Malcolm Gladwell Explains Where His Ideas Come From

For many readers out there, the publication of a new Malcolm Gladwell article ranks as an event demanding immediate attention. They'll read whatever he writes, not just because they enjoy his style but because they trust his instinct for finding fascinating subjects, from coffee to health care, college rankings to dog training, shopping malls to school shootings. How did he develop that instinct? He reveals aspects of his idea-generating process in the seventeen-minute interview with New Yorker editor David Remnick just above. It turns out that, just as with most of us — or as it would ideally go with most of us — Gladwell's ideas sprout organically from his strengths.

But those strengths, in turn, sprout organically from his weaknesses. An early New Yorker assignment, handed down by then-editor Tina Brown, had Gladwell covering the 1989 attack on the woman referred to, at the time, as the Central Park Jogger. Instead of doing the kind of prolonged, emotional interviews many reporters would have done with the victim's friends and family, he instead contacted the surgeon who operated on her, ending up with a piece on "practice variation in medicine," the phenomenon whereby different medical practitioners in different regions of the country end up going about their job in persistently different ways. "They can't seem to get everyone on the same page," as Gladwell frames the problem.




The intersection of the New Yorker's tradition of and expectation for long-form pieces with his own inability to perform traditional reportage gave Gladwell a sense of where he should look for promising leads. Rejecting character as a hook, he instead goes looking for intriguing theories, operating on the conception of most writers as "experience-rich and theory-poor." Instead of simply reporting on the latest school shooting, for instance, he wrote about a Stanford sociologist's theory of riots that he could apply to the phenomenon of school shootings themselves. His next book, about which he reveals a thing or two in this interview, deals in part with a different kind of shooting: that committed by police.

"I have the advantage of coming to it late," Gladwell says to Remnick, explaining how his perspective and thus his writing on the subject might differ from those of others. That simple statement may hold the key to Gladwell's vault of ideas: with no obligation to give a rundown of the facts as they emerge, he can step back for a moment (be it a few months or a few decades) and get a sense of which stories will ultimately take the right shape to connect to the many broad, intriguing ideas, in the form of academic theory or otherwise, with which he's already familiarized himself. As much as Gladwell seems like a writer of the moment (and here he describes his "ur-reader" as a fortysomething Trader Joe's executive who only has time for three books a year, plus podcasts), he gets a fair bit of mileage out of one of the most old-fashioned assets of them all: a well-stocked mind.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

Elton John Proves He Can Turn any Text into a Song: Watch Him Improvise with Lines from Henrik Ibsen’s Play, Peer Gynt

I'm not a lyric writer. I get all my inspiration from looking at the written page. - Elton John

Inspiration is one thing. Acting on it is another. Sir Elton’s output seems to go beyond his magical combination of talent, work ethic, and training. He claims to have taken all of 30 minutes to complete "Your Song." In his 2005 appearance on Inside the Actor's Studio, excerpted above, he passed his genius off as something akin to a party trick, calling on the audience to pass up a book—any book—as source material for an insta-song.

Given the number of student actors in the audience, it’s really not so surprising that the first volume to hit the stage was Henrik Ibsen’s 1867 verse play Peer Gynt.




Magicians heighten the drama by demanding absolute silence prior to a difficult trick.

John swings the other way. The resulting improvised tune is all the more impressive for his off the cuff, raunchy text-based patter. It's hard to imagine Ibsen playing so fast and loose with lines like:

Everything spites me with a vengeance

Sky and water and those wicked mountains

Fog pouring out of the sky to confound him

The water hurling in to drown him

The mountains pointing their rocks to fall-

And those people, all of them out for the kill!

Oh no, not to die!

I mustn’t lose him. The lout!

Why’s the devil have to tease him?

What might Metallica or Iron Maiden have conjured from such material? In John’s hands, it becomes a lush, emotionally charged ballad, the mountains and fog apt metaphors.

In his book Inside Inside, host James Lipton names this as one of “the two most astounding improvisations in the history of Inside the Actors Studio.” The other was Robin Williams making merry with a pink pashmina shawl.

