Malcolm Gladwell Believes Nothing Is Too Big to Fail
The pop sociologist champions the underdog in his book, David and Goliath.
Journalist and pop sociologist Malcolm Gladwell has made it his undeclared mission to explain the fascinatingly unexpected in his best-selling books The Tipping Point, Outliers, and Blink. And on
October 11 he comes to Seattle to talk about his book David and Goliath, in which he examines how, time and time again, underdogs in all walks of life turn their disadvantages into advantages.
Is it inevitable that the Davids will eventually become the Goliaths?
It’s not an inevitability, but it does happen an awful lot. The United States was once David in a battle against England, and has now been Goliath for an awful long time. There is this weird thing where the lessons you learn while you’re coming up from the bottom get discarded when you reach the top. They sow the seeds of their own decline.
Give me an example of a Goliath on the verge of collapse.
There are those that I sense are going to come. For example, I think that over the next couple of years the industry to be disrupted by the Internet is going to be banking. Banks in this country are these unbelievably large, powerful multibillion-dollar organizations with huge numbers of employees and real estate holdings and branches in every corner. It’s entirely possible to imagine relatively small, nimble virtual companies just kind of slicing the heart out of the major institutional banks.
What’s your favorite current David-versus-Goliath story?
I’m a big fan of running and I’m half Jamaican, so every time a Jamaican wins some big race, I get an inordinate amount of pleasure from this country of two million people vanquishing rivals more than 10 times larger than them.
With all the success you’ve had as an author, how do you keep a David mentality?
I try and avoid spotlight. I try to live my life the same way I’ve always lived my life. I typically do my work the same way I’ve always done my work—not bring on teams of researchers, not delegate stuff, not isolate myself from the world of ideas. You have to take active steps to counteract what is corrosive about success.
Published: October 2013