My favorite Gladwell Essay – “In the Air: Annals of Innovation”


Malcolm Gladwell

If you have not discovered Malcolm Gladwell’s essays yet (from The New Yorker), then check out his own web site for the archived essays.  They are rich, valuable, and absolutely engaging.  (yes, many of them have been put in his new book, What the Dog Saw:  And Other AdventuresRead Bob Morris’ review of this book here).

Although it seems an impossible task to choose a favorite, I think my favorite essay is:  In the Air:  Annals of Innovation.  In it, Gladwell chronicles how, on many occasions, a “discovery” is not made by “one person” – the discovery is “in the air.”  It is as though the idea is floating around, waiting to be grabbed.  And frequently, it is “grabbed,” by more than one person – people working far apart (geographically, and in every way), not knowing of the work of the others.

In the essay, he talks about a legendary/repeated brainstorming session led by Nathan Myhrvold, which includes a group of very, very smart people.  And the entire essay is an investigation into the simple but profound question, “where do ideas come from?”

Here’s a favorite quote from the essay:
Invention has its own algorithm: genius, obsession, serendipity, and epiphany in some unknowable combination. How can you put that in a bottle?

Check this one out – and his others.  They are great, short reads, that will get your creative and thinking and learning juices flowing.

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