A modern thinker

The first time I heard and saw Malcolm Gladwell being interviewed on television it was a program about writers and I was sitting with my cousin, Theresa, in her living room in Texas.   I remember being favorably impressed and when Theresa and I stopped at one of the three Half Price Books stores in Austin, I snatched up a copy of his Tipping Point from a clearance rack.

As I delved through the book I was intrigued by his premise, that when a community takes a small action to make a difference in something, an enormous wave of change can take place. Among the situations he spoke of was a ramshackle neighborhood where windows were broken out of abandoned buildings and weeds chocked the lots. That area became a real sore spot, spawning crime and fear. At some point someone decided to clean it up, repaired the windows, weeded the yards, gave it a general face lift and with that, the crime moved away and there was a new pride in the neighborhood.

Another time as I was channel surfing I found Malcolm Gladwell on a three member debate team arguing against the team sport of football at the high school level. I don’t remember the three members of the team arguing FOR football in high school, but Mr. Gladwell’s team won the debate.

Most recently I saw another author interview in which Mr. Gladwell talked about his book, The Outliers, and before the program was over, I knew I wanted to read that book. The Half Price Book store in North Olmsted was out of it, but Theresa to the rescue, found a copy of it in Austin and mailed it to me. He has a most interesting way of looking at information and drawing conclusions. In this case he studied high school hockey teams and found that for the most part, the players born early in the year were the strongest, (they were bigger because they were born first). Players born late in the year didn’t even get on the team.

But even more interesting to me was the comparison of the most successful lawyers who could attribute their success to the hard working poor as church mice immigrant parents they were born to as well as the years in which they were born – what events in history paved the way for them to blossom.

His theory is that it is not just hard work and talent that opens the doors for some and not others, but they get a little help along the way. Among the examples he listed was Steve Jobs, who lived in Palo Alto, the heart of Silicon Valley at a time when computers, silicon chips and the world of information systems was ripe to change life as we knew it. Teen-aged Steve Jobs telephoned Bill Hewlett of Hewlett-Packard and asked him for spare parts. Even if a youngster today had the gumption to call a company executive, how likely would it be the call would even go through, much less that he would find someone who would help him and even have him come to work for his company?

It seems to me that Mr. Gladwell looks at complex data and pulls out the connecting threads to weave a fresh look at things.

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