Early one morning in 1996, Malcolm Gladwell sits at his desk at the New Yorker office. He’s new here, having spent the last decade at the Washington Post, covering business and science stories. None of his previous work has garnered much attention but crucially he’s now spent 10,000 hours over the course of a decade honing his craft. He’s now ready to write something truly great.
The son of a Jamaican psychotherapist and mathematics professor, Gladwell is wiry, both of body and hair. He could be the nerdy younger brother of Zack de la Rocha, the lead singer of Rage Against the Machine, the one his parents are proud of because he didn’t join a rock band. Gladwell is smart, intellectually curious and driven.
Gladwell gesticulates wildly when talking on topics he has a strong view on, which are many. His hands form shapes and point in myriad directions as if he’s conducting his own consciousness as his staccato voice explicates theories about the world that others have missed. His eyes are piercing, sharp, and widen when he arrives at the crescendo of his sentences.
In 1996, the New Yorker office is cramped, functional, smokey (smoking wouldn’t be banned in offices until 2002) . This morning he is scribbling away on a yellow notepad, sitting at a messy desk, covered in clippings and books by psychologists, coffee stains on almost all of them.
David Remnick, a Pulitzer prize winning journalist and now colleague of Gladwell, approaches his desk.
“Do you know I’ve been a journalist for 10,000 hours now?” Gladwell says to Remnick, glancing up from his notes.
“Why would you measure your career in hours?” Remnick replies.
“It’s such a nice round number though, isn’t it?”
“Sure, I guess. What do you think it means?”
“I have no idea. But it sounds GREAT”.
Gladwell has the seed of an idea for a book at this point, and he’s keen to talk about it. Little does Gladwell know that this seed will grow into a forest, and change the world forever.
He’s been reading about viruses, and how they move through a population. He’s also been tasked with writing an article about fashion and, in doing his research, reads…