BlackBerry World: Q&A with Malcolm Gladwell


Malcolm Gladwell

We’re very excited to have Malcolm Gladwell back to BlackBerry World as a keynote speaker! Malcolm Gladwell is the author of four books, a staff writer with The New Yorker magazine since 1996 and was recently named one of Time Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People. I was lucky enough to be able to speak with him in advance of BlackBerry World – I hope you enjoy it!

Can you give us a hint as to what you’ll be addressing during your keynote at the BlackBerry World™ conference?

And ruin the surprise? No way.

Last December you spoke at Research In Motion® (RIM®)’s CIO summit, during which you discussed the difference between Puzzles and Mysteries. In light of advances in areas like business intelligence, data mining, and predictive analytics, not to mention the increasingly dense social graph, how do you see Information Technology helping organizations deal with puzzles, and more importantly, ‘mysteries’?

In that talk, I spoke about this distinction that Gregory Treverton – the defense analyst – has come up with between “puzzles”– problems that can be solved through the accumulation of extra information — and “mysteries”, problems that begin with an excess of information. We are really much more in a mystery world these days than a puzzle world. And the real test of modern analytics, I think, is whether they can help decisions simplify and prioritize the maze of data in front of them.

Recently in your article “The revolution will not be tweeted”, you somewhat infamously paint a less than glossy picture of social media – can you expand a bit on what value you see social media providing to individuals/organization/countries?

In that article I simply disputed the notion that social media is or can be a crucial factor in social revolutions–in aiding those who engage in high risk activism. Successful revolutions require a number of things that social media cannot provide – principally tight-knit trustworthy social networks, strategic direction, and disciplined behavior. But there are a whole host of things for which social media is beautifully positioned: like sharing ideas, coordinating mass, informal activities, and sponsoring “weak ties.” That article I wrote was considered controversial. I have no idea why.

Looking at your articles on the ’10,000 hours rule’, Genius vs. Precocity, etc., it seems that you place great value on ‘sweat equity’ and the long/slow road to success. The BlackBerry® solution has always focused on utility and helping users achieve more. What role do you see technology playing in helping people achieve — can I get away with less than 10,000 hours, or is it just a different way of spending those hours?

The great promise of technology, I think, is that it can so improve the efficiency of our learning that we can reach mastery in less time that it took those of previous generations. A great example is chess. Much of the 10,000 hours research was based on chess grandmasters: you simply couldn’t find someone who could reach the top tier of chess playing who had not first put in at least 10,000 hours (or ten years) of practice. Today, that’s not true anymore. There are lots of chess players who reach the top level more quickly than that. Why? Because kids can now play chess online–and find a steady diet of challenging players. And there is now chess software, which makes it possible to learn the game far more efficiently than before. I suspect that many fields will see a similar acceleration in learning in years to come.

You spoke at WES 2007 and WES 2009, and you’re back now for BlackBerry World 2011. What do you see as the major changes in the industry during this time?

Have I really spoken that many times? I feel old. Well obviously, the smartphone world has gotten far more competitive in the intervening years. But I still don’t think anyone can top the BlackBerry brand.

You must be on the road quite a bit with your various speaking engagements, other than your BlackBerry smartphone, what’s your ‘must have’ travel tool?

One of those high-end sleep masks. It’s amazing how much easier they make sleeping on a plane.

It seems that you’ve written on an incredibly diverse range of topics – where do you get your ideas and inspiration?

I’ll never tell!

Thanks for this great interview! Readers, you can check out Malcolm Gladwell for yourself when he speaks at BlackBerry World, so be sure to register today!

About Roger B.

Joining Research In Motion® (RIM) in 2001, Roger has worked in BlackBerry® Alliance Marketing, vertical segment marketing and product marketing. By leveraging this diverse background, for the past few years Roger has been involved with market research, analyst relations, and other research initiatives. A graduate of the Ivey Business School and MIT’s Executive program in Strategy & Innovation, Roger has been involved in technology marketing for the past 15 years working in Asia, Europe, and North America. Passionate about the impact technology has on people and processes, he brings this vast array of experiences together as a lead contributor to the “BlackBerry For Business” social media presence.

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