcast in August 14′. Before then, I literally read 2 books in 10 years. Close to 2 years later, I have read or listened to 50+ books. My life has improved in ways I didn’t think was possible.

    Like

  24. “In What the Dog Saw, Malcolm Gladwell leads the reader on delightful side excursions, shows with insightful conversation how one path interweaves with another, and suggests meaning-he is, in short, an interpretative naturalist of American culture.” this is my favorite quote

    Like

  25. Maybe I’m just web-stupid, but where the heck do you find a list of Tim’s podcast sponsors? I wanted to check one out, can’t remember the company name, thought it would only take a minute.

    Like

  26. Gosh I loved this one! My favorite question you asked, was asking him about where he learned good questions. May we all remember that perceived “dumb” questions are so important to ask if you genuinely don’t know… and nobody cares that you are asking them… we all need the basics. I am going to need to listen to it a few times. Thanks for interviewing him and sharing it with us🙂

    Like

  27. I am sure this is not the right forum to reach out but what the hell….. On your most recent episode with Rick Dubner, you touched on the subject of mental illness/suicide and the promise of different entheogens. I want to donate (maybe not a significant amount to some but definitely a sizable sum for me) to help research the potential benefits. I know of MAPS and would like some info on their “administrative fees” and how much actually gets funneled the research. Considering you have been a donor in the past, is their “DONATE” tab on their website a legitimate route?

    Like

  28. I don’t understand: why are there only two episodes on Revisionist History? Seems like he is missing out on a huge opportunity to get new listeners.

    Like

  29. Re: Writers Block- Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel wrote movies like City Slickers, A League of Their Own, and Parenthood. They spoke about writers block at a Maui Writer’s conference many moons ago. They learned while writing for television that when they got stuck it was because they took a wrong turn in the narrative. They would back up in the story until they found the wrong turn and could move forward again. Another thing they said is if a joke was funny to one but not the other it was immediately dropped. They both had to laugh hard at the joke or it was out.

    Your interview with Gladwell is the first one I’ve replayed immediately. It has helped spark something in my process of rediscovering my writing voice. Thank you both!

    Like

  30. Firstly, Niall Ferguson is SCOTTISH, not English (big distinction Malcolm!).

    Secondly, Tim, can you please, please, please have him on the podcast?

    Aside from public speaking, his personal output is simply stunning:

    – 16 (mostly enormous) books in 16 years
    – 6 documentary series for Channel 4 in the UK
    – Harvard professor (soon to be at Stanford)
    – Innumerable articles and speeches — a notable recent speech being this one at the Sydney Opera House: https://youtu.be/KIsZoGkedCo?t=3m7s

    He’s good friends with Peter Thiel and would make a fantastic future guest!

    Mark

    Like

  31. Tim,
    Malcolm Gladwell is responsible for my Audible consumption of somewhere between 500-600 non-fiction books in the past decade. I read the ‘Tipping Point’ on a flight to South Korea back in 2004 and my mind exploded.

    It became a mandatory read for all of my Officers, and a ‘highly, highly suggested’ read for all my Soldiers. That book re-kindled my curiosity.

    He is indirectly responsible, that and Amazon’s ‘others who read this have also read’ algorithm, for introducing me to your writing as well.

    Your initial insight to do a long form podcast was genius. Other podcast’s I’ve listened to feel like a post-game TV interview, much less authentic.

    I found it interesting to hear Malcolm refer to Michael Lewis as the greatest present day story-teller, which ironically is how I describe Gladwell to others. Lewis is great, and actually opened my eyes to the despair/frustration/anger of the OWS crowd.

    Loved his comments about college, and I realized I found that place in the Army. Combat is filled with so many contradictions, but the ‘interesting conversations with people I find interesting in the middle of the night’ was one of them. I also laughed every day. Side-splitting, tears rolling laughter. Ironic, until you deploy.

    Listening to this podcast I had a thought about character and values. How many of the most successful are exhibit the humility that Malcolm demonstrated during this interview? I know the show is about behaviors, but in the middle of this podcast I wanted to see ‘character’ trends of all your interviewees. What would we find there?

    Thank you for having the courage to do what you do. It helps.
    bsn

    Like

  32. Tim, thanks for this interview! This made my week. I did not think that you would ever interview him, what with the whole 10,000 hour rule and all. What a pleasant surprise! And what a great interview. He has such an interesting mind. I could listen for hours more. Cheers!

    Like

  33. Loved getting insight into the mind of Malcolm Gladwell. After reading his books it is nice to hear how his mind works. Super surprised that he finds his process sloppy as his books really give me the impression that there is so much attention to detail. The rant about universities made me laugh out loud in the car, there is some passion there🙂

    Like

  34. Malcolm, like many of your guests was fascinating! Loved getting a snapshot into his life and perspectives. Is it possible to condense the podcasts to more bite-sized chunks? The most interesting content, relevant to the masses, could be captured in 30-40 min. There were a lot of questions about his writing habits/preferences that aren’t as applicable (unless you’re a writer). Also, would love to hear more of your perspectives in podcasts without guests, but a focus on the guests when they’re on the show.

    Like

  35. Very good episode. Thank you for sharing. Seth Godin said there is no such thing as writer’s block. I agree with him.
    Best x

    Like

  36. Thanks Tim!
    One great thing I seem to take from listen to your podcasts is how I can compare the actions, philosophies and failures of your guests and apply them to myself, and the decisions in my own life. The example I have been reviewing from this episode is regarding what make a great storyteller or public speaker.

    Like

  37. Really enjoyed the conversation between you both. What struck me about the interview is how normal and authentic Malcolm is. Every morning reading ESPN – I can connect with that🙂.

    I loved the passion Malcolm showed when he discussed his podcast. Definitely another one to add to the list of podcasts to listen to.

    As always Tim, keep up the good work.

    Like

  38. I’m curious why Gladwell eats a small breakfast. I didn’t catch that topic and dissecting the podcast was to no avail. Will someone please help me out?

    Like

  39. Malcolm Gladwell got us wrong: Our research was key to the 10,000-hour rule, but here’s what got oversimplified
    Yes, it takes effort to be an expert. But Gladwell based 10,000-hour rule in part on our work, and misunderstood
    ANDERS ERICSSON AND ROBERT POOL
    http://tinyurl.com/hsxzc8a

    The Trouble With Malcolm Gladwell
    I thought he was sincerely misunderstanding the science, but he knows exactly what he is doing.
    http://tinyurl.com/mhnt96e

    Malcolm Gladwell Unmasked: A Look Into the Life & Work of America’s Most Successful Propagandist
    Posted on June 6, 2012 by Yves Smith
    http://tinyurl.com/6qp28fs

    Malcolm Gladwell, Eclectic Detective
    http://tinyurl.com/zb3z6p2

    Am I Missing Something or Is Malcolm Gladwell a Fraud?
    http://tinyurl.com/h6owrer

    Malcolm Gladwell Unmasked: A Look Into the Life & Work of America’s Most Successful Propagandist
    http://tinyurl.com/c7pouos
    “I’m necessarily parasitic in a way. I have done well as a parasite. But I’m still a parasite.”
    ~Malcolm Gladwell

    Like

  40. Tim,

    You and Malcolm briefly mention your ideas on higher education. Any chance you have written a blog post previously fleshing out your ideas on the best routes for youngsters to embark on as they approach the college search/journey? If not, I’d love to hear your personal thoughts in long-form on pre-college routes as well as helpful alternatives or even temporary alternatives that you believe best set up the average student in the long run for a virtuous and flourishing life.

    Best,
    Taylor

    Like

  41. Great episode! Gladwell is an excellent storyteller — he doesn’t give himself enough credit. ** As info, the maxim is “bad facts make bad law.” It means something a little different that what you guys discussed, but your discussion was a good one.

    Like

  42. does anyone know if the interview with Malcolm and the guy from the book Generous orthodoxy who was Mennonite is available yet? It sounds amazing and I can’t wait to hear it. Additionally is the book on the would be shooter something Malcolm is writing and hasn’t released yet?

    Like

  43. Just finished listening to this episode. Fantastic stuff, right up there with your Seth Godin interview. I especially enjoyed the “Difficult cases make bad law” and I’m thinking of dozens of examples of this. Thanks Malcolm & Tim. Keep them coming!

    Like

  44. Loved the snippet at the beginning with a quick question/mic test, it should be done for every episode as it sets the tone and makes one more willing to be listening

    Like

  45. Another Green World–I was introduced to Eno and this album (cassette, when I had it) in law school. It was perfect. I still think of it and compare other music to it.

    Like

  46. Really enjoyed the podcast, and especially the strategic nature/intent of the questions. Gladwell sort of detoured on the phase transitions between research and finished product: researching-highlighting-migrating-curating through the hard work of “thinking, organizing, assembling.” He reverted to “transcript” when Tim asked about organizing “notes.” There was a missing step somewhere in his process that I was super interested in — the actual putting it all together. Does he actually COMPOSE around the curated quotations/excerpts from his notes/transcript in the migrated document? Does the document with the migrated excerpts actually become the finished work? Really interesting interview on the process. Reminds me a bit of Paris Review writer series interview, but more nuts and bolts🙂

    Like

  47. First time visitor. Would not return after listening to the first five minutes of ads! Why would you put such promotional material up front? Off-putting for this listener.

    Like

  48. Thanks for the wonderful interview with Malcolm Gladwell. I found Malcolm’s comment about the value of pushing himself past his usual comfort zone to be very inspiring.
    I would recommend checking out Adam Lambert- his story and talent are really amazing.

    Like