FT’s Luke Johnson Labels Malcolm Gladwell “A Useful Idiot”

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

I thought Blink sucked and I also believe Gladwell is way overrated.  Mr. Gladwell’s writings generally come across as too much “thinking without thinking”, and some of what he espouses is literally dangerous.  This piece in today’s FT therefore struck a chord –

“…..If you want to understand and write about entrepreneurs, then there is no substitute for working with them.  I have spent more than 25 years partnering entrepreneurs, and indeed practising as one, and the past nine years writing about them every week for national newspapers.  Unfortunately, best-selling author Malcolm Gladwell has not – and it shows.  A recent issue of The New Yorker magazine includes an essay entitled “The sure thing: How entrepreneurs really succeed”.  This is a classic Mr Gladwell piece, suggesting that our preconception of business legends as risk-takers is wrong.  He asserts that “successful entrepreneurs are seen as bold gamblers; in reality they’re highly risk-averse”.  His speciality is a counter-intuitive revelation about human behaviour that demonstrates that our preconceived ideas are wrong.  If this article is anything to go by, I think his journalism is shoddy.  The only sources he cites are biographies of tycoons such as Ted Turner and John Paulson, a slim book I wrote about a while ago called The Illusions of Entrepreneurship and similarly derivative material.  Seemingly this grand new concept about how riches are accumulated is not founded on original interviews with entrepreneurs, or indeed direct experience with them.  Therefore, at best, Mr Gladwell’s theory could be described as a hunch based on a few carefully selected examples, rather than a representative study……Mr Gladwell is naively trumpeting bad capitalism and doing a disservice to real entrepreneursHe reminds me of the “useful idiot”, the sort of sympathiser who acted as a cheerleader for Soviet communism, while the system was oppressing and imprisoning its citizens.”

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