Conclusion: A Theory of Other Minds

Malcolm Gladwell

Lesson time 7:52 min

Malcolm delivers his parting words about the true intent of nonfiction writing.

Malcolm Gladwell
Teaches Writing
In 24 lessons, the author of Blink and The Tipping Point teaches you how to find, research, and write stories that capture big ideas.
Get All-Access


There's a principle in psychology called the other minds problem. And the other minds problem is the problem that a child faces when he or she first comes into the world. In the very beginning, a child assumes that the contents of their own mind is the same as the contents of everyone else's mind. If a child wants a cracker, the child assumes that his mom wants a cracker. He doesn't-- he can't make a distinction. But there's a certain point-- a crucial point in the development of a child-- when it suddenly occurs to him or her that if he wants a cracker it doesn't necessarily follow that his mom wants a cracker. That is when a child develops a theory of other minds, right, that people have minds different from his own. And it's a crucial point in development. And a lot of what a two-year-old does, when a two-year-old is being terrible, is a two-year-old is simply experimenting with this new insight. The reason the 2-year-old does something outrageous and then looks at his mother or father is that he's so delighted by the notion that his father and mother think differently than he does. It's never occurred to him, to that point. And I think that it's not just two-year-olds who are fascinated with the discovery of other minds, this marvelous, incredible insight that every single human being on the planet has something different going on inside their head. I think that we all are, and that a lot of what-- a lot of what makes us brings us pleasure. In reading or in writing or in the active engagement with all sorts of art, is a version of the other minds discovery. It is the pleasure we get in investigating the contents of someone else's mind, and being reminded, once again, how amazing it is that you don't think like me, right? So I wanted to read something that I wrote on this, as it-- as it pertains to writing, and then talk a little bit about that. Because that goes to the heart of why I do what I do, because I think very explicitly about the other minds question when I'm writing. And I'm reading this selection from the introduction to my book, "What the Dog Saw," which you should all buy in triplicate. And I start by talking about this two-year-old thing. "Why is a two-year-old terrible? Because she is systematically testing the fascinating and, to her, utterly novel notion that something that gives her pleasure might not actually give someone else pleasure. And the truth is that as adults we never lose that fascination. What is the first thing that we want to know when we meet someone who is a doctor at a social occasion? It isn't 'What do you do?' We know, sort of, what a doctor does. "Instead, we want to know what it means to be with sick people all day long. We want to know what it feels like to be a doctor, because we're quite sure that it doesn't feel at all like what it means to sit at a computer all day long, or teach school, or sell cars. Such questions are not dumb or obvious. Curiosity about the interior li...

Transform the ordinary

Ketchup. Crime. Quarterbacks. Thanks to Malcolm Gladwell’s books, these ordinary subjects have helped millions of readers grasp complex ideas like behavioral economics and performance prediction. Now, the renowned storyteller and best-selling author of Blink and The Tipping Point is teaching his first online writing class. Craft stories that captivate by learning how Malcolm researches topics, crafts characters, and distills big ideas into simple, powerful narratives.


Students give MasterClass an average rating of 4.7 out of 5 stars.

I liked many of the specific recommendations he presented, as well as the overall tone of inspiration and encouragement he offered.

Loving it so far. Malcolm is so pleasantly normal.

I have gotten so much from this class! I love this Masterclass! I've really enjoyed his examples, stories and his thoughts behind his choices. He's so enjoyable to watch and spend time with Malcolm.. a real treat that I will savour! Thank you!

I did not expect, and can never express the appreciation I feel, for the depth of detail, the intensity of the knowledge Malcolm Gladwell shared with us. My writing cannot help but benefit from his insights.



I love Malcolm's attitude toward writing. "Writing is an act of service...it is also an empathetic act."

Mary H.

I loved Malcolm’s class! His teaching spoke to me on a level that’s hard to put into words right now. I want a career like his, but my own version. Malcolm’s passion and energy shines. 👏🎉

A fellow student

Gladwell is awesome! I had read all of his books before, so I know what a fantastic writer he is -- one of the few people I know who can write brilliantly, lucidly, and compellingly about anything. But he is also an engaging speaker and teacher. Thank you for this masterclass. I will probably watch it again and share it with friends.

Barb R.

This was time well spent and the exercises are a work in progress for me for many days ahead. The material is valuable, considerable and worthy of time. Thank you.

Naphtali S.

This entire class was more than I expected it to be. Thanks Malcolm. FWIW I just downloaded David and Goliath.

Mary S.

Malcolm was another example of a talented "artist" who is not a great teacher. I have spent forty years writing non-fiction as a career civil servant in the field of criminal justice and his references to that field seemed simplistic. But I like that he can take the other perspective on a set of facts and turn them into the unexpected. But I wanted to have him go into depth showing how the "sausage" is made. A single focus on one of his stories could have spanned a number of his lessons instead of jumping to other stories. Ron Howard used at least five sessions of his 20 plus sessions to show us how to shoot a scene. It was very detailed. Malcolm should have done something like that with one of his stories.

Laurence D.

Malcolm Gladwell's compassion, enthusiasm, and humility were truly inspiring. His insights will help to make me a more thoughtful reader and writer. My thanks go out to him.

Tornado T.

Thank you Malcolm Gladwell! I have learned numerous tips about how to impact the reader through a non fiction article or essay, with simple words or, if the matter is complex, with simple and striking explanations that let the public understand the basic concept or the general phenomenon. As a french part's Swiss, I understood you without subtitles, in spite of the fact I'm not bilingual. So in a way, you proved your point. You reached me, and I thank you for your contribution.


Malcolm without the Muddle ... clarity is a wonderful thing. My toolbox is jam packed with new tools. I am ready to dig into other minds and explore the boundaries. Thank you Malcolm for your insights.

Nik S.

This class is about life, about teaching any profession, hobby or self improvement. You can tell the passion for story telling and the love for people he is writing about in any second of this class. I am a marketing freelancer and photographer. I can transfer almost every sentence to my needs, if I want to make something special and emotional. There must be a reason why I have 5 books of him and also watched this masterclass.