Some days are just good.  Today was one of them.  I started off my day at Zone5ive event on 50 Ideas for using LinkedIn and Twitter for business.  And after that I got to see Malcolm Gladwell speak at the NAC brought to us by the United Way (and then to link the first and second events, I searched for tweets on the Gladwell event #uwcglad…talk about using twitter for research.  Gladwell quotes were being tweeted in real time by those attending the event).  So like I said , some days are great-just great.

Gladwell was fantastic to watch.  He speaks as eloquently as he writes, and is thoughtful and even wittier in person.  He’s an excellent story teller.

The event started off with Gladwell’s thoughts on homelessness and how in many cases it’s more expensive for society to ignore the problem then solve it.  What I really like about Gladwell is that he always has a story to back up a statement.  Here he mentions Million Dollar Murray, a large, likable, alcoholic homeless man living on the streets.  One day the city decided to measure just how much Murray was costing them.  They realized that his “tab” with the hospitals and police surveilence was costing the city a million dollars a year.  That’s one man.  One million dollars.  And so it makes sense to give Murray a home, give him some stability, and help him with his alcoholism…even though as Gladwell puts it “sometimes our principles get in the way  of helping people”.

Gladwell then continued answering questions, mainly about success and talent that refer back to his book Outliers.  There were a lot of highlights, and I’ll just quickly share with you what stood out for me.

I thoroughly enjoyed the underdog basketball story based on the “How David Beats Goliath” story Gladwell had written for The New Yorker. I don’t want to give away a spoiler, but it’s the anecdotal examples backed with psychological and sociological research that makes Gladwell work so interesting, this story being no exception.   Other favorites of the event were his portrayal of the KIP schools, the hard work involved, the opportunity it provides for underdogs, and how “all a KIP school is is an attempt to build an Asian school in the south Bronx.”

The other interesting topic that came up was Hofstede’s cultural dimensions and how Canada ranks as a a non-hierarchical society (how much a cultural finds hierarchy important) and as a society of collectivism (the need for an individual to help others in a culture).  According to Gladwell, those two characteristics together provide a great breeding ground for experimental social programs and that Canada should be leading the way.  That I think is a trait that as Canadians we would be proud to label as “very Canadian”.  For example “America is having debates about healthcare that Canada dispensed with 50 years ago”.  Of course it would be interesting to see if those two characteristics affect entrepreneurship in the opposite way, and why the US, a country of non-hierarchy but low collectivism, does well in that regards.  (On a side note, the quote “It is very Canadian to be NOT proud of the things you want to be proud of came up when speaking about Canadian culture).

I also thoroughly enjoyed Gladwell’s sheepish look when explaining the rice paddy/good at math theory that he speaks of in Outliers.  For me, that was the part in the book that was least convincing of the connection. But the fact that he explained it well today, and then sheepishly grinned and said its a theory of many, no one really knows, brought the section of the book more into context.  The sheepishness made him real and was enjoyable.

Also Interesting is Gladwell’s take on talent (and since this is TalentBridge, I think it fitting to end on this note).  He describes talent in part as being a passionate love and desire to do what you love to do.  Excellence is not an accident – it’s an incredible amount of hard work and “practice” at what you love to do.  Which makes talent much more beautiful and accessible – it is merit based, and not obtained solely by the luck of the draw.

Honestly, it was a fantastic event and if you haven’t read the books yet, go and do so.  It’s for everyone – the fiction or non-fiction reader, the avid reader or the vacation reader.  If you don’t agree with him, you’ll at least be entertained and you will absolutely be coaxed to think.

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