Ruminations on tech, the digital media, and some golf thrown in for good measure.

Archive for October 28th, 2009

Q&A With Malcolm Gladwell: Connecting Facebook, Jimi Hendrix, and Steve Jobs

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As I mentioned in a prior post, I had an opportunity to do a quick “walk and talk” interview with The New York Times best-selling author and New Yorker writer, Malcolm Gladwell.

Gladwell’s first book, The Tipping Point: How Little Things Make a Big Difference, changed the way many of us think about the way information is shared and disseminated, and how individuals influence one another and, in turn, the crowd.

In many ways, Gladwell was well ahead of his time in that this key book really pre-dated the advent of the widespread use of social media and media democratization, and what his New Yorker colleague James Surowiecki later came to term “crowdsourcing.”

In the few short minutes I had to speak with Malcolm as we walked over to his book signing, I asked him about this evolution and some of his other key “memes.”

Turbo: Thanks for taking time out of your busy day to speak with me, and great job on the keynote today.  You know, I saw from some background material about you that you had majored in history, and I was interested in finding how you came to write about social science.

Gladwell: I don’t even know, really.  There were so just many interesting insights from the social science world that never saw the light of day.  And as a writer you’re always attracted to areas where you can uncover things that people aren’t familiar with. And there was just so much so opportunity in social science, that that’s how I got interested in it.

Turbo: Looking back at The Tipping Point, and recognizing the year that it came out (2000), to my mind your work really pre-dated a lot of the things that have come about around social networking and crowdsourcing. I’m curious if you’ve gone back and really thought about the implications in the book, mavens and so on…how does that play out now online, if at all?

Gladwell: Interesting.  Two things, I think.  The online world, I think, amplifies the power of people, so a connector can become even more connected, a maven can be even more influential, a salesman can be more persuasive.  That’s part of what’s going on there.

But I don’t think the Internet automatically turns all of us into socially influential people.  I think the same patterns have just been imprinted on it or just been magnified.  But the other thing, I think, is that the paradox is now that it makes face-to-face encounters more important.

The scarce commodity now is the kind of thing you can only get in person. So to the extent that I was interested in very personal forms of influence, I think that message is even more crucial than ever. I mean, I think that in a world where anyone can communicate with you so easily, someone can get in the door and have a direct encounter with you, is going to have even more sway, and create a great competitive advantage.

Turbo: That’s great, thanks.  Getting back to the themes of the conference, your book Outliers seemed to me to rely more on data…I may be wrong…but for my money, it really seemed to demonstrate the value of hidden gems in data sets.  Kind of like what you were talking about today in the keynote. “We don’t know what we don’t know.”  So I’m curious how you came to identify the trends in the book of things like the birthdays of the hockey players and correlating their performance, and also the correlation of the famous IT executives’ birthdays (Steve Birthday, Bill Joy, etc.).

Gladwell: Well the IT thing was…I don’t know how I stumbled on that.  I just started talking to all these guys and was just struck by how they were all just about exactly the same age.  You know, I interviewed Bill Joy, and then I interviewed Bill Gates, and they were both about the same age. And then I realized, Steve Jobs is about the same age! And you know, then I did a search and you know, so many of them are!

And of course, there’s a logic behind it because I had stumbled across earlier, in the sociological literature, the importance of the 1830s, which was this magic decade for rich people. So I was looking for that kind of pattern.

You know, last night at dinner we were talking, and you could do the same thing with guitarists. All of the great rock ‘n’ roll guitarists…almost all of them, with one or two exceptions, like Jimi Hendrix…are white English males, born between the years…it’s like Jeff Beck, Jimmy Page, Richard Thompson…these guys, they’re all the same age, and they’re all from the same little country, right? So you can play these games endlessly, these pattern games.

(I got this last question in as we approached the book signing table, which already had a line around the corner.)

Turbo: So let’s end on this.  If Blink focuses more on the opportunity to listen to intuition more closely, and Outliers focuses on both data and the group contribution to success, where in the middle do we as humans meet?  Where is the sweet spot for both individual and collective progress?

Gladwell: Oh wow, that’s a huge question…We’re always talking about individuals, so I sort of leave that to others. I like to think much more about collective community processes.

Turbo: Okay, thanks a lot for your time.  Appreciate it.

Gladwell: Thank you.

Written by turbotodd

October 28, 2009 at 11:13 pm

Malcolm Gladwell IOD Keynote: Social Power is You

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This morning’s keynote session was superb across the board.

