He's considered a "big idea" man, an author who makes those ideas understandable and accessible. That's author Malcolm Gladwell, whose newest book "David & Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants'' (Little, Brown and Company) debunks theories that underdogs can't win. Gladwell, along with historian and author Douglas Brinkley was a featured panelists on Nov. 21 at The Connecticut Forum's "Big Thinkers" program at the Bushnell. Gladwell, a staff writer at the New Yorker who also wrote bestsellers "The Tipping Point" and "Blink," is considered a master when it comes to weaving research and the social sciences into tales about life and people. The wild-haired Gladwell was more than happy to share some insight into his work and his coiffing secrets when he Spilled the Beans with Java.
Q: Are you really one of the world's biggest thinkers?
A: I don't think so but am delighted that someone else does. I feel like one of the things I do is find big thinkers and talk to them and that is different than being one. I track them down and tell their stories.
Q: So tell me a story!
A: There is a chapter in my new book about a cancer researcher, one of the most extraordinary thinkers I have ever met. His story reminds us that a big thinker is courageous and creative and persistent. He didn't just have an idea; he pulled it off and put it into practice, against incredible opposition. There is also a person in the last chapter, a minister in a little town in France who hid Jewish children during WW II. He was more than courageous. He just didn't do it. He articulated a reason the whole town had an obligation to do what they were going to do.
Q: The biblical story of David and Goliath is a quintessential one about the perceived sure winner vs. the underdog. Have you ever been the underdog?
A: I don't think I ever was. But the book is about extraordinary obstacles that I never had so I don't count. But then again, I was the youngest of three boys in the family and I was the weakest and got beat up a lot. So I guess then I was the underdog.
Q: You write a lot of stories about situations through the eyes of others. How do you see the world?
A: I think it is a good world, not great, but a good world. I am always surprised at how much more interesting the world is than I thought it was. Every time I think I have come to the bottom of something or I have figured something out, something happens to complicate or change my mind.
Q: I know you are a journalist at heart. What are your thoughts on that career these days?
A: We are most definitely not the favorite anymore, especially when it comes to the bottom line.
When I started my career at the Washington Post, back then it was one of the most profitable papers in America. It is amazing to think how quickly that fell apart. It is heartbreaking what is happening to our profession. We have to figure out how to re-imagine ourselves. What we do is important, more important than ever. We just can't figure out how to make it profitable.
Q: You will be sharing the stage with another big thinker, Douglas Brinkley… What will you two be bringing to Hartford?
A: We are in the best sense of the word, totally different. I think it should be fun. It's not like we are two people occupying the same narrow path of real estate. No one is looking forward to it more than me. I am curious how it will turn out. I did a CT Forum with Tom Friedman several years ago and that was totally fun.
Q: Couldn't help but notice you turned 50 this year. What is better or worse about 50 vs. 30?
A: You noticed huh? I was probably more interesting at 30 although I don't remember it that well because it was so long ago. It doesn't really feel that different, I think I feel like the same person and don't really feel like that much has happened to me. I think I am a little less innocent about the world and a little wiser, but not much. I have the same friends. Actually, I am surprised at how little things have changed.
Q: Any ideas for your next project now that "David & Goliath" is done?
A: I don't know. I am going to finish the book tour and then answer that question.
Q: What do you want your legacy to be?
A: I just want to be someone who started conversations. All my books are just attempts to get people thinking about different subjects and then talking about them in a different way.
Q: I have to ask, is your hair just like that or do you work at that hairdo?
A: Nope, it just totally happens like this. I get up in the morning, kind of rub my hands all over it and that's it. It takes about five seconds.
Q: Something no one knows about you?
A: I am an obsessive field and track fan. I will get up really early to watch some obscure track meet in Europe on my subscription channels.