Malcolm Gladwell

Lesson time 14:32 min

Malcolm shares his guiding principles to uncovering a good idea for a story through research.

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.
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The very thing that makes you love Google is why Google is not that useful. So you love Google because I want to know what the capital of Tanzania is. So I say, what is the capital of Tanzania? And it tells me, right? But that-- Google, in other words, has given me a dead end. I have my question. It answers my question. If I'm looking for a story, I don't want a dead end. What I want to do is I want to be lead somewhere entirely new and unexpected. So how do I get led to somewhere in entirely new and unexpected if I type in, what is the capital of Tanzania? I suppose I could type in "Tanzania." That kind of helps. But now, I'm still getting all the stuff on Tanzania. In other words, Google's too good. What you really want Google to do is to make mistakes-- to type in Tanzania, and Google gives me a bunch of stuff on Tanzania, but it will also randomly-- because it screwed up, throws in three things that are sort of about that, but are actually something entirely different that makes you think, oh, my goodness, I had never thought of this. Or-- and then Google gives you everything ranked by its popularity, right? That is the worst thing imaginable. Can you-- you're trying to write an article that's about something new and fresh that people want to read. What does Google show you? All the things that people have been reading. It's set up to confirm-- to confirm the direction that you're already on. And that's fine if that's the kind of story you want to write, if you know exactly where you're going. But I think the real problem-- the central challenge of the writer is the challenge you have at the beginning. What direction-- not what direction do I want to go in, right? I mean, of all of the different places I can go in the world, give me-- I want to find me some new, interesting place to go. And that is where the computer is not your friend. [MUSIC PLAYING] Librarians, as a class, are the friendliest people in America. Let's just start with that fact. Their job is to help you access the knowledge they have under their control. That's their job. They're trained to do that. It's what brings them pleasure. So once you understand that they're there for you, then it-- then the world is your oyster, right? You-- they want you to come into their library. They want to help you find stuff. They want to root through the archives for you. They want to do everything for you. And they-- I think their biggest problem is they think the world has forgotten about them. So you are, I mean, answering so many basic human needs by showing up at the library. So that's the easiest part of it. The hard part is-- the library is-- I mean, it is the physical version of the internet. I mean, it's like-- the problem is, where do you go? I even do things-- something as simple as, if I read a book that I really love, I will go to the library and I will see what books are around that book on the shelves, right? Because if that topic's really inter...

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.

This was a good overview of narrative non-fiction that inspired me to go further with my writing.

I've learned I am a nonfiction writer. Which is a huge revelation. And because of his advice and all that he shared I will be an amazing nonfiction writer.

Malcolm Gladwell is the most inspiring writer of our time, the way his mind works and his genuine humanity, inspires me to follow his path.

This class was filled with nuggets of wisdom that apply not just to writing but to communication of all kinds. Thank you, Malcolm Gladwell.


Robert C.

In Lesson 3, Malcolm mentions giving his readers "tools." Can someone give me an example of such a tool. Feel free to create a context.

Adaliah B.

Understanding your message means holding the main points and to keep your readers reading!!!! I love it!!

William C.

Loved your Masterclass, but as an SEO practitioner for years, Google does not rank things by popularity. That's very off, I guess you can arguably loosely say that based on 'amount of links' but there are plenty of small bloggers that rank well for stuff out of relevant/value/UX


How am I enjoying this even more than his books?!? (Oh right, because he's solving the puzzle of who he is and how he works.)

Mina P.

Malcolm put into words what I feel about library compare to the web. Also great saying about google giving us a full answer and not a lead to a story. My biggest problem following footnotes is that I don't know when to stop and I get lost in time.

Kimberly B.

I am excited about discovering the libraries in my new town. I love the idea of finding the books and articles in the footnotes and then exploring the books next to those on the shelves and then move out further down the shelf. I have been doing this at the bookstore but they aren't organized quite as good. I used to do this at our University library but have lived in small town over the years with a very tiny library.

Khalid A.

Great ideas on story research. One thing I might add is to rephrase the first message, from "get off the Internet," to "leverage the internet," and then link it to "follow your curiosity." In fact, what about taking it one step further? Instead of following your curiosity, what if we can seed our curiosity? I call this, "Seeding Serendipity." You can start seeding yours here :) https://medium.com/@KhalidiAlmadani/seeding-serendipity-408ffe766f38

Elizabeth R.

I love librarians. I'm totally with you. I follow them around and carry their pens and pencils and scraps of paper.


I couldn't access it either. I tried to an alumnae library site but ran into the same block as Kelly Hunt.

Kelly H.

I can't read the whole Epstein article recommended in the "homework". You have to subscribe to the NY Review of Books to get it. I really don't want to sign up for a subscription. Is there any way to access the article alone?