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Malcolm Gladwell Explains Why It Often Makes Sense to Put Your Money on David, Not Goliath

The latest book by the best-selling author examines the power of 'underdogs'

Author photo of Malcolm Gladwell. (Bill Wadman)

Best-selling author Malcolm Gladwell. — Photo by Bill Wadman

Malcolm Gladwell, author of the best-selling Blink, Outliers and The Tipping Point, makes some typically counterintuitive — and controversial — claims in his new David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits and the Art of Battling Giants.

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Take dyslexia: Far from being a learning disability, it might just be a "desirable difficulty" that teaches those with the disorder to deal with failure — and thereby achieve career success.

Losing a parent in childhood is a traumatic burden, no question — but might it also instill a resilience to life's shocks that makes you tougher than your peers?

And could it be possible there's "a point at which money and resources stop making our lives better and start making them worse"?

We asked the man who's made a career of rejecting conventional wisdom to explain.

Book cover for David and Goliath by Malcolm Gladwell (Courtesy Little, Brown and Company)

"David and Goliath" was published on Oct. 1.

Q: Thanks to your four previous books, phrases like "the tipping point" and "10,000 hours" [to master any skill] have become part of the cultural conversation. What will readers take away from David and Goliath?

A: I have no idea! The takeaways from the previous books all surprised me. It never occurred to me that the 10,000 hours thing [from Outliers: The Story of Success] would be something people remember. I put that in as a kind of throwaway little moment; I never thought anything would come of it. That experience convinced me you can't predict how people will respond to your work.

Q: But what would you like them to take away?

A: I'd just like people to have more respect for the hidden virtues of certain kinds of adversity. And I'd like people with power to be a little more cautious in how they use it.

Q: You say "the act of facing overwhelming odds produces greatness and beauty." Aren't most underdogs just trying to survive?

A: Yeah, but sometimes in merely trying to survive, greater things happen. Out of a child's struggle to overcome an unspeakable upbringing, for example, often comes the strength and the tools to do something transcendent.

Q: You say "the right question" for us to ask is whether "we as a society need people who have emerged from some kind of trauma — and the answer is that we plainly do. This is not a pleasant fact to contemplate."

A: I'm saying that hardship in a certain sense is inevitable. People will always be born with disabilities of one kind or another; there will always be minorities alongside majorities. These things are a constant feature of our world. It makes sense to examine them and say, "What comes of them?"

Next page: Malcolm Gladwell on turning 50 and the secret to his success. »

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