Tuesday, 25 November 2008

Live With Malcolm Gladwell

Having enjoyed Malcolm Gladwell's Blink and The Tipping Point, I was keen to see him 'live’ when he was in London last night. In case MG has passed you by he’s what The Observer has billed, ‘the most influential thinker of the iPod generation’; he’s a columnist, writer and thinker who's enjoyed huge commercial success so I was also keen to pick up some tips.

He came on stage at The Lyceum Theatre and spoke for an hour and twenty minutes (or thereabouts) on one topic. He told one fascinating story about the human cause of ‘plane crashes, of how cultural and behavioural attitudes had caused cockpit communication to break down. To be honest, I was expecting more than one story, but it was fascinating stuff. Although as we applauded him at the end I joked to my friend Peter, ‘I didn’t realise we had come to see a talk at the Civil Aviation Authority’.

If you’d said to me that an American writer could fill a London theatre (twice) with a story about plane crashes I might have questioned your sanity, but Gladwell tells a good story. No video inserts, no PowerPoint slides just him and a microphone. Think of it as a great dinner party story but backed up with a few PhD students’ dissertations. Not only did he make good money out of selling 4,000 seats at the theatre (no production costs/ no set/ no backing band to split the door receipts with); his new book was selling well in the foyer. Nice business model!

Malcolm Gladwell seems to be in the tradition of a great intellectual; a thinker who undergoes deep research to develop his ideas as was proved with his plane crash story. Whereas I don't have that depth; my ideas are more instinctive and rapid - I don't commission deep research to back up my ideas, I just go with my gut. But certainly he has some fascinating things to say and I like how he communicates them. He's captured people's imagination.I think it's great that people are writing books on subjects like this and filling theatres too. It's like my sister said to me when I told her about my new book 'Juggle'. She said she could understand how someone could write an article or an essay on my subject; but she couldn't understand how you could write 40,000 words on it. I’m sure she would be similarly dismayed that a writer could fill a theatre twice with an anecdote about why ‘planes crash!But with Malcolm Gladwell – and my own small contribution - here's proof that you can...

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