How to Write a Malcolm Gladwell Book

Have you ever wanted to make millions by putting words on paper? Are you not terribly interested in research or footnotes? You could be the next Gladwell if you follow these steps.

1) Think of a single word. Something exciting.

How about “ZAP” ?

2) Think of an overwrought way to define something important about success.

I’m going to go with “Having an idea that might be good.”

3) Write a book called “Chicken Soup for the Businessman’s Soul”

This book contains stories about a bunch of people who ran businesses and were successful. It doesn’t matter how they did it or why. It doesn’t matter where you got the story or how accurately you portray it.

4) Now, change the title of that book to “ZAP.”

Remember, no self-respecting businessman would buy “Chicken Soup for the Businessman’s Soul.” That’s for softhearted wusses, and not enlightened hard-ass fact-seekers like your average self-conceived businessman. But “Zap” on an abstract background looks pretty serious.

5) Give it a subtitle that expresses (2) as if it’s a Newtonian principle.

I’m gonna go with “Zap: The emerging science of how successful entrepreneurs innovate.”

6) Go through all your chicken soup stories and put a reference to “Zap” at the beginning and end.

For example, let’s say we’re talking about Jeff Bezos. Simply start the section with “Jeff Bezos was headed for a life of run-of-the-mill middle class success. Then he was Zapped.” Then, at the end, say “Bezos wasn’t just clever. He was Zapped.”

Now your chicken soup stories are magically transmuted from anecdotes to data. Colloquially, they are said to be “Gladwelled.”

7) Make a listing of what businessmen can do to get the verb form of the book’s title to happen to them.

Here, you’ll need things like – have connections, have education, work hard, and experience good luck. However, these are all obvious or are things you can’t manually adjust. So change them to things like “find a connector,” or “be a fact synthesizer.”

8) Never encounter the word “counterfactual” or you may suffer a crisis of self image.

Remember the old joke among social scientists – “Predict the future? It’s hard enough to predict the past!” However, those social scientists haven’t realized that it’s easy to predict the past as long as you’re talking about one story at a time.


If you follow all these steps, friends, you too… could be Zapped ™.

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49 Responses to How to Write a Malcolm Gladwell Book

  1. Daniel Solis says:

    Please imagine the slowest, Orwelliest animated .gif here.




  2. Katie says:

    I was once forced to read a Gladwell book in college. The teacher LOVED him, and thought it was so awesomely done. We then had to write a ‘review’ of it.

    I wrote the most scathing bit of prose I’ve ever written. I say this as a woman that has a child with an IEP, has gone through a divorce, and was once told that she had to flirt with the sys admin to get him to do what she wanted. I could have smeared feces on a piece of a paper, lit it on fire, and it would have been more neutral than that review.

    The teacher was stunned, but I must have swayed her. She never taught him in her class again.

  3. DocStocks says:

    Excellent! Glad I never wasted a penny on one of this douche’s books, despite all the hype. Here’s a nice piece outlining what a scumbag he is:

  4. Mark e. says:

    Thanx a bunch, you just ruined all things Gladwell for me. :-( Please don’t do a “how to do a SMBC cartoon”, that would just be more than I could take.

  5. pascal says:

    oh no! How can I ever enjoy his TED-talk about pasta sauce again, it’ll feel even more like its own satire now!

  6. Counterfactual?
    Isn’t the first rule of selling snake-oil is never have self-doubt of any kind?

  7. Barb Darrow says:

    This is awesome. You should take on Tom Friedman next. (views are my own not my employer’s)

  8. Ben Atkin says:

    Another thing: add irrelevant but charming details when introducing people. Don’t worry if you get repetitive. Be sure to include the term “salt-and-pepper beard” once in a while.

  9. Jerkface says:

    Wow this sounds incredibly easy. So where is your Zap?

  10. Mal says:

    Ha, excellent!

    I’ll stick to reading blog posts instead. They’re basically Gladwell articles but shorter, unedited, lacking citations, and don’t cost me anything.

  11. Jono says:

    This could also be titled “How to write a Seth Godin book.”