In a 2012 interview with NPR, John went into the nature of his collaboration with his longtime word man, Bernie Taupin. Unlike other lyricists, Taupin does not think in terms of verse and chorus, leaving it to John to free the song from a wall of text:

It’s just a blank—well, not a blank, but it's a piece of paper. In the old days, it was handwritten. Then it got typed. Then it got faxed. Now it gets emailed. And it's no suggestions, nothing. And we've never written in the same room. I don't know if people know that. But he gives me the lyric, and I go away and write the song, and then come back and play it to him. And I've never lost the enjoyment or the thrill of playing him the song that I've just written to his lyric.

If you’d like to finish what John started by further musicalizing Ibsen’s Peer Gynt, the complete script can be read here. Or listen to the 1946 radio adaptation starring Ralph Richardson as Peer Gynt and Laurence Olivier as the Troll King and a button-moulder, below. Also above, you can watch John turn instructions for using an oven (yes, that daily appliance) into song.

via metafilter

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Join her in NYC on March 20 for the second installment of Necromancers of the Public Domain at The Tank. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Meet Mandy Harvey, the Deaf Singer Songwriter Who Performs Barefoot & Feels the Music Through Vibrations in the Ground

Attractive young female singer-songwriters who shuck their shoes onstage sometimes find that this small attempt to pass themselves off as folksy and “real” has the opposite effect.

Mandy Harvey, however, is above reproach. The deaf singer-songwriter performs barefoot out of necessity, using her unclad soles to pick up on the vibrations of various instruments through the floorboards. It allows her to keep time and, in so doing, helps her to stay emotionally connected to the other musicians with whom she’s performing, as she told NPR earlier this year, when she was one of 10 finalists on America's Got Talent.

“I’ll feel and concentrate on the drums through the floor, through my feet and then the bass through your chest,” she said in an interview with Colorado Public Radio. “And then if a saxophone player is next to me then it will be on my arm. So you just designate different parts of your body so you can concentrate on who’s playing what and when.”




Born with near perfect pitch and a connective tissue disorder that impaired her hearing, she was able to pursue her love of music by relying on hearing aids and lip reading until 18, when she finally lost her hearing for good, as a freshman Vocal Music Education major at Colorado State University.

While she has never heard fellow songbirds Adele or Taylor Swift, she has gotten over the stage fright that plagued her when she still retained some hearing. Vocally, she turns to muscle memory and visual tuners to see her through.

Her talent is such that some listeners are convinced her deafness is a publicity stunt, a misperception that eats at Wayne Connell, founder of the Invisible Disabilities Association, a non-profit with whom Harvey is active:

We've created an idea [of] how people are supposed to look when they're broken and so when you don't fit that imaginary mold, then it's a trick, or you're a liar — or you're not really broken, so you shouldn't be doing certain things.

See Harvey performing barefoot at the Kennedy Center on the 23rd anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, below.

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How Did Beethoven Compose His 9th Symphony After He Went Completely Deaf?

Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Follow her @AyunHalliday.

The “Humans of New York” Photo Project Becomes a 13-Part Video Documentary Series: Watch It Free Online


New York, New York—there are many ways of assessing whether or not you’ve “made” it here—these days it includes an appearance on photographer Brandon Stanton’s wildly popular blog, Humans of New York, in which a spontaneous street portrait is anchored by a personal quote or longer anecdote.

Following several books and a UN-sponsored world tour to document humans in over twenty countries, the project has morphed into a 13-episode docu-series as part of Facebook’s original video content platform.

Aided by cinematographer Michael Crommett, Stanton elicits his customary blend of universal and specific truths from his interview subjects. Extending the moment into the video realm affords viewers a larger window onto the complexities of each human’s situation.

Take episode four, “Relationships,” above:

An ample, unadorned woman in late-middle age recalls being swept off her feet by a passion that still burns bright…

An NYU grad stares uncomfortably in her purple cap and gown as her divorced parents air various regrets…

A couple with mismatched views on marriage are upstaged by a spontaneous proposal unfolding a few feet away…

La Vie en Rose holds deep meaning for two couples, despite radically different locations, presentations, and orientations.

A little girl has no problem calling the shots around her special fella…

I love you, New York!!!

Other themes include Money, Time, Purpose, and Parenting.

One of the great pleasures of both series and blog is Stanton’s open-mindedness as to what constitutes New York and New Yorkers.

Some interviews take place near such tourist-friendly locales as Bethesda Fountain and the Washington Square Arch, but just as many transpire alongside noticeably Outer Borough architecture or the blasted cement heaths aproning its less sought after public schools.

