Some Reflections on Malcolm Gladwell, Atul Gawande, Curiosity, Story-Telling, and Complexity


I have spent the morning reading Atul Gawande.  For those who are already fans, forgive my lateness to the party.  But I’m now fully hooked.

Atul Gawande is a surgeon, an associate professor of surgery at Harvard Medical School, the director of the World Health Organization’s Global Challenge for Safer Surgical Care, a MacArthur Fellowship recipient (nicknamed the Genius Award), and a staff-writer for The New Yorker.  (He either has many clones, or simply never sleeps!)  He’s in the news lately for his article that is now mandatory reading in the White House on the cost of health care in McAllen, Texas (close to my old stomping grounds.  I’m from Harlingen).

I could not stop reading.  Like Malcolm Gladwell, his New Yorker articles are linked on his own web site.  As I read, I learned more and more about health care and the current health care crisis.  He tells story after story – and all the stories are well-told, from a master story-teller, and each story is carefully selected to stimulate our curiosity and educate us about something important.    Stories of doctors failures, of doctors successes, of amazing breakthroughs from very simple steps taken — like the “lists,” and the story told in his June commencement address at the University of Chicago Pritzker School of Medicine , “Money,” about the work of Jerry Sternin and malnutrition problems in poor Vietnamese villages.

So reading these provided quite an education, and a lot to think about.  The more I read, the more the feelings I had while reading seemed familiar.  Then I realized – reading him makes me feel the same way I feel when I am reading Malcolm Gladwell.  Though they write in different fields, they share these traits in column:  they are both insatiably curious, and they have found a way to tell their stories and present their ideas in ways that make me want to learn more – a lot more!  And, it seems a pretty safe bet that that Gawande has put in his 10,000 hours and is a genuine Outlier himself.

This blog is about insight from business books.  But really it is a blog about our hunger and thirst for knowledge.  The world is getting more complex by the day, with the amount of data/words/knowledge increasing geometrically.  At the same time, it is ever more independent.  What Gawande and Gladwell seem to be able to do is to pull insight from multiple areas, from multiple disciplines, and help us connect it all.  Gawande the journalist is both surgeon and generalist, and both are critical.

You can find Gawande’s articles here, and Gladwell’s articles here.  I’d carve out a little time for both authors — it will be worth every minute.  I’ve read nearly all of Gladwell’s articles, and have just started Gawande’s list (though I made a pretty good start this morning).  And, yes, his two books are now on my reading list.

(To purchase my synopses of Blink, The Tipping Point, and/or Outliers, all by Malcolm Gladwell, with handout + audio, go to our 15 Minute Business Book site).

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