As a result of the tremendous MashableReads launch two months ago, we’ve decided to expand our selection to include one non-fiction pick a month. Our first choice is David and Goliath by Malcolm Gladwell.
We’ll be hosting a Twitter chat with Gladwell on Oct. 21 from 5:30 p.m. to 6 p.m. ET. You can discuss the book with the author personally, along with other participants from all over the world.
In David and Goliath, Gladwell proves his power of persuasion using highly personal stories from people who would appear to either have it all (the Goliaths) and those who do not (the Davids) by today’s standards. Difficulties become desirable exactly because convention tells us otherwise. And in the age where Disruption is king, bucking convention is exactly what you should be doing.
Be sure to follow @mashlifestyle to discuss David and Goliath, using the hashtag #MashReads during the chat. You can also join our Facebook group to stay updated e on MashableReads, and let us know what you think of the book throughout the month.
Image: Mashable, Bianca Consunji
Want to hang out with the author in person? Share your thoughts on the book using the hashtag #MashReads via Vine, Instagram or Twitter prior to the chat, and we will select 10 people to visit Mashable‘s New York headquarters to meet Malcolm Gladwell and participate in our book club.
We spoke with Gladwell about activism on social media, inverted-U curves applied to large online classes and his geek confessions.
Q&A with Malcolm Gladwell
Mashable: In an article in The New Yorker in 2010, you questioned the creation of true, new social activism from social media. Do you still feel that way? Or has the breadth and depth of engagement changed since then?
Gladwell: My argument from 2010 is that some people were overstating the importance of social media in the kinds of political revolutions we were seeing during Arab Spring. Twitter and Facebook are brilliant tools for spontaneous organization and disseminating information, but revolutions require discipline, strategy and focused, effective leadership.
Most successful revolutions throughout history required years of planning and struggle to get those elements right. I think that subsequent events have born my argument out — just look at Egypt. But I think it’s important to understand that this isn’t a criticism of social media, which is a brilliant innovation that’s going to revolutionize the way we think and interact in countless different ways. But revolutions are a pretty tall order. They are really hard to do well — and even the greatest tool in the world isn’t going to change the fundamental dynamics of high-risk activism.
Silicon Valley can be much like a character in your book, Vivek Ranadivé, who never played basketball yet coached his daughter’s team to unheard-of victories by questioning the basic predetermined state of play. In both cases, we need to clear assumptions to innovate in the future. Do your theories hold as true for companies, particularly tech ones?
I think so. One of the things that fascinates me about Silicon Valley is how many fields are being turned upside down by complete outsiders. Elon Musk comes from online banking and ends up creating what will probably be seen as the one disruptive and influential automobile of his generation. The greatest ad men of our generation are the Google guys — two computer scientists from Stanford. I love the story of Vivek Ranadivé precisely for this reason, because it illustrates just how disruptive the complete outsider — the person who has absolutely no preconceptions about the way things ought to look like — can be.
Inverted-U curve graphs play a part in several stories; the one on student class size made perfect sense. What about on a broad scale of education for MOOCs (massive open online courses)? Surely at some point, the size and scale of sharing that much education is beneficial, yet the class size is huge. What happens when you blow out that side of the Inverted U?
Interesting! I think it’s absolutely right that online learning turns the social dynamics of education on its head. But think, for a moment, about the principles behind the Khan Academy, which I think is probably going to be the direction education is going to go. Khan says students should get their instruction at home, online. And they should do their homework at school in a social setting supervised and assisted by a teacher.
For the first half of that equation, “class size” is irrelevant. You can have a million kids in an online class. For the second half, though, it isn’t. So what is the optimal size for a classroom where the role of the teacher is to provide individualized feedback for academic review? I don’t know. But is the size of that curve probably U-shaped? I think so. I think you can have a “too small” and a “too large” classroom in that scenario just as easily as you can in a traditional learning environment.
Any change in thought on Dunbar’s number? Many people meet others on Instagram and Vine (i.e. video) that precludes any need to keep track of relationships between people you personally know.
Certainly Dunbar’s number — the Rule of 150 — was not intended to cover online environments. So Dunbar was saying that in face-to-face personal relationships, there is a clear threshold beyond which interpersonal ties no longer function effectively. Can you manage a greater number of relationships online? Undoubtedly. But an online relationship is a very different animal than a face-to-face relationship. It’s a whole lot less textured, for starters. And there also must be a threshold there, as well — although much higher. It would be fascinating to ask Dunbar what he thinks the Dunbar number ought to be online.
Do you have any secret geek confessions, like membership to a fandom or odd collections?
I am a massive track and field fan. I routinely schedule my day, so I can go online and watch obscure track meets in Europe in real-time.
Bonus: Gladwell’s TED Talk explaining the overarching theme of David and Goliath
Image: Ben Gabbe/Getty Images