Using Gladwell’s Insight to Inspire Those Who Need It Most

I just finished reading Malcolm Gladwell’s new book, David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants.? Like Gladwell’s prior books this one is entertaining, with great story-telling that explores one counterintuitive thesis. ?Blink compelled us to trust our guts. ?The Tipping Point suggested we seek out and invest in “influencers”.? And in Outliers, Gladwell posits that it isn’t talent, but rather luck and hard work that are far more important. As always with Gladwell you need to read him while understanding that what he “proves” is always more true than we have imagined – and therefore important.? And always less true than he professes – and therefore not too be taken as gospel.

In his newest book, Gladwell devotes a chapter to people with dyslexia showing that the skills they leverage to compensate for their condition can also lead to a life of extraordinary accomplishment. The examples are quite powerful: super lawyer David Boies; COO of Goldman Sachs, Gary Cohn; and CEO of Cisco John Chambers.? The proportion of high-profile entrepreneurs who are dyslexic is strikingly high. ?Of course, Gladwell’s admittedly unstated implication that dyslexia causes success is problematic?- the proportion of dyslexics who end up in jail is also strikingly high.

But there was one point Gladwell raised that made me reflect. ?One of the common reasons people gave for why they overcame their disability was that someone took a serious interest in their life at a critical moment. A grandfather, an aunt, a friend of the family, a teacher – someone saw potential, cared, supported, and gave confidence when everyone else just saw problems and misbehavior.

In my own life it was Rabbi Glatzer – my 6th grade teacher. ?When I was a child, I was impossible in class, I was always in trouble no matter how hard I tried, as I just couldn’t sit still in class. Today would likely be categorized as having ADD. Rabbi Glatzer, who was one the kindest people I ever met, placed me in a seat right at his desk and every time I would get crazy he would come over and literally gently pat my head or my cheek and say,? “it’s okay, it’s okay, what do you want to say”? I remember to this day the calmness that he instilled. He was the first teacher who never threw me out of class and to this day, I always think of him.

So who in your life believed in you? Who looked into your heart and knew what you were capable of? And more importantly, if we take Gladwell’s thesis to heart, ?is there someone in your life who you can take an interest in and thereby transform disadvantage into advantage?

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