IBM Information Management VP of Asia Pacific, Mark Register, kicked off the day but putting the first few days in context, advising the crowd it was high time to focus on taking the learnings from days 1 and 2 and put them into practice and lead change as key individuals in their organizations to deliver on the promise of information management.

Merv Adrian, founder of IT Market Strategy, later joined to explain that now was the time for information management to take its place at the head of the queue.

It’s no accident that business intelligence once again tops Gartner’s CIO list of focus areas, Adrian explained.

But now it’s time to deliver on business expectations, and for the IT folks to get in the driver’s seat and forge that relationship with the LOB that’s been far too elusive for far too long.

To deliver on their expectations, we need to move beyond automation and move into a more transformative IT, one where information is the raw material, but the tools, processes and approaches we take deliver new and actionable intelligence based on that raw information.

Analytics should guide the priorities, and recorded, specific executable processes become the enabler.

Logic is moving closer to data, and big data drives new workloads: We’re collecting it, so why not use it?  And it’s the discovery tools that facilitate the stewardship of that insight.

Adrian also explained that the art of the possible has been radically changed by stream computing.  I

got a full debrief on stream last night from some IBM researchers that I’m still digesting, but I have to say I think he’s absolutely right.

Think of all the data out there available today, even on your drive to work, that if it were collected and analyzed in real-time, could prove extremely beneficial (our friends with the City of Stockholm are doing just that with their smarter traffic system, which has lowered emissions and traffic substantially).

After Adrian, Mark Register introduced the featured speaker of the morning, noted author Malcolm Gladwell.

Gladwell kicked things off by joking that it struck him ironic that IBM was hosting a business analytics conference in….Las Vegas.

What were the odds?

Gladwell went on to explain his big themes, that radical change happens far more quickly than you could ever imagine (instead of seeming to be dragged out into inevitable perpetuity).

He reminded us that radio took off as a medium once the “tipping point” was reached, the tipping point being the radio announcing of a key boxing match in New Jersey back in the early part of the 20th century.

Suddenly, there was a compelling reason for people to buy a radio, and it was David Sarnoff’s energy and enthusiasm, the sheer force of his persuasion and connectedness to key players in his community, that brought about a transformation that changed the world forever.

A boxing match.

Gladwell explained that key acts of transformation almost always start with a reframing of sorts.

Think seat belts.

When adults were encouraged to wear seat belts, nobody bit.  When they were reframed as a way to protect kids, their use took off like crazy.

The iPod: MP3 players existed before the iPod, but Steve Jobs reframed the iPod as a single, simple device with a simple interface and simple advertising.

The music world, and how we consumers consumed music, changed almost overnight.

In addressing the key concerns of this audience, he posed the question as to how you frame the discussion about information transformation in your organization?

He explained that they, the audience, are not bringing their organizations a big black box.  They are bringing them the democratization of intelligence.

How do you do that more effectively?  You do it the way David Sarnoff brought RCA that radio opportunity: by sheer force of will and persuasion.

Sarnoff was basically just some Jersey kid…RCA gave him no money, no resources.

But he was the kind of kid who know someone who knew someone who had a radio, and knew someone who know someone who knew some boxers…and everything got connected and a transformation reached its tipping point.

What did Sarnoff have?


Social power, the most underestimated factor in any transformation.

A person who has it is able to win the respect of his peers because of a unique skill, of persuasion and personality.

A person not unlike Malcolm Gladwell.

(BLOGGER’S NOTE: I had the opportunity to conduct a 1-1 walk and talk interview with Malcolm just after his keynote.  Keep your eyes here on the Turbo blog to read that interview in the very near future!)

Written by turbotodd

October 28, 2009 at 6:52 pm

Day 3 @ IOD

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Good morning, Las Vegas!

I hope you enjoyed the indoor beach party.

What decade did you hang out in?

No decade?  You don’t know what I’m talking about because you hung out in your room?

Well I can completely understand…gathering all that new intelligence was exhausting, but I have to say, I woke up today feeling much smarter, both about myself and the planet, and am very much looking forward today to Malcolm Gladwell’s keynote.

If you don’t know Malcolm’s work, you’re missing some key insights into the human condition, investigations driven by Malcolm’s sifting through lots of data, and relationships between data, to better understand ourselves and our world.

His talk kicks off at 8:15 AM this morning, and shortly after his talk he’ll be signing copies of his books at the IOD bookstore.

I hope you enjoy the rest of your day…keep an eye here on the Turbo blog for further IOD session recaps.


Written by turbotodd

October 28, 2009 at 2:54 pm

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