As I recently mentioned, I had the chance to attend the Forward with Ford conference in Dearborn, MI last month. There were so many great experiences that I’ve been struggling with the best way to break everything down. I’m still working that out, but there’s one event that stood out on it’s own, and that’s the opening dinner with keynote, Malcolm Gladwell.
We were all shuttled to Ford’s massive complex, right across the street from our hotel. They had assembled more than 100 media representatives from a wide range of backgrounds. There were people who covered tech, lifestyle, parenting, pets, social media, travel, the elderly, and more. Although I knew quite a few of the bloggers/socials media mavens, it was also nice to mingle with media from such diverse backgrounds.
If you’re not familiar with Malcolm Gladwell, he’s a staff writer at The New Yorkers magazine, and author of four books, including The Tipping Point, Blink, and Outliers. I’ve read The Tipping Point and Outliers, but only part of Blink. All three are well researched and full of engaging anecdotes that support the particular theory he’s trying to make. I have been singing the praises of Outliers far and wide, because it literally changed the way I look at the world around me. I’m not someone who says that very often, either. Gladwell explores the concept of success and argues that success isn’t tied to any one factor, such as intelligence of socio-economic level, but that it’s often due to a much more complex confluence of circumstances. Anyway, he not only says it better than I do, he says it in a more interesting way.
I was prepared to be disappointed by Gladwell as a public speaker. I’m not sure why, since he’s obviously hired frequently for exactly that role, but I guess I figured that I was so impressed with his books that it could only go downhill from there. In fact, I found him to be engaging and charismatic. He was so passionate about his subject matter that he captivated me, even though it was a topic I had little interest in otherwise.
Gladwell talked about a paradigm shift that occurred in the late 60’s and early 1970’s. Using Marvin Miller and his overhaul of the major league baseball player’s union as a primary example, Gladwell, explains how our society went from one that relied heavily on “authority ranking,” or unquestioned respect for and deference to authority, to one where individuals ask – and often demand – what they want. This same shift happened throughout our society, resulting in a strengthening of the Civil Rights movement, anti-war protests, and feminist movement. On an aside, Gladwell’s presentation made me think (as he always does) quite a bit about how my mom and I sometimes struggle with our different approaches to authority situations. She is often some combination of shocked, annoyed, and proud of how I go after the things I want in life. And I am equally baffled by the concept that someone wouldn’t simply ask for what they feel they need. We fall on opposite sides of this shift, and that is abundantly clear in our behavior patterns. Likewise, I think this very shift explains some of the tensions we see between Generation X’ers (who were growing up at this time) and our parents. That is probably a post for another day. Anyway, Ford shared this excerpt from the speech, where he talks about a new paradigm shift that we’re facing, and how it impacts the trends Ford put forth for the conference.
I’ve got a clip of video from Ford, but I’m having trouble embedding it properly in the post. Since this may never go live if I need to resolve that problem, you can just click on the link to see the video, right?
Malcolm Gladwell at Forward with Ford (video)
Malcolm did a little meet-and-greet afterwards, and I was thrilled to have him sign my copy of Outliers. I was too intimidated to say much to him in that environment, but would have loved to sit down for a much longer chat. I think his books appeal to me because my mind works in similar ways in terms of making connections between things. Maybe some day I’ll have the chance to connect with him in more depth. Regardless, I was thankful to get to hear him speak in person,