What An Opportunity

A casual conversation with Malcolm Gladwell

In Culture, Life on November 16, 2013 at 7:32 pm

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Sometimes, the coolest part of journalism is the people you get a chance to meet. I don’t mean just celebrities. I’ve been fortunate to interview some really, truly awesome people, people with attitudes that have sincerely altered my life, before – from well-known figures (Laura Bush, Tiger Woods, David Brooks) to not-as-well-known-but-equally-impressive people (Fred Lee, Louis Long, Mark Bortz).

I was never more excited for an interview than the one I completed this Wednesday. Malcolm Gladwell – the well-known author of books such as The Outliers, The Tipping Point, and Blink, also famous for his writing for The New Yorker and many public speaking engagements (from TED Talks to CNN to speaking at universities) – visited my school, the University at Buffalo.

UB has this thing called the Distinguished Speakers Series that brings popular figures to campus to deliver a speech. Some of them are gracious enough to sit down with a student or two before their speech.

That’s what happened with Gladwell. He was willing to chat with me and my colleague Eric, as we are editors for The Spectrum, UB’s student newspaper. It should have been a nerve-wracking interview, given Gladwell’s clout in our field of study, but it wasn’t – simply because he is so down to earth. That’s one thing I have noticed about him in watching videos of his talks before: He is unbelievably intellectual and yet full of bona fide humility.

But it never came across as clearly as it did in person.

If you want to know some details of our conversation, you can check out my column about the experience here: An intellectually fruitful evening with Malcolm Gladwell.

He made some tremendous points, as could be expected, but I really left the interview just thinking about his down-to-earth nature. His humor is self-deprecating, but not in a sense of disliking himself – in a sense that he realizes he is just another human on earth, just another person who puts his pants on one leg at a time and is going to die eventually. He doesn’t think he has any ideas that can change the world, but he does realize he has a skill for translating ideas to the average person. When we were talking, it was just three guys, not Malcolm Gladwell and two anxious college kids.

Sometimes you are disappointed in well-known people when you meet them in person. I have been surprised to find some beloved figures are in actuality, to put it plainly, jerks. Malcolm Gladwell not only fulfilled my vast expectation of him, he surpassed it.

I encourage you to read his books, the two best-selling of which are listed here: The Tipping Point and Blink. You will be a better person for having done so, and you’ll also be supporting a genuine person.

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  1. Mr. Gladwell is awesome. Thanks for sharing this story. God bless!

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