Malcolm Gladwell: Outliers was really inspired by the boom--and bust--of the past few years. I started thinking about the book when the economy was in that giddy moment, and it struck me that it was a very good time to re-examine our society's feelings about success. CEOs and bankers and sports stars were all justifying their enormous paydays by arguing that they were responsible, entirely, for their own success--that they were classic examples of the self-made man. So I wondered if that was really true. That's was where the book started. I wanted to challenge a myth about success that I felt had gotten out of control.
MG: I think it was the chapter about plane crashes. It never occurred to me how much cultural differences could explain something like airline safety. It turns out that the aviation world has been obsessed with culture for the last twenty years. When they think about improving safety, they don't talk just about the plane--about improving some technology, or being more rigorous in doing maintenance. They talk about really touchy-feely things, like how well the co-pilot and the captain communicate in the cockpit and how cultural background might influence the quality of that communication. That blew me away. And it was such a good illustration of my thesis: that being "good" at something is not just about who we are, but about the kind of environments that are created for us.
MG: I know this is going to sound weird. But I always wanted to be a real estate developer. The idea of being responsible for a building--something that people will use and look at and incorporate into their lives for another 100 years--strikes me as really cool.
MG: Thrillers! (They are my secret vice.) I'm reading a thriller from the 1960's that I picked up in a second hand story by Thomas Wiseman, who was a big deal back in the day and who is really good. And I have a secret source inside publishing who sends me early galleys of the newest Lee Child novel. That was is, apparently, on its way. I can't wait!
MG: I've just started my next book. I can't tell you what its about yet (I mean I could. But my publisher would have to kill you). Very broadly, though, its about power and what happens when the weak confront the strong. It's been really fun to work on it so far.
For more on Malcolm Gladwell visit his website.