Those who live here will nod with recognition at the cherry blossom selfies, "showtime" in the subway, and the Bushwick vibe of the groom who proposed to his bride at Coney Island, under the Nathan’s Famous Hot Dog Eating Contest Wall of Fame.

Ditto the appearance of such local celebrities as Jimmy Webb, emeritus manager of the punk boutique, Trash and Vaudeville and Blackwolf the Dragonmaster, the city’s unofficial wizard.

Below, Stanton explains his goal when conducting interviews and demonstrates how a non-threatening approach can soften strangers to the point of candor.

It's well know 'round these parts that certain segments of the local populace would gnaw off limbs to be immortalized by Stanton, but he cleaves to the pure serendipity of his selection process. Asking to have your picture taken ensures that it won’t be. Luck puts you in front of his lens. Sharing your truth is what makes you human.

Watch Humans of New York: The Series here.

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Watch “Alike,” a Poignant Short Animated Film About the Enduring Conflict Between Creativity and Conformity

From Barcelona comes "Alike," a short animated film by Daniel Martínez Lara and Rafa Cano Méndez. Made with Blender, an open-source 3D rendering program, "Alike" has won a heap of awards and clocked an impressive 10 million views on Youtube and Vimeo. A labor of love made over four years, the film revolves around this question: "In a busy life, Copi is a father who tries to teach the right way to his son, Paste. But ... What is the correct path?" To find the answer, they have to let a drama play out. Which will prevail? Creativity? Or conformity? It's an internal conflict we're all familiar with. 

Watch the film when you're not in a rush, when you have seven unburdened minutes to take it in. "Alike" will be added to our list of Free Animations, a subset of our collection, 1,150 Free Movies Online: Great Classics, Indies, Noir, Westerns, etc..

Follow Open Culture on Facebook and Twitter and share intelligent media with your friends. Or better yet, sign up for our daily email and get a daily dose of Open Culture in your inbox. 

If you'd like to support Open Culture and our mission, please consider making a donation to our site. It's hard to rely 100% on ads, and your contributions will help us provide the best free cultural and educational materials.

via Design Taxi

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Bryan Cranston Gives Advice to the Young: Find Yourself by Traveling and Getting Lost

I don’t know what time you’re reading this post but “What do you really want to do in life?” is a question that can wake you up right fast, or make you want to pack it in and sleep on it.

It’s also a question asked maybe a bit too early of our young people, which starts with fantasy (“What do you want to be when you grow up?” “A spaceman!”) and by our teens it turns into a more serious, fate-deciding inquiry by people who may not be happy with their station in life.

Actor Bryan Cranston takes on this question in this Big Think video, and extolls the virtues of travel and wandering.




“Traveling forces you to be social,” Cranston says. “You have to get directions.You have to learn where things are. You’re attuned to your environment.”

Cranston thought he was going to be a policeman when he entered college. Then he took an acting class. So, at 19, Cranston explored America for two years by motorcycle with his brother, in essence to find themselves by getting lost. He says he’s passed on this directionless wandering to his now 24 year-old daughter.

That idea of letting go and just wandering also dovetails nicely into his other advice about auditions. You don’t go there to get a job, you go to create a character and present it. The rest is out of your control.

Now, Cranston says that the period between high school/college and the “real world” is the best time to do it, but there’s really no time like right now. To quote Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, “I think you travel to search and you come back home to find yourself there,” and the boats are always leaving. Just jump on.

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Ted Mills is a freelance writer on the arts who currently hosts the artist interview-based FunkZone Podcast and is the producer of KCRW's Curious Coast. You can also follow him on Twitter at @tedmills, read his other arts writing at tedmills.com and/or watch his films here.

Lynda Barry on How the Smartphone Is Endangering Three Ingredients of Creativity: Loneliness, Uncertainty & Boredom

The phone gives us a lot but it takes away three key elements of discovery: loneliness, uncertainty and boredom. Those have always been where creative ideas come from. - Lynda Barry

In the spring of 2016, the great cartoonist and educator, Lynda Barry, did the unthinkable, prior to giving a lecture and writing class at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center.

She demanded that all participating staff members surrender their phones and other such personal devices.

