Sunday, August 16, 2009



I came into the world asking this question, or so I've been told. Those who know me well are probably not surprised.

I told Rich just the other day that I enjoy discussing comedy with a comedian friend, Jason Steinhauser, partly because I like to analyze the mechanics of comedy with him.

For me, it isn't enough to recognize that something is funny, appreciate it for the humor, and move on. I need to know "why" it was funny.

Rich and I have many similar discussions about writing. Why one book was better than another, or why something we're writing should be done a certain way. I can't be satisfied with the answer that something is purely subjective or random. And sometimes, if I can't find a rational answer after careful analysis, I sniff a conspiracy.

Some out there have labeled me philosophical, or rhetorical, or rebellious... or weird. They don't see the value in asking "why". It just is. Accept it and move on. Be practical. They don't seem to understand that I can't.

But a few years ago, I found a kindred spirit: another "why" guy, and I instantly liked him. His name is Malcolm Gladwell.

He describes himself, thusly:

I'm a writer for the New Yorker magazine, and the author of two books, "The Tipping Point: How Little Things Make a Big Difference" and "Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking." I was born in England, and raised in southwestern Ontario in Canada. Now I live in New York City. My great claim to fame is that I'm from the town where they invented the BlackBerry. My family also believes (with some justification) that we are distantly related to Colin Powell. I invite you to look closely at the photograph above and draw your own conclusions.
Now in my opinion, Malcolm understates himself, but I get it. He most likely only sees himself as a regular guy who happens to wonder why things are the way there are. But he's done so much more than that. And the Fortune 500 guys who've hired him since he wrote his first book, "The Tipping Point" agree.

The theory is that if we know why something happens repeatedly -- if we've found the pattern -- why can't we stop it from happening or make it happen. And that's where the brilliance and the goldmine come in.

"Why" for the sake of "why" is one thing. But figuring out why in order to capitalize or to make a difference is another altogether.

Now, I'm a fiction writer and a fiction reader primarily. But in the non-fiction world, aside from spiritual writings, I'd put Malcolm's works at the top of the list of books to absolutely find and read if you haven't already.

"Why?" you might ask. Because they will change the way you see the world and your place in it.

[Ed. note: Since Blink, Malcolm has published, Outliers: The Story of Success, and also writes a blog with more of his insights.]

1 comment:

Rich said...

Why... does the block quote you added not look like a block quote, I wonder? Joking.

Really, this post is just so you. I know it highlights Malcolm Gladwell, but the analysis of all things to an artform -- it's one of your defining characteristics. It's why you're so good at critiquing, it's why you're great at the editing process, and why you excel at plot.

It's also where I'm weakest. I'm not a big "why?" guy (although I have to answer that question many times to my youngest son -- he is a "why"-guy, and sometimes that's difficult and frustrating for me, even though I usually have patience there, both with him and me). The idea, story, settings, characters, and dialog come first to me, and I just like to dive on in, and then I'm left scratching my head when the plot holes the size of craters are staring up from the pages, and I've got to go back and try to fix them. It's awesome to have a Ken Story around to rein me in, despite all my kicking against the goads.

You're welcome. :)