    • Rags Srinivasan says:

      Like zapped he has his own words like – remarkable, purple cow, lynchpin
      As in, it is not enough for your product to be good, it needs to be remarkable.
      Ask what is remarkable you will hear – worthy of being remarked on. That is remarkable products are remarkable

  12. AMB says:


    My personal favorite:

    “The Tripping Point: How Psychoactive Substances Created a … Wait, I Can’t Feel My Face, Bro”

  13. Steve G says:

    ZAPP! already exists (spelled with an extra “P”). It’s actually a pretty good book, IMO.

    Amazon link for ZAPP!

  14. Craig Hyatt says:

    On the other hand, what have *you* accomplished lately.

  15. Karl Fogel says:

    Oh, what the heck, I’ll invite the ridicule: I like Malcolm Gladwell’s articles in The New Yorker. I haven’t read any of his books, so can’t comment on those. But the articles are worth reading, and while it would be possible, I suppose, to satirize them roughly according to the formula above, that doesn’t mean they’re content-free. They could be satirized, but not auto-generated.

    Btw, IIRC Gladwell uses counterfactuals all the time — as much as any other non-fiction writer. Or are you using it to mean “contrary evidence”?

  16. blimp says:

    Then again, you did read his book(s) so he’s doing something right.

    I really don’t understand the point of all these nonsensical “self-help” business books.

  17. Scott Free says:

    Malcolm Gladwell picks interesting topics. He writes about them in a very entertaining and informative style. Most people like his books and he sells a lot of them. People who don’t write in an entertaining and informative style and who don’t sell a lot of books are jealous of him. That’s pretty much it.

    • Katie says:

      Entertaining, yes. Informative, no.

      You -feel- like you have Knowledge when you’re done with Gladwell book, but most of it is intellectual masturbation. Nothing is actionable. There’s no supporting evidence outside of a few anecdotes. You just feel vaguely clever.

    • Jonathan says:

      @ Scott Free – That may be, but I would also say Galdwell presents you with a fantastic opportunity: to read him because everyone else is, or to read him because he’s saying something you personally find to be valuable.

      I personally find his books valueless (I have read The Tipping Point and Blink) because he presents them as being some kind of wisdom when in fact they are, as you say, just entertainment. Gladwell is to science what JK Rowling is to history.

  18. Pierre says:

    Shut up and take my money! I too want to be Zapped!

  19. Amy8123 says:

    Sure, Gladwell is to journalism what Madonna is to music – catchy, entertaining and trivial – but neither one of them really claims to be anything else. The question isn’t whether Gladwell or Madonna are great intellectuals, but rather why our society holds pop culture in such high regard to begin with.

  20. Fnord says:

    I think you mean “Glad: The emerging science of how books are judged by their cover”.

  21. srp says:

    Except for Harper Lee, just about any successful author relies upon a certain degree of productive routinization. If nothing else, their unconscious habits of mind will lead them to do similar things; if they have great success with one book, they’re likely to go back to that well at least a little bit. (Although James Blish said he never did succeed in isolating the elusive element that made his short story “Surface Tension” so much more popular than his other ones, much to his annoyance.)

    In addition, the successful author’s name acts as a brand and creates customer expectations that are dangerous to thwart–if Gladwell were to do something really different, he might be well-advised to use an alias.

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  27. Nickbeat says:

    I enjoyed some of Gladwell’s books, though I am still amused by Zach’s distillation of his writing tricks.

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  29. Raoul Duke says:

    The website inspired me to go out and buy such intriguing Malcolm Gladwell books as-

    Sizzle: Why some ideas pop while others merely crackle.

    Subtitles: How secondary titles inflate a sense of importance.


    Stretch: What George Takei, a toaster oven, and the Boston Celtics have in common.

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  35. mmazenko says:

    This is a fantastic, irreverent, and engaging analysis that I bet would actually be appreciated by Gladwell himself. As a high school English teacher of senior composition, I use The Tipping Point in my class for all the reasons people acknowledge here and disparage Gladwell. The class is for college-credit, and Gladwell-style books are rampant at the university level. Though that ubiquity is not without reason. Gladwell – like David Brooks and Thomas Friedman and Daniel Pink, etc. – is what people like to call an “ideas guru” – he reads all the complex and fascinating science and distills it for the common man to hopefully engage him in critical thinking (and make good money doing it). It’s no different than what the nightly news does, or magazine writers, or bloggers, or any other forms of commentary. Great post – and great fodder for discussion among my seniors today.

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