Her victims were as jangled by this prospect as your average iPhone-addicted teen, but surrendered, agreeing to write by hand, another antiquated notion Barry subscribes to:

The delete button makes it so that anything you’re unsure of you can get rid of, so nothing new has a chance. Writing by hand is a revelation for people. Maybe that’s why they asked me to NASA – I still know how to use my hands… there is a different way of thinking that goes along with them.

Barry—who told the Onion’s AV Club that she crafted her book What It Is with an eye toward bored readers stuck in a Jiffy Lube oil-change waiting room—is also a big proponent of doodling, which she views as a creative neurological response to boredom:

Boring meeting, you have a pen, the usual clowns are yakking. Most people will draw something, even people who can’t draw. I say “If you’re bored, what do you draw?” And everybody has something they draw. Like “Oh yeah, my little guy, I draw him.” Or “I draw eyeballs, or palm trees.” … So I asked them “Why do you think you do that? Why do you think you doodle during those meetings?” I believe that it’s because it makes having to endure that particular situation more bearable, by changing our experience of time. It’s so slight. I always say it’s the difference between, if you’re not doodling, the minutes feel like a cheese grater on your face. But if you are doodling, it’s more like Brillo.  It’s not much better, but there is a difference. You could handle Brillo a little longer than the cheese grater.

Meetings and classrooms are among the few remaining venues in which screen-addicted moths are expected to force themselves away from the phone’s inviting flame. Other settings—like the Jiffy Lube waiting room—require more initiative on the user's part.




Once, we were keener students of minor changes to familiar environments, the books strangers were reading in the subway, and those strangers themselves. Our subsequent observations were known to spark conversation and sometimes ideas that led to creative projects.

Now, many of us let those opportunities slide by, as we fill up on such fleeting confections as Candy Crush, funny videos, and all-you-can-eat servings of social media.

It’s also tempting to use our phones as defacto shields any time social anxiety looms. This dodge may provide short term comfort, especially to younger people, but remember, Barry and many of her cartoonist peers, including Daniel Clowes, Simon Hanselmann, and Ariel Schrag, toughed it out by making art. That's what got them through the loneliness, uncertainty, and boredom of their middle and high school years.

The book you hold in your hands would not exist had high school been a pleasant experience for me… It was on those quiet weekend nights when even my parents were out having fun that I began making serious attempts to make stories in comics form.

Adrian Tomine, introduction to 32 Stories

Barry is far from alone in encouraging adults to peel themselves away from their phone dependency for their creative good.

Photographer Eric Pickersgill’s Removed imagines a series of everyday situations in which phones and other personal devices have been rendered invisible. (It’s worth noting that he removed the offending articles from the models’ hands, rather that Photoshopping them out later.)

Computer Science Professor Calvin Newport’s recent book, Deep Work, posits that all that shallow phone time is creating stress, anxiety, and lost creative opportunities, while also doing a number on our personal and professional lives.

Author Manoush Zomorodi’s recent TED Talk on how boredom can lead to brilliant ideas, below, details a weeklong experiment in battling smartphone habits, with lots of scientific evidence to back up her findings.

But what if you wipe the slate of digital distractions only to find that your brain’s just… empty? A once occupied room, now devoid of anything but dimly recalled memes, and generalized dread over the state of the world?

The aforementioned 2010 AV Club interview with Barry offers both encouragement and some useful suggestions that will get the temporarily paralyzed moving again:

I don’t know what the strip’s going to be about when I start. I never know. I oftentimes have—I call it the word-bag. Just a bag of words. I’ll just reach in there, and I’ll pull out a word, and it’ll say “ping-pong.” I’ll just have that in my head, and I’ll start drawing the pictures as if I can… I hear a sentence, I just hear it. As soon as I hear even the beginning of the first sentence, then I just… I write really slow. So I’ll be writing that, and I’ll know what’s going to go at the top of the panel. Then, when it gets to the end, usually I’ll know what the next one is. By three sentences or four in that first panel, I stop, and then I say “Now it’s time for the drawing.” Then I’ll draw. But then I’ll hear the next one over on another page! Or when I’m drawing Marlys and Arna, I might hear her say something, but then I’ll hear Marlys say something back. So once that first sentence is there, I have all kinds of choices as to where I put my brush. But if nothing is happening, then I just go over to what I call my decoy page. It’s like decoy ducks. I go over there and just start messing around.

Related Content:

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Follow her @AyunHalliday.

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