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Thursday, May 12, 2016

Malcolm Gladwell: Public Intellectual

In an earlier post, I've explored Mark Granovetter's theory as to why our weak ties (i.e., our acquaintances) can be "stronger" than our strong ties (i.e., our close friends) ("Weak Ties, Family Ties, and Business Success"). Briefly, Granovetter found that people were far more likely to have used personal contacts in finding their present job than by other means, and of those personal contacts, most were "weak ties." This led him to conclude that when it comes to finding jobs (or gaining access to novel information), our weak ties are often more useful than our strong ties. Why? Because our weak ties are less likely to be socially involved with one another than are our strong ties. Thus, while the information we gain from our strong ties is often redundant, the information we learn from our weak ties is often novel.

One of the clearest explanations of Granovetter's theory appears in Malcolm Gladwell's book, The Tipping Point (pp. 53-54). This is not surprising since Gladwell has a gift for communicating academic research in a manner accessible to the wider public. All of his books (i.e., The Tipping Point, Outliers, Blink, and David and Goliath) include lucid explanations of research (whether it appeared in books or academic journals) that at first glance are impenetrable for non-experts.

Gladwell is featured in a recent Freakonomics podcast ("Being Malcolm Gladwell") that is wonderful. It focuses primarily on his book, Outliers, but regardless of whether you've read the book or not, it is well worth a listen. You can listen to the podcast at the Freakonomics website ("Being Malcolm Gladwell") or download it from iTunes.

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