April 10, 2010


What the Dog Saw cover (Gladwell)
Christmas 2009 is coming. Look! Here's a new book from Malcolm Gladwell!

Wait ... hold on … it's just a compilation of his articles from The New Yorker. Skip it. You can read them free online. There isn’t even a dog on the cover.

That was my first impression of Malcolm's new book What the Dog Saw. Instead of a “real” book, Malcolm was taking the easy route and recycling for the holiday book buyers --- or so I thought.

I’ve enjoyed Malcolm’s previous books: The Tipping Point, Blink and Outliers. He even grew up in Canada, a nice bonus. Even so, I never read his New Yorker articles. I tried once but they're too long to read online and I don't get the magazine. It's wasteful to print according to the warnings on the bottom of some e-mails these days.

Besides, I don't like reading books but I love listening, especially to the author. Audiobooks are more engaging and portable. You feel the author is talking to you, which is much more personal than reading printed words (even on an iPad). Malcolm’s one of the best, along with Douglas Adams, Seth Godin, Neil Gaiman, Zig Ziglar, Richard Branson, Jeffrey Gitomer and Michael Gerber. How often do you see those names in the same sentence?

The Magic

Months passed before I got the audio book. I was hooked within minutes. The length --- 10 CDs --- is perfect for a road trip, which is how we listened.
“Mustard now comes in dozens of varieties. Why has ketchup stayed the same?”
--- Malcolm Gladwell, The Ketchup Conundrum
Each story is mesmerizing. Malcolm has the rare knack of combining disparate ideas into something unique. You experience a similar sense of discovery with Connections by James Burke. Malcolm’s writing grips you even when he's talking about hair colour, Enron or intellectual property rights.

Prior Insights

Malcolm does more than entertain you. You learn about the world and yourself. Each book changed how I think.

Outliers (2008) added the lens of the 10,000 hour rule, which I didn’t realize applied to my life. Success comes not from innate talent but from years of long arduous practice. That’s uplifting except for the get-rich-quick crowd.

Blink (2005) focuses on the power of snap judgements. Sometimes we’re remarkably perceptive. Other times we stick to erroneous preconceived ideas. Awareness of the process reminds us of biases. That helps us and let’s us harness the power of first impressions for our benefit (even when we’re not there). His article The New-Boy Network seems to be the seed of Blink.

The Tipping Point (2000) shows how a few can create unstoppable momentum. That’s inspiring. You can create change within your own sphere and perhaps beyond. Malcolm also talks about the importance of mavens (experts you trust), connectors (who spread the message to people who may never meet) and salesmen (who motivate to action).

How To

Malcolm doesn’t write “How To” guides but you can extract valuable lessons through introspection. Plutarch said “Know how to listen, and you will profit even from those who talk badly.” Imagine the possibilities from listening to someone who speaks exceptionally well.

If you're new to Malcolm, What The Dog Saw makes a great introduction. If you're familiar with him but sceptical about this book, don’t worry. If you haven’t heard Malcolm read before, the variety makes this book a wonderful introduction.

In What the Dog Saw, the biggest revelation came from Open Secrets, which explains the difference between a puzzle and a mystery. They’re not synonyms. If you're solving a puzzle, you want more and more data. In contrast, you solve a mystery by identifying the few right clues and deducing. That’s a useful new lens.

If you like thinking without getting bored, listen or read Malcolm.


Podcast Episode 62 (4:50)

direct download | Internet Archive page

PS You can find more Malcolm at gladwell.